UNC Greensboro student Kala Youngblood has been selected as the first UNCG Goldwater Scholarship recipient since 2012. She was one of 410 Scholars selected from over 5,000 students nominated by their home institutions during the 2021 application cycle.
The Goldwater Scholarship Program is one of the oldest and most prestigious national scholarships in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics in the United States. Rising juniors and/or seniors must be nominated by their home universities for one of four application slots. Scholars are selected based on their commitment to a STEM research career, display of “intellectual intensity,” and potential for making a significant contribution in their future field of study – all characteristics Youngblood has in spades.
A chemistry major and rising senior, Youngblood has made her mark on campus. She was selected as a MARC U-STAR fellow, an NIH-supported initiative to increase the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds pursuing biomedical careers. Each year, only four exceptional UNCG students are selected as fellows. Through the MARC U-STAR program, she presented at the 2019 Annual Biometric Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) where she won the Presentation Award for Outstanding Chemistry Poster Presentation.
Youngblood joined Dr. Kimberly Petersen’s lab in January 2020, where she researches the production of asymmetric latones. She is most interested in biologically active compounds and their potential applications to both medicine and agriculture.
“Humans will always need new medications, but synthesizing these compounds can be as difficult as their discovery. Additionally, growing up in a farm town has given me an insight into the struggles of agriculture,” she wrote in her application. “I want to investigate asymmetric molecules that could enhance farming efficiency.”
Her long-term goal is to obtain a PhD in organic chemistry and research organic synthesis models either in academia or in a government agency.
Throughout the Goldwater application process, Youngblood worked with the Fellowships Advising and Mentorship (FAM) unit of the International Programs Center. FAM works with current UNCG students and recent alumni to help them prepare compelling applications for nationally and internationally competitive scholarships and fellowships, including Goldwater, Fulbright, and the Critical Language Scholarship.
“Congratulations to Ms. Youngblood,” says Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement Terri Shelton. “Being selected for the Goldwater Award, one of the most prestigious awards for undergraduates in STEM, recognizes her trajectory as a scientist including her work in studying new methods of synthesizing asymmetric molecules and her participation as a Fellow in UNCG’s NIH MARC U-STAR program. With thanks to our International Programs as well as to her faculty mentor, Dr. Kimberly Petersen, we know that this award will enhance an already bright future.”
The number of UNCG Goldwater applications increased dramatically this year due in part to FAM’s work with the Goldwater-Moore Diversity Initiative, which connects experienced campus representatives with newer advisors to build a robust support system for applicant identification, cultivation, and mentorship. Through this initiative, UNCG was identified as an under-tapped source of Goldwater applicants due to its strength in the STEM fields, support of undergraduate research opportunities, and its diverse student body.
“It’s truly been an amazing privilege to support Ms. Youngblood and the other three UNCG nominees through their Goldwater applications,” says Fellowships Advisor Heidi Bretz. “Kala has a real talent for making complex scientific processes simple to understand for those who, like me, do not have a background in advanced chemistry. I think this talent, along with her substantial academic achievements and collaborative nature, will help her succeed in her chosen career path.”
Story by Heidi Bretz, International Programs Center
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications