Matt Polasko, a biochemistry and molecular biology major at the University of Nevada, Reno, has received a 2009 Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious national undergraduate award in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering.
“I’m very excited and thrilled,” the 20-year old Honors Program student said upon receiving the news this week. “I’m a little in shock, and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Right now, I’m focusing on a microbiology exam for this afternoon.”
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation announced the names of 278 scholarship recipients throughout the United States for the 2009–10 academic year. Polasko, in just his second academic year at the University but considered a senior because of his academic aptitude, was the only winner from Nevada. His fellowship adviser and director of the Honors program, Tamara Valentine, was happy to hear the news, although not too surprised.
“From the beginning we were highly impressed with his academic record, his independent thinking and his leadership ability,” she said. “Matt exhibited all characteristics of a scholar: commitment to research, intellectual curiosity, and potential for research contributions.
“The Goldwater Scholarship is a very prestigious and competitive award given to students across the nation. The University is very proud of Matt.”
Polasko plans to pursue the combined M.D./Ph.D. degree in transplant immunology. He also wants to research strategies for suppressing the immune system while prolonging graft tolerance in transplant patients. The Las Vegas resident plans to set up a clinic in Nevada.
“I want to help build a great transplant program in Nevada, to make transplants safer and last longer,” he said. Polasko just changed his major from chemical engineering to biochemistry so he would have a better chance to pursue undergraduate research in line with his interests.
“Chemical engineering is a rigorous academic program and I liked the emphasis on complex problem solving, but biochemistry will give me a chance for more independent research opportunities,” Polasko said.
Maurice Fuerstenau, interim chair of the University’s chemical and materials engineering department, said Polasko is an exceptional young scholar.
“With his intelligence and motivation, he will unquestionably have an outstanding career as a physician and scientist,” Fuerstenau added.
Polasko’s two-year scholarship will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
“I’m very appreciative of the award, and know there are a lot of talented students doing amazing things on campus that deserve to be recognized,” he said.
The program honoring the former Arizona senator selects Goldwater Scholars by academic merit from a field of 1,097 mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by college and university faculty.