When University of Nevada, Reno student Anna Koster entered the University several years ago, she had an undeclared major and was unsure of her future. Now, as a senior double-majoring in chemistry and music, Koster has been awarded with an intensely competitive national Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship as well as a Pfizer-sponsored Division of Organic Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship to help fund her research in organic chemical reactions.
The Goldwater Scholarship, a two-year science, mathematics and engineering scholarship of up to $7,500 per year, was awarded to only 282 sophomores and juniors nationwide for 2012. The scholars are selected on the basis of academic merit, with a maximum of four students nominated per University. Koster is the only 2012 recipient from the state of Nevada.
With her other award, the SURF fellowship, Koster will be funded about $5,000 to continue working this summer with her faculty advisor, Chemistry Professor Christopher Jeffrey, on the study of the synthesis of polyketides, which are structurally complex biologically active molecules that appear naturally. Koster and Jeffrey have worked the past two years on a proposal to synthesize the molecules in a more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.
Jeffrey, who studied at Princeton University as a postdoctoral fellow for three years before being hired by the University, said Koster is one of his brightest and driven students. Undergraduates who receive the Goldwater Scholarship and especially the SURF fellowship are considered by many leading organic chemists to be in a special class of future innovators and scientists.
"She has this kind of passion and drive especially in the area of organic synthesis that's allowed her to be creative and relatively independent at a young age," Jeffrey said. "This is the start of something really fantastic."
Koster, who still has a year left in her undergraduate studies, will also fly to Pfizer's research headquarters in Gorton, Conn. in September to give a poster presentation about her research conducted during summer. During the event, she'll network with some of the top scientists in her field as well as fellow scholarship winners from places such as Harvard University and Princeton University.
"The feats achieved by students such as Koster serves as an example of the kind of academic excellence and opportunities available for University students, and reflects the excellent work done by the College of Science," Jeffrey said.
"By requiring most undergraduate students to engage in a research project before graduation, University students are better prepared to enter the workforce and make an immediate impact. We can do all the great science we want, but there's much more of a chance that one of my students will go through and change the world than I'll ever have."
In addition to organic chemistry, Koster is dual majoring in music, and focusing on classical piano. She performed a musical piece last year during the Reno Artown event. Though it appears there isn't much overlap between the two subjects, Koster said she found the creative process of creating music similar to the process of experimenting with chemical bonds.
"Sometimes it's difficult to find a balance, but on the other hand, it adds variety to what I'm doing," Koster said. "That's one of the reasons I came to (the University), to major in both subjects."
Koster, who graduated from Galena High School in Reno, also received an honorable mention from Goldwater Scholarship program last year when University students Rachel Miller and Muir Morrison were awarded the scholarship. She plans on attending graduate school in the future, and then researching and teaching at a university level.
The University of Nevada, Reno offers a strong program of undergraduate research across all science disciplines, Director of the Honors Program Tamara Valentine said. In addition to national foundations and grant money, the University gives out about $60,000 to 70,000 in research money to undergraduate students every year.
"The University of Nevada, Reno is home to a number of Goldwater Scholars and Honorable Mentions," Valentine said. "Anna Koster is further proof that our students can compete with the best students across the nation."