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Juniors Cordiana Cozier, Matthew Cufari and Ellen Jorgensen Named 2022 Goldwater Scholars
Three Syracuse University juniors—Cordiana Cozier, Matthew Cufari and Ellen Jorgensen—have been selected for the 2022 Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship awarded in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the United States. This is the first time Syracuse University has had three scholars selected in one year.
Cozier is a chemistry major in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S); Cufari is a physics major in A&S and computer science major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program; and Jorgensen is a double major in Earth sciences in A&S and environment, sustainability and policy in the Maxwell School and a member of the Crown University Honors Program.
The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, the five-term senator from Arizona. The purpose of the program is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers by awarding scholarships to students who intend to pursue research careers in these fields.
The Goldwater Foundation received 1,242 nominations this year from around the country and 417 students were selected for the scholarship.
Each of the Syracuse University Goldwater Scholarship nominees worked with the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) to prepare their application. A faculty committee, headed by James Spencer, professor of chemistry, selected Syracuse’s nominees for the national competition.
Cozier, a Louis Stokes Alliance Minority Participation (LSAMP) Scholar, plans to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry, with a focus on synthetic organic chemistry. She hopes to eventually teach at the university level and research and develop organic materials that can serve as cancer therapeutics.
At Syracuse University, she has developed a robust understanding of the field of chemistry through coursework including organic chemistry, physical chemistry and inorganic chemistry. “These courses have taught me how chemistry can be used to formulate therapeutics, and have expanded my knowledge of the way research in organic chemistry is dependent on knowledge of other subfields,” she says.
During summer 2021, Cozier completed an internship at MassBiologics, a biopharmaceutical lab focused on the prevention of infectious diseases such as Lyme, tetanus and COVID-19, and worked on a project to isolate anti-IgA nanobodies using a synthetic yeast library. In fall 2021, she joined the organic chemistry lab of Nancy Totah, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, where she is assisting in research on the development of synthetic strategies for natural products.
Working in Totah’s lab, alongside graduate student Fortune Ogochukwu Ononiwu, has shown Cozier the ways that her education relates to and prepares her for research that can have a lasting impact on society. Cozier says that the work she is doing on dihydropyrones can provide new strategies for the preparation of complex molecules and benefit medicinal chemistry and drug development programs by increasing structural diversity in drug-like scaffolds. “To see the way in which this project and similar projects will have broad impacts within the science and medical world is what drives my passion for chemistry. I have always wanted to create something that drives change or benefits the society around me and chemistry has become that outlet and place for me to do so.”
As a woman of color, Cozier also wants to develop opportunities aimed at increasing diversity in the field of organic chemistry research. Through her African American studies minor, she has gained a nuanced understanding of the challenges minorities face in academia and within society, and how important mentorship and representation is to overcome discrimination.
“For this reason, I have engaged in numerous activities focused on mentoring underrepresented students in STEM at SU,” she says. She is an undergraduate associate for WiSE Women of Color in STEM.
As an LSAMP Scholar, Cozier attends workshops every other week focused on professional development and the mental health of students of color in STEM. She has also tutored under-resourced high school students in local public schools in science and math. At Syracuse University, Cozier has participated in Orange Seeds, Literacy Corps and as a tutor for student-athletes.
Cozier is very passionate about equal access for all who are interested in pursuing a STEM career. “It is so important to me that my career goals to earn my Ph.D. in organic chemistry are being supported by this prestigious opportunity,” she says. “I am incredibly honored to have received this scholarship, which only serves to motivate me more within my future career as a chemist.”
Cufari, a Coronat Scholar and member of Tau Beta Pi, plans to earn a Ph.D. in physics and pursue a career in astrophysics research. His research interests are in drawing connections between laboratory plasmas and astrophysical plasmas to better understand phenomena like tidal disruption events and accretion disk formation.
“I’m interested in the dynamics of highly energetic phenomena which don’t readily occur in our solar system, like accretion onto black holes, the tidal disruption of stars and supernovae,” Cufari says. “These phenomena are exciting, luminous and abundant in the universe. Studying these phenomena is necessary to improve our understanding of the behavior of matter in exotic states and the physical processes which drive those behaviors.”
Cufari developed a passion for plasma theory and nuclear fusion as a high school student when he began doing research at the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). There, he worked on a project to develop a theoretical framework for images of charged fusion products.
His studies at Syracuse have given him skills in designing physical models of complex systems and solving problems mathematically. “In addition to my work in physics, my coursework in computer science has helped me to understand technologies like reinforcement learning and apply them to my research.”
In his first semester at Syracuse, Cufari joined a research project in the quantum information lab of Britton Plourde, professor of physics in A&S, developing a parameter estimation software for super conducting circuits. Since his sophomore year, Cufari has worked with Eric Coughlin, assistant professor of physics in A&S, researching theoretical astrophysics.
Cufari’s first project with Professor Coughlin, on eccentric tidal disruption events, culminated in a paper which was accepted for publication in the Astrophysics Journal. He presented his results to the broader community of astrophysicists this month at the conference of the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society.
Cufari and Coughlin are investigating chaotic three-body interactions between a supermassive black hole and a binary star system through a National Science Foundation REU. They recently had an article accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters that explains how to reproduce the periodic nuclear transient ASASSN-14ko using these encounters. Cufari was also recently awarded a Syracuse University undergraduate research grant (SOURCE) to fund his research this summer.
“The Goldwater Scholarship has already connected me to a network of scholar alumni who are a source of mentorship and advice going into graduate school and beyond. The scholarship also includes an opportunity to attend a research symposium this summer to meet and network with other scholars in the Goldwater community,” Cufari says.
Jorgensen, a Coronat Scholar who also is minoring in physics, plans to pursue a career as a climate reconstruction researcher at a university or a national lab.
“To me, understanding our climate is the most important task I can participate in as a scientist. It’s so exciting that we can reconstruct climates of millions of years past with the smallest samples of sediment,” Jorgensen says. “More than that, we can use those assessments of our past to make projections for the dynamic climate we will face in the future.”
Jorgensen has taken advanced coursework in climate dynamics, mapping software and anthropogenic climate change. For the past three years, she has worked in the Paleoclimate Dynamics Lab (PDL) under the guidance of Tripti Bhattacharya, Thonis Family Professor: Paleoclimate Dynamics and assistant professor of Earth and environmental sciences in A&S, analyzing alkenones–biomarkers in the sedimentary record to calculate sea surface temperatures from the mid-Pliocene. That project culminated in a publication currently under review at Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology on which Jorgensen is the fifth author.
In a new project in the PDL, Jorgensen is working with leaf waxes left behind by plants during the Pliocene-Pleistocene transition to investigate rainfall patterns from that time. She has also sought experiences beyond the PDL to gain insight into paleoclimate research in other time periods and parts of the world. In summer 2021, she completed a NSF research experience for undergraduates (REU) at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University researching Heinrich events (events of iceberg discharge in the North Atlantic during the last glacial period) through the analysis and carbon dating of foraminifera. This coming summer, as a NOAA Hollings Scholar, she will participate in an internship at a NOAA field office related to climate dynamics.
At Syracuse University, Jorgensen has been a volunteer with the Office of Sustainability Management to manage the campus’s compost. Through that role, she helped facilitate the reduction of waste contamination by sorting recycling, compost and waste during athletic events at the stadium. She was also a staff writer for Blackstone Launchpad, highlighting campus entrepreneurs who integrate sustainability into their ventures.
“The Goldwater Scholarship affirms my commitment to pursue climate research at Syracuse and beyond as I continue my career as a scientist,” Jorgensen says. “I am extremely honored by this award and could not have reached this achievement without the support of my mentor, Dr. Tripti Bhattacharya; the EES department; CFSA; and my family.”
CFSA seeks applicants for the Goldwater Scholarship each fall; the campus deadline is mid-November each year. Interested students should contact CFSA at firstname.lastname@example.org.