St. Olaf student awarded Goldwater Scholarship
St. Olaf College student Lucia Wagner ’21 has been awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for the 2020-21 academic year.
The Goldwater Scholarship is a prestigious national competition for undergraduates who have shown significant achievement and potential in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering. The scholarships provide up to $7,500 per year for sophomores and juniors from across the country, and Wagner was chosen from a field of 5,000 applicants.
Over the last 25 years, 36 St. Olaf students have been named Goldwater Scholars.
Wagner is majoring in mathematics and chemistry at St. Olaf, with concentrations in neuroscience and mathematical biology. Over the past three years, she has gained significant research experience, presented at several conferences, and contributed to published papers.
In her first year at St. Olaf, Wagner participated in Mayo Clinic’s Innovative Minds Partnering to Advance Curative Therapies (IMPACT) program, studying hypoplastic left heart syndrome under the direction of St. Olaf Associate Professor of Biology Kim Kandl. IMPACT, a competition sponsored by Regenerative Medicine Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic Office of Applied Scholarship and Education Science, aims to encourage students to pursue research or careers in medicine.
Since the fall of her sophomore year Wagner has worked in the lab of St. Olaf Associate Professor of Biology and Physics Jay Demas, studying the mosaic of oil droplets in the retina. During Interim of that year she studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary, with St. Olaf Professor of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Bruce Hanson, who taught number theory. This fall she’s planning to do an independent research project in mathematical biology with St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Mathematics Sara Clifton.
Each summer Wagner has worked in labs at the University of Iowa, located in her hometown of Iowa City, Iowa. Through those research experiences she has studied Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementias, and Huntington’s disease. This past summer she was selected as an undergraduate medical-scientist training program research scholar at the University of Iowa.
Wagner plans to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience with a mathematical emphasis after graduating from St. Olaf. “I am drawn to neuroscience as I appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of the subject, the necessity and demand to apply mathematics to biological systems, and the infinite physiological mysteries of the brain,” she says.
I am drawn to neuroscience as I appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of the subject, the necessity and demand to apply mathematics to biological systems, and the infinite physiological mysteries of the brain.Lucia Wagner ’21
After pursuing a Ph.D. through a medical-scientist training program to acquire a dual M.D./Ph.D and a postdoctoral fellowship, she plans to conduct research and teach.
“I am interested in investigating neurodegenerative disease for a career, and, due to the clinical nature of the research, I believe it vital to understand, from a physician’s perspective, the holistic nature of the human body and how physiological systems work synchronously in order to develop a neurodegenerative disease,” she says. “But research is my highest priority, and I plan to ultimately become the principal investigator in a translational biomedical laboratory.”
Wagner has presented her research at the MidBrains Neuroscience Conference, the Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference, and the Mayo Clinic IMPACT program. She is the second author on a paper published in Behavioural Brain Research and the first author on a paper submitted to Neuroscience Letters.
On campus, she serves as president of the St. Olaf Neuroscience Club and is a founding member of the campus chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics. She is a teaching assistant for introductory chemistry labs, and last year she presented a talk at STO Talks — a conference where St. Olaf community members present ideas in a style similar to TED Talks. In true St. Olaf style, Wagner is also involved in the arts, taking her fourth semester of ballet on campus.
“When I applied to St. Olaf, I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined myself declaring majors in chemistry and mathematics,” she says, noting that a long list of faculty mentors at St. Olaf encouraged and supported her in pursuing her dream. “I am so appreciative of the vast resources and welcoming community St. Olaf has offered me during my time as a student.”