Goldwater Foundation Award to undergrad Geetika Patwardhan

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Geetika Patwardhan is proof that persistence pays off. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa  undergraduate’s research at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), which focuses on Alzheimer’s disease, has sparked national recognition. She, along with 410 other undergraduate students from across the nation, is now a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar.

“My first reaction was pure excitement,” Patwardhan said “This was my second time applying for this award, and I really put my all into my application. It is such great validation for the thousands of hours I have spent in the lab. The first person I told was my boss and mentor, Dr. Ben Fogelgren, who knows how passionate I am about our research and who worked closely with me on my application.”

Fogelgren, an Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy, Biochemistry, and Physiology, said that she has been working in his research lab in the Biosciences Building at JABSOM since she was a freshman. Patwardhan, a junior Honors student at UH Mānoa, is pursuing a degree in Molecular Cell Biology. Her Goldwater application was based upon her research progress on the Fogelgren Lab’s Alzheimer’s disease project. She is focused on identifying new functional mechanisms that regulate neuronal secretion of amyloid-beta, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

“She truly is a superstar. It’s impossible to overstate how hard Geetika works in the lab, and she has made many valuable contributions to our research, especially impressive during all the disruptions of the past year,” Fogelgren said. “She has also been volunteering with Dr. Jill Omori’s H.O.M.E. (Homeless Outreach Medical Education) Project for many years, which illustrates Geetika’s outstanding character and dedication to community service.”

Omori, the director of the H.O.M.E. Project, applauded Patwardhan’s achievement: “Geetika excels in everything she does and she definitely deserves this recognition!”

The scholarship is a highly competitive, research and merit-based award offered to college sophomores and juniors preparing for a career in mathematics, natural sciences, or engineering. To be considered, a student must be nominated by his or her college or university using the official nomination materials provided to each institution.

For the Goldwater Research Scholarship, UH Mānoa was given one slot for a nomination, and this is the first time a UH Mānoa student has ever received the national award. For the 2021 Goldwater awards, from an estimated pool of over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, 1256 natural science, engineering and mathematics students were nominated by 438 academic institutions to compete for the 2021 scholarships. Of students who reported, 198 of the Goldwater Scholars are men and 207 are women. Most intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their highest degree objective.

“I am very pleased that we were able to support Geetika in this process, and that she was successful in getting the scholarship,” said David Haymer, PhD, professor of genetics in UH’s Department of Cell and Molecular Biology and the UH Mānoa Goldwater coordinator. “The credit mostly goes to Geetika herself, of course, but Ben [Fogelgren] deserves a lot of credit as well. I certainly hope this will encourage others to apply for this program in the future.”

When the Goldwater Scholars program was started in 1989, one of its recipients was Sheri Tsuda, a junior at UH Mānoa, and she still has the letter she received from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. Now, Sheri (Tsuda) Fong, MD, PhD, Associate Professor and Co-Associate Director of the Office of Medical Education at JABSOM, is the main pre-clerkship biochemistry instructor, co-course director of the MD3 (renal and heme) course, chair of the Curriculum Committee, chair of the Health Professions Education Conference, and serves on the board of the national Association of Biochemistry Educators.