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Sophomore Rita Anoh Named Goldwater Scholar

Donna Klinger

Anoh feature

Rita Anoh, a sophomore at Mount St. Mary’s University who immigrated to the United States from Ghana five years ago, has been awarded a 2020-21 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the preeminent undergraduate scholarship for students intending to pursue research careers in the fields of natural science, mathematics, and engineering.

rita.jpg“Rita is the first Mount student to receive this award as a sophomore. College sophomores and juniors compete for the Goldwater Scholarship, and typically the vast majority of awardees are juniors, so Rita’s achievement is especially impressive,” said Jamie A. Gianoutsos, Ph.D., director of the Office of Competitive Scholarships and associate professor of history. Established in 1986 by the U.S. Congress, the Goldwater Scholarship recognizes college sophomores and juniors who show exceptional promise of becoming the nation’s next generation of research leaders in the areas of natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

Anoh is among the 410 U.S. college students to have been selected for the scholarship this year from a pool of more than 1,256 students nominated by 438 colleges and universities.  She will receive up to $7,500 to cover tuition, fees, books, and room and board for both her junior and senior years.

Current seniors Julia Baer, Bradley Owen and Nicholas Starvaggi were named Goldwater Scholars last year, and Veronica Balick, C’20, who is currently a Fulbright Study Fellow awardee at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, was a Goldwater winner in 2019. Baer is a semifinalist for a 2021-22 Fulbright Research/Study Grant to conduct research in New Zealand.

A biochemistry major, Anoh quickly sought research opportunities once she came to the Mount. This past summer through the university’s Summer Research Internship Award, she worked in the lab of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Patrick Lombardi, Ph.D., investigating how DNA damage in cells is detected and repaired. She continued her research in the Lombardi laboratory during the academic year and this summer she will participate in the Caltech WAVE Fellows program in the laboratory of Douglas Rees, Ph.D.

“I find growing up with a different cultural background and fewer resources encourages me to take advantage of what is available to me now,” wrote Anoh in her application. In addition to her research in the Lombardi Lab, she works as a resident assistant at an assisted living facility and as a tutor and lab teaching assistant at the Mount.

Lombardi has been impressed with Anoh’s work in the lab, finding that her bench skills and ability to multitask are extraordinary for her age. “Rita has quickly mastered the ability to express and purify recombinant proteins and has used these skills to investigate how DNA repair complexes are recruited to damage sites,” he wrote in his letter of recommendation. “Binding data collected using mutant proteins that Rita cloned, expressed, and purified are essential to the model of DNA repair complex localization that our laboratory proposes in a manuscript that we are preparing for publication.”

The binding model Anoh helped to develop is currently being tested using cell-based assays in the laboratory of Nima Mosammaparast, M.D., Ph.D., at Washington University in St. Louis. The ultimate goal of the research is to apply understanding of DNA damage repair pathways to development and improvement of therapeutics.

After graduating from the Mount, Anoh plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry and aspires to have her own research laboratory, where she can use the tools of biochemistry to invent therapies as well as mentor aspiring research scientists. She is grateful to Lombardi, Associate Professor of Chemistry Garth Patterson, Ph.D., and Interim Dean and Professor in the School of Natural Science and Mathematics Christine McCauslin, Ph.D., for writing recommendation letters.

Anoh was aided in her Goldwater application by the Office of Competitive Fellowships and the Goldwater Scholarship Committee.  The Goldwater Committee, comprised of Gianoutsos; Patterson; Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Brian Heinhold, Ph.D.; and Assistant Professor of Psychology Angy Kallarackal provided support for Anoh’s application and research essay.

Patterson, Kallarackal and Gianoutsos also are Competitive Fellowships Committee members. Other members of the Competitive Fellowships Committee, led by Gianoutsos, are Christine Blackshaw, Ph.D., competitive fellowships associate director and associate professor of Spanish, Assistant Professor of Business Josey Chacko, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor of Education Michelle Ohanian, Ph.D.

Donna Klinger