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Jake Cuzick Named Goldwater Scholar

Donna Klinger

Jake Cuzick

Intense wildfires near his hometown of Baker City, Oregon in 2020, sparked junior Jake Cuzick’s scientific interest and led to his determination to pursue a doctorate in chemistry. Cuzick’s passionate pursuit of his goals to develop novel solutions for green energy using synthetic chemistry has led to his being awarded a 2024-25 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. The Goldwater is the preeminent undergraduate award for students intending to pursue research careers in the fields of natural science, mathematics, and engineering.

reu-presentation.jpgCuzick, a chemistry major, Mount Fellow and Honors student, is among 438 U.S. college students selected for the scholarship this year from a pool of more than 1,353 sophomores and juniors nominated by 446 colleges and universities. He will receive up to $7,500 in scholarship money to fund his senior year at the Mount. He is joined as a 2024-25 recipient by fellow junior Lincoln Queale, who was one of 70 sophomores awarded a two-year scholarship last year.

“Jake’s success in this competition is truly exceptional,” said Angy Kallarackal, Ph.D., director of neuroscience, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and associate director of the Office of Competitive Fellowships. She shared that Cuzick and Queale are among eight Mount students who have won this prestigious award over the last six years. “These scholarships are a credit both to these accomplished students’ academic and research work on and off campus and the support of their faculty,” she said.

The Catalyst

As a high school junior, Cuzick got a close look at the impact of global warming as wildfires ravaged nearby areas. Both of his parents, who work in forest and natural resources management professions, engaged in efforts to replant trees and the general recovery process. Replanting proved to be challenging due to rising temperatures that stymied the general tree population’s ability to repopulate. “I felt, for the first time, the realness of science’s implications,” Cuzick said. “My scientific consciousness was then ignited, in which I searched for a facet that I felt I could effectively contribute to.”

Cuzick found that scientific match as a first-year Mount student when he began working in the laboratory of Associate Professor of Chemistry Isaac Mills, Ph.D., due to its relatedness to sustainability. In this lab, he initiated an investigation into the synthesis of substituted tripenylpyrylium salts, an emerging organic scaffold for replacing precious metal photoredox catalysts. At the same time, he was enjoying the creative inquiry involved in building synthetic routes that recursively built upon a multitude of previously covered reactions covered in the organic chemistry class taught by Professor of Chemistry Patricia Kreke, Ph.D. “In Dr. Mills’ laboratory, I was able to implement these creative strategies that I appreciated at a mechanistic chemistry level toward a real-world problem I was particularly passionate about,” Cuzick said. His success in Professor Kreke’s organic chemistry classes led to his selection as a student instructor for this academic year. “I have received excellent feedback from the organic students about his work as SI,” reported Professor Kreke.

Additional Research on Campus and Beyond

Last summer Claire Xiong, associate professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering at Boise State University, selected Cuzick for the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in her lab. In the Boise State lab, Cuzick worked on synthesizing niobium oxide nanoparticles for use in batteries. In the fall of 2023, he gave a presentation on his REU experience to his peers in the Mount’s School of Natural Science and Mathematics.

Upon returning to campus this academic year, Cuzick further expanded his research. He had the opportunity to develop a novel library of small molecules that target G-4 Quadruplex in trinucleotide repeat diseases for the lab of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sarah Krueger, Ph.D., C'17. This complex project used all Cuzick’s previous synthetic strategies he had devised through a strenuous selection process. It also allowed him to independently grow as a researcher. “I believe my exposure to the creative domain of synthetic chemistry, supplemented by rigorous coursework, will continue to create a suitable foundation for success in graduate-level laboratories,” he explained.

In addition, while taking the Global Encounters: China’s New Silk Road course taught by Professor of Global Business and Economics Patrice Flynn, Ph.D. during the fall semester, Cuzick completed the course’s research project by analyzing the economic impact of unsustainable scientific methodologies in China. After submitting his first draft to Flynn, Cuzick and the former Fulbright U.S. Research Scholar began working toward publication of the work in the Mount’s Working Paper Series in International Studies. “This project involved intensive analytical research, where I identified an array of economic patterns that I quantified and conveyed through an ‘investment mechanism,’ a term I more distinctly discuss in the paper. This mechanism will be utilized in future Global Encounter curriculum,” Cuzick said. The paper will be published on April 18 and will also be presented by Cuzick at the SPARC Festival.

“This interdisciplinary approach, moving from chemical synthesis to economic and sociological application, shows that Mr. Cuzick has the mindset and capability to be a change-maker in the field,” Kallarackal said.

At the end of this semester, Cuzick will travel to Illinois to spend the summer as a Snyder Scholar in the lab of Martin Burke, Ph.D., at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign “The Snyder Scholar program is particularly focused on developing undergraduate research interest in organic chemistry,” Cuzick explained. “In Dr. Burke’s laboratory, I will be exposed to advanced instrumentation and resources, such as his famous ‘molecule-making machine,’ which automates the process of designing efficient but complex molecular architectures.”

Gratitude

When Cuzick first discussed the Goldwater Scholarship application process with Director of the Palmieri Center for Entrepreneurship and Associate Professor of Science Garth Patterson, Ph.D., in 2022, he understood the difficulty of winning the scholarship and viewed the process as “more of an opportunity to grow as a writer through the intensive drafting process,” he said.

“To win is a dream come true,” he added. “Aside from alleviating some financial burdens, which allows me to spend more time in the laboratory, this scholarship provides empirical validation to my scientific aspirations. It is easy to get overwhelmed within the relentless college workload, especially recognizing the advanced graduate coursework that succeeds it, thus the investment of a prestigious organization like the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation is fundamental in my young research career. I believe this scholarship will be a pivotal stepping stone in achieving my career aspirations.”

“I would also like to extend appreciation to the entirety of Mount Fellows for their investment in the drafting process of my application, as well as Dr. Xiong, Dr. Mills, and Dr. Kreke for writing letters of recommendation. I am also particularly grateful for Ph.D. candidate Cyrus Koroni at Boise State University, as his role as my REU mentor was critical in fostering my skills and ideas as a young researcher. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Flynn for her thorough curriculum and guidance throughout the synthesis of my economic research,” Cuzick shared.

Support Network

The Goldwater Scholarship Committee provided support for the students’ applications and research essays. The committee is comprised of Professors Kallarackal, Kruger, and Patterson as well as Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Brian Heinhold, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor of Science Eric Sakowski, Ph.D., C’08.

Kallarackal, Krueger, Patterson and Sakowski also are Competitive Fellowships Committee members. Led by Professor of Spanish and Director of the Office of Competitive Fellowships Christine Blackshaw, Ph.D., other members of the Committee are Assistant Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of the Office of Competitive Fellowships William Christiansen, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Business Josey Chacko, Ph.D.; and Associate Professor of Education Michelle Ohanian, Ph.D.

Over the last six years, eight Mount students have received this award. In addition to Cuzick, they include Veronica Balick, C’20, who later was awarded a Fulbright United Kingdom Study Award to the University of Nottingham and now is pursuing a Ph.D. in cancer biology at George Washington University; Nicholas Starvaggi, C’21, who in 2022 was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship as a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University; Bradley Owen, C’21, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina; Julia Baer, C’21, who is pursuing a doctorate in ocean sciences at University of California Santa Cruz; Rita Anoh, C’23, who received the award as a sophomore and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in structural biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Lincoln Queale, a current Mount junior who is majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology and mathematics; and Shaheer Syed, a current senior majoring in biochemistry and data science.

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.

Donna Klinger