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Math, Physics Juniors Named Goldwater Scholars

by Whitney Hale

(June 10, 2014) — University of Kentucky juniors Matthew Fahrbach, of Louisville, Ky., and Samuel Saarinen, of Shelbyville, Ky., have been awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship worth up to $7,500 per year. Fahrbach and Saarinen are among 283 students nationwide awarded the Goldwater Scholarship this year. This year's Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,166 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was authorized by Congress to honor the former Arizona U.S. senator who served the nation for 30 years. The scholarship program was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. Since its first award in 1989, the foundation has bestowed more than 7,163 scholarships worth approximately 46 million dollars.

Matthew FahrbachThe son of Diane and Michael Fahrbach, Fahrbach is currently majoring in computer science and mathematics. The Chellgren Fellow has been active in undergraduate research at UK and other institutions, having received funding for summer research opportunities from the National Science Foundation - Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) two years in a row. This summer he will participate in an NSF-REU on mathematics at the University of Washington.

The UK junior is excited to receive the Goldwater Scholarship and believes it will open up more opportunities in research when he starts graduate school in a couple years. “The Goldwater Scholarship is a great undergraduate honor. I hope that it will make me a stronger candidate for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, so that I receive the best education that I can as a graduate student,” Fahrbach said.

Fahrbach, who credits Jerzy Jaromczyk, associate professor of computer science, and Ben Braun, associate professor of mathematics, as major influences at UK, was drawn to his studies in computer science and mathematics by his interest in algorithms. "I am fascinated with optimizing computer programs and improving their efficiency. The core of algorithm analysis is mathematics, but the physical effect of computational complexity makes algorithms tangible."

Upon completion of his undergraduate degrees, Fahrbach plans to pursue a doctoral degree in computer science to research mathematical algorithms.

Sam SaarinenThe son of Anne and Tim Saarinen, Saarinen is currently pursuing computer science, mathematics and physics majors. He has been active in research since an early age working with Western Kentucky University professors Claus Ernst and Uta Ziegler on mathematics research in high school.

A member of the UK Honors Program, Saarinen is currently participating in undergraduate research with Judy Goldsmith, professor of computer science at UK College of Engineering. Saarinen considers his research supervisors as also mentors who have had a major impact on his academic and personal growth. He also credits Paul Eakin, professor of mathematics, and Jerzy Jaromczyk as great influences on his studies.

Saarinen hopes his interest in and work in these fields will help better the world. "First and foremost, I enjoy these math-heavy disciplines. But there is also the opportunity to conduct socially significant research. My dream is that the work that I am good at will someday improve the lives of those around me."

After completing his undergraduate studies at UK, the Singletary and Patterson Scholar hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in artificial intelligence and teach one day. "I think becoming a professor might be a good way to continue doing what I love."

Students interested in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship should contact Pat Whitlow, director of the UK Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. Part of the Academy of Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Undergraduate Education, the office assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These major awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards well in advance of the scholarship deadline.