February 21, 2014



Dr. David Craig, University Honors Program, 657-2908
Carmen Price, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Montana State University Billings student Elizabeth Mullins has been nominated for the prestigious national Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship—one regarded as the premier undergraduate award to encourage excellence in science, engineering and mathematics.


Elizabeth Mullins with professors Toenjes and Butler

She is the second MSUB student to be nominated since the scholarship’s inception in 1986, and is one of nearly 1,100 mathematics, science and engineering students selected on the basis of academic merit by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.


“I am both honored and humbled by this nomination,” Mullins said. “I am honored to know that my work in science has been met with esteem by the university, and I am humbled that the faculty at MSUB see me as worthy of receiving this prestigious award."


Mullins, a junior biology major with a chemistry minor, is a University Honors Scholar doing biomedical research in MSUB’s Biological and Physical Sciences Department under the direction of her research mentors—professors Kurt Toenjes and David Butler.


Her current research investigates pathogenic fungi with the aim of better understanding the regulatory pathways that could aid in the development of targeted broad-spectrum, anti-fungal therapies. The research is funded by a grant from MT-INBRE and the National Institutes of Health.


Upon graduation, Mullins plans to pursue a combined M.D./Ph.D program and continue biomedical research using a combination of molecular, cellular and biochemical approaches to develop effective therapies. She is interested in targeted therapies to treat fungal infections that are sometimes caused by medical therapies for cancer and solid organ transplants.


“I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given at MSU Billings,” Mullins said. “And, I’m especially grateful to the faculty and staff of the science department and University Honors Program who have invested their time and resources into training me in research.”


Elizabeth Mullins in the lab at MSUBOriginally from small town Talala, Okla., Mullins spent much of her childhood in Massachusetts with her grandparents. She said conversations with her grandfather as a young girl kindled a passion for science that has followed her into adulthood.


“My love affair with science began as a child,” Mullins said. “My grandfather taught me to seek the science that is woven throughout our lives. I cherished these talks and, from a very early age, dreamed of becoming a scientist.”


“My love affair with science began as a child,” Mullins said. “My grandfather taught me to seek the science that is woven throughout our lives. I cherished these talks and, from a very early age, dreamed of becoming a scientist.”


Her dream was met with many obstacles, Mullins said. “My grandfather always told me that life was unfair, and he was right,” she said. “I learned that lesson early in life and saw it repeated many times."


Although she aspired to attend college right out of high school, life stood in the way. Instead, she joined the United States Navy as a Hebrew linguist. Soon after, she transferred into the naval medical corps where she served as the only female corpsman in Marjah, Afghanistan delivering medical care to injured and ill soldiers.


After serving nine years of service, Mullins naval medical experience inspired her to enroll into MSU Billings to work toward becoming a physician. But, she said, as she challenged herself in the lab, Mullins realized that she also wanted to contribute her passion and talents to biomedical discoveries.


As a veteran and nontraditional student, 29-year-old Mullins is not a typical Goldwater nominee, MSUB Director of University Honors Program Dr. David Craig said, who has in his previous position at Clarkson University as the honors director written on behalf of 19 Goldwater Scholarship winners and eight National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipients.

“She is unique,” Craig said. “She has mastered the indispensable ingredients of hard work, discipline and dedication and posses the strength of character that, combined with her talent and intelligence, will make for a very distinguished career.”


Among many achievements and recognition, Mullins is a dean’s list student with a 3.9 GPA and received the Third Biennial Western Regional IDeA Conference Best-in-Presentation Award in 2013, and serves on the MSUB new Yellowstone Hall steering committee.


The Goldwater Scholarship awards go to outstanding college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering. Institutions are permitted to nominate a limited number of students each year with the nomination representing a significant recognition in itself.


The Goldwater Foundation trustees will announce roughly 300 recipients in late March. The scholarships cover eligible expenses for undergraduate tuition, fees, books and room and board—up to $7,500 annually.


MSU Billings has only nominated one other student for the scholarship since it was first awarded in 1986 in tribute to ensure a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers. The nominee, Corey Lovec, received an honorable mention last year.


Goldwater scholars have impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious postgraduate fellowship programs, Craig said.


“In all my time spent in education—here at MSUB, the University of Vermont Medical School and at the University of Arizona—I have not worked with another student that was more deserving of a Goldwater Scholarship,” Toenjes said.


The University Honors Program coordinates the Goldwater application process at MSUB.


PHOTOS ABOVE: 1) Goldwater Scholarship nominee Elizabeth Mullins pictured with her research mentors Dr. Kurt Toenjes (left) and Dr. David Butler (right); 2) Elizabeth Mullins in the lab