University Relations and Marketing

March 21, 2014

Mullins makes history as MSU Billings' first Goldwater Scholar


Mullins in the science lab at MSUBContacts:
Dr. David Craig, University Honors Program, 657-2908
Dr. Kurt Toenjes, Science Department, 657-5904
Carmen Price, University Relations, 657-2243


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Montana State University Billings student Elizabeth Mullins has been named the university’s first Goldwater Scholarship recipient.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship was first awarded in 1986 in tribute to ensure a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers. MSUB’s only other recognized nominee was Corey Lovec in 2013 when he received an honorable mention.

The scholarship is the most prestigious and competitive in the country for students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Announced late Monday, Mullins was one among 283 students nationwide, one of four students from Montana and the first-ever from MSU Billings awarded the Goldwater Scholarship.

"I am both honored and humbled to be a recipient of this scholarship,” 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 this receiving this prestigious award."

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

“This is an extraordinary and historic accomplishment for our students and MSU Billings,” Toenjes said. “It doesn’t change what we do, but it brings recognition, and it highlights that our science department and students are top-notch.”

The Goldwater scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,166 STEM students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide, according to the Goldwater website. There are 172 male scholars and 111 women, and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their degree objective, the website states.

Mullins with professors Toenjes and Butler“The science department has a history of excellence and a long-standing tradition of involving undergraduate students in research,” the College of Arts and Sciences Dean, Dr. Tasneem Khaleel, said. “This recognition speaks for itself and the achievement is but one illustration of the outstanding students and the dedicated faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences.”

The scholarship provides up to $7,500 annually to cover a recipient’s educational expenses and is considered the premier undergraduate award for students in STEM.

“Being the first Goldwater recipient is quite remarkable,” Chancellor Rolf Groseth said. “Elizabeth is an outstanding student and her service to MSUB goes far beyond the classroom. “As a member of the Yellowstone Hall Steering Committee, Elizabeth is committed to ensuring the research of future students takes place in the best facility possible.”

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.

“Elizabeth is an exceptional student,” Toenjes said. “This recognition as a top-tier student will open up so many doors for her as she moves forward in post-baccalaureate opportunities.”

Upon graduation, the 29-year-old 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.

“Biology incorporates every science and is limitless in potential areas of investigation,” Mullins said. “In keeping with my own pursuit to biomedical research, it provides an avenue to apply natural talents toward helping people sustain hope for medical cures. That alone is a powerful motivation to study biology." 

Among her 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. On Thursday, she was elected to serve as a senator on the student body government.

Read more about Mullins and her nomination in our February 21 news release.

PHOTOS ABOVE: 1) MSU Billings science student Elizabeth Mullins works on a research project in the university’s science lab; 2) Mullins with her research mentors—professors Dr. Kurt Toenjes and Dr. David Butler


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