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School of Arts and Sciences

Two Tufts Juniors Awarded Goldwater Scholarships

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Jonathan Rodríguez, A21, and Cassandra Cancemi, A21, have been selected for one of the most prestigious awards in the U.S. for undergraduate students in STEM fields.

Jonathan Rodríguez and Cassandra Cancemi

Jonathan Rodríguez, A21, and Cassandra Cancemi, A21, have been selected as recipients of Goldwater Scholarship Awards, one of the most prestigious awards in the United States for undergraduate students studying the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

Rodríguez and Cancemi were chosen along with 396 other awardees from among a highly competitive pool of over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors. This Scholarship Program, named in honor of Senator Barry Goldwater, is designed to recognize outstanding undergraduates and encourage them to build their careers in STEM research.

Jonathan Rodríguez is double majoring in math and computer science and is also a Tufts Neubauer Scholar. From early on in his Tufts career, Rodríguez knew he wanted to get exposure to as many different areas and applications of math as possible; he was also especially interested in getting involved in research. He’s had the opportunity to do that in the Computational Biology group through the Laidlaw Scholars program, under the supervision of Professor of Computer Science Lenore Cowen. The group is using computational, mathematical, and statistical methods to solve complex biomedical problems.

“It’s really a fantastic group,” Rodríguez says. “There are lots of incredibly talented students working on very interesting problems. My advisor has always been very supportive, and always managed to strike the perfect balance between letting me work on my own and giving valuable criticism when I need it.”

This semester, he’s also getting additional experience working in the Computational Geometry Lab and is serving as a TA for the course Discrete Math, a position he particularly enjoys. “It’s one of my favorite courses, and I love helping students write proofs. I’m always looking forward to my office hours every week,” he says.

Winning the Goldwater Scholarship, Rodríguez says, is perhaps his greatest achievement to date. “Looking back 5 years ago, I never imagined I would be selected for such a competitive award. To me, it’s the product of years of hard work, but also motivation to keep working harder and accomplish more in the future.” Rodríguez hopes to pursue a PhD, likely in applied math or theoretical computer science, after graduating from Tufts next year.

Cassandra Cancemi is a Biochemistry major. She entered Tufts knowing that she eventually wanted a career in science, but she wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. During her sophomore year, with encouragement from her Chemistry 1 TA, she began working in Associate Professor of Chemistry Joshua Kritzer’s lab. One of the main projects in the lab focuses on studying the cell penetration of different types of therapeutically relevant molecules.

The summer after her sophomore year, Cancemi was named as a Laidlaw Scholar, which gave her the opportunity to expand on the work she had been doing in the Kritzer Lab and develop her own project, which looked at how the covalent attachment small cell penetrating peptides can improve the uptake of nucleic acids, and how to effectively measure those improvements. The experience, Cancemi says, as well as the supportive environment of the Kritzer Lab, boosted her confidence in her abilities as a scientist and solidified her desire to pursue a career in STEM research.

Outside of her academic pursuits, Cancemi is a pitcher on Tufts’ softball team, which she says has also been a big part of her growth at Tufts. “Being part of a team has pushed me to develop my leadership skills and has given me an amazing family away from home. My teammates and coaches have been really supportive of my academic pursuits as well, and they have certainly listened to me babble on about science more than they probably would have liked, but with a smile.”

Cancemi also plans on going on to her PhD in chemical biology after Tufts and after that hopes to remain in academia, teaching and doing research at the university level. 

She says of being awarded the Goldwater Scholarship, “I’m very lucky to have a lot of support both at Tufts and at home, but knowing that someone I have never met believes that I can achieve my goals too, is really encouraging. The entire application process was an incredible learning experience (a special thanks to Dr. Anne Moore, program specialist in the Office of Scholar Development, for all of her help!) and I’m just so honored to be listed among so many amazing scholars.”