PHILADELPHIA, PA — Temple University’s Class of 2024 is making history: two women have become the first at their school to receive Goldwater scholarships in the same year. Meet Nala Hamilton, a biology major, and Diana Tiburcio, a mechanical engineering major and chemistry minor. Notably, Tiburcio is the first woman of color from Temple to receive this honor. That’s two groundbreaking researchers chosen in one go for Temple – truly remarkable!
The Goldwater Scholarship is a highly acclaimed national scholarship that has been around for quite some time. It is awarded to college sophomores and juniors who demonstrate exceptional research capabilities and a promising future as a researcher.
The scholarship is open to students interested in pursuing degrees in fields such as natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics and provides ample opportunities for their growth and development. Recipients can not only cover the costs of tuition and other academic expenses but also receive robust mentorship and guidance from some of the most renowned academicians in their respective fields.
All in all, it is a life-changing opportunity that rewards academic excellence and provides a stimulating environment for growth and scholarship.
Hamilton and Tiburcio are not only active participants in the lab, but are also accomplished scholars, having received numerous accolades, and are involved in various extracurricular activities. Additionally, they are proud members of Temple’s Honors Program.
“Nala and Diana are excellent role models: driven and ambitious, but also hard-working and humble,” said Director of Fellowships Advising Barbara Gorka. “I am confident they will inspire more students to pursue STEM research in the future. We are so proud of the accomplishments of these two talented young researchers.”
Born to Mexican parents, Tiburcio is a first-generation American citizen. Although she was born in Georgia, she grew up mostly in Malvern, Chester County, Pennsylvania. As a sabre on Temple University’s nationally ranked Division I fencing team, she’s as fiercely competitive as she is committed to researching clean water and nutrient recovery.
Tiburcio stumbled into the world of research while searching for a campus job, but she quickly became enamored with the hands-on, fast-paced environment of the lab. Now, she’s fully immersed in her work, eager to make a positive impact on the industry she loves.
“[I worked in] an environmental engineering lab focused on collecting water samples in between the I-95 highway and the Delaware River, and then taking the metal concentrations of those water samples to see how metals are transported underground and run off from the highway,” she said.
When she realized that her data collection position failed to provide the solutions-oriented role she desired, she applied for a Goldwater Scholarship as a sophomore. Though she was initially rejected, Tiburcio’s steadfast determination led her to recalibrate her application, and successfully apply the second time around.
Prior to submitting a revamped application Tiburcio was able to pursue additional research on water with Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Heyang (Harry) Yuan. Here, she studied wastewater treatment and nutrient recovery, delving into solution-oriented research for the next eighteen months.
In addition to being a Goldwater scholar, Tiburcio is also a MARC (Maximizing Access to Research Careers) scholar. With a mission to develop a diverse pool of undergraduates who complete their baccalaureate degree, and transition into and complete biomedical, research-focused higher degree programs.
Currently, Tiburcio is working in an inorganic chemistry lab under Chemistry Chair Ann Valentine, researching protein reactions with metals such as iron and titanium. However, her environmental science passions – particularly access to clean water – remain a driving force in her academic pursuits.
“I think water security is still a very prevalent issue in too many countries,” she said. “Water is so present in so many issues, and not only influences the environment in so many ways, including human and public health. So I think that’s one of my biggest goals still is to find better, more efficient ways to treat water, so that everyone can gain access to clean water.”
Hamilton is a first-generation college student hailing from Harrisburg. Her research expedition kick-started after her first year, in Associate Professor of Biology Rob Kulathinal’s genetics lab, and her curiosity only grew from there.
Her initial foray into computational genetics involved trying to unpack sex-based disparities in cancer development, with an eye to figuring out if the differences could be attributed to genetics or environment.
Kulathinal granted her the autonomy to choose her preferred direction in the field, a trait that she cherishes. Hamilton has lauded Temple University’s research and scholarship opportunities, stating that they not only allowed her to pursue her passion for research but also gave her ample resources to aid in the process.
Hamilton’s research journey has been made possible through the Smith Scholar fellowship, which not only grants undergraduate students the financial freedom to pursue research without having to seek employment, but also fosters a supportive collaborative environment. Additionally, Hamilton has received the Velay Fellowship, which has generously supported her research endeavours.
Adding to her impressive resume, Hamilton is the founder of SciDesign, a prominent student organization that fuses the disciplines of art and science. Currently, SciDesign is developing a unique mural in conjunction with Temple University’s Office of Sustainability for the benefit of the greater community.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Hamilton is the proud recipient of a Diamond Research Scholarship that will empower her to examine gender-based disparities beyond the realm of cancer this summer. It’s worth noting that the crux of her research revolves around making science communication accessible to the broadest possible audience. Looking forward, Hamilton has her sights set on applying to PhD programs to further her zealous pursuit of knowledge.
“With COVID-19 I got that science communication was something that people really struggle with, and the distrust in science is pretty big now,” she said. “It’s just been on my mind, and I’m super aware of it when I present. I want to be as clear as I possibly can and make it so that normal people like my grandma can understand it. That’s my goal, and so I do that in my research.”
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