April 01, 2016

Student Austin Weigle earns national recognition

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Austin Weigle, a junior plant biology major with a concentration in molecular and biochemistry physiology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is an Honorable Mention for a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

The Goldwater Scholarship is among the most selective of the major national scholarships. This year, the scholarship board accepted 1,150 scholarship nominations, from which the judges chose only 252 as scholarship winners and 256 to receive an Honorable Mention.

Pam Gwaltney, the late associate director of the University Honors Program, identified Weigle as a Goldwater candidate during his freshman year, and worked with him to develop a competitive student vita for major scholarships through his junior year. Gwaltney died from pancreatic cancer before Weigle began the Goldwater application process.

Aldwin Anterola, associate professor of plant biology, is Weigle’s research mentor and nominated him for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. Stephen Ebbs, chair of the plant biology department, and Keith Gagnon, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, also wrote letters in Weigle’s support.

Weigle, who is from Kennebunk, Maine, thanked Gwaltney for introducing him to the concept of major scholarship competition and for helping him realize what he, as a strong student, could contribute to the university. He also thanked Anterola and Laxmi Sagwan, a doctoral student working with Anterola.

“Dr. Anterola accepted me into his lab when I had little experience and started incorporating me into his research projects,” he said. “He’s made me much more knowledgeable in terms of the research components of my field and how to think as a researcher. Laxmi has given me an intangible amount of guidance. We share literature, dissect our thinking, and learn how we should be conducting research.”

Weigle thanked the SIU plant biology community, and Ebbs and Gagnon for their letters in support of his scholarship application. He also thanked Laurie Bell, interim dean of the University College, for stepping in and encouraging him to hold to his scholarship, research and personal goals. He offered a shout-out, too, to his Saluki Track and Field colleagues who, he said, were his “benevolent reprieve.”

Weigle ultimately plans to earn a doctoral degree in medicinal chemistry with research focuses in pharmacognosy and plant secondary metabolism with the goal of developing natural drugs from plants.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency created in 1986. The program, which honors the late Sen. Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, helps identify and assist outstanding students in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Since its first award in 1989, the Foundation has funded 7,680 scholarships worth approximately $48 million.