Virginia Tech undergraduate student Sieu Tran, a double major in mathematics and microbiology in the College of Science, has been named a 2016 Goldwater Scholar.
In addition, two students earned honorable mentions: Hunter Jacobs of Stafford, Virginia, a chemical engineering major, and Paul Kennedy of Yorktown, Virginia, an electrical engineering major, both in the College of Engineering.
In 2016, the Goldwater Foundation received 1,150 nominations for the prestigious award. Tran is one of 252 selected for the scholarship.
Following graduation from Virginia Tech, Tran plans to pursue a Ph.D. in integrated mathematics and application of models of genomics in medicine. Afterwards, he hopes to conduct multidisciplinary research in immunology while mentoring students at university level. “To achieve these goals, I have carved a unique educational path for my undergraduate years by constantly, consistently, and insistently seeking out research and community service opportunities to grow intellectually and personally,” Tran said.
In particular, Tran has delved deeply into undergraduate research, working on multiple projects with faculty here and abroad. Since fall 2014, he has worked in the lab of Nanda Nanthakumar, associate professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Tran is looking at the effects of prebiotics and probiotics on mucosal infections.
“The dedication with which Mr. Tran carried out these experiments was extremely impressive. His effort was way beyond the level I was expecting from an undergraduate student,” Nanthakumar said. “Sieu has a sharp eye for detail and an uncanny gift of observation in picking up subtle things others would have missed. He is driven to succeed; I am sure that he will be an excellent biomedical researcher.”
Tran studied abroad at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom during the spring 2015 semester, doing a mathematical research project with in collaboration with Markus Rosenkranz, a faculty member there. When Tran returned, he continued the project under the guidance of Daniel Orr, assistant professor of mathematics in Virginia Tech’s College of Science.
“My role has been to help Sieu identify applications of the work he had already completed, and to highlight the best features of his work in his writing. At our first meeting he showed me a first draft of his paper in progress. I was simply blown away by the quality of the work, even more so because Sieu had not taken formal courses in abstract algebra,” Orr said. “His eagerness and initiative are truly exceptional, easily within the top two percent of students I have taught at Virginia Tech and the University of North Carolina.”
Beyond research, Tran prioritizes community service, volunteering at multiple non-profits, medical facilities, and campus organizations. “Volunteering has been an indispensable part of my life,” Tran said. “Regardless of how I am feeling, I always spend time to reach out to those less fortunate around me the best I can such as serving in soup kitchens, backpacking weekend meals for impoverished children, or being part of a team that builds houses for the homeless. Every experience that I have been through reminds me for whom I have worked so hard and only reaffirms my passion for research.”
Tran expects to graduate from Virginia Tech in spring 2017.