ATLANTA — He worked construction jobs before enrolling in college in search of new career opportunities. She saw her small business fall apart during the pandemic and reimagined her life as a health researcher.
Both are now Georgia State University Honors College students who have been awarded the national Barry Goldwater Scholarship for outstanding students who are pursuing research in the fields of natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.
Max Budnick, a mathematics student at Georgia State’s Perimeter College, and Emily Smith, a neuroscience major on Georgia State’s Atlanta Campus, are among just 413 students nationwide who were recently named Goldwater scholars.
The one- and two-year scholarships, awarded by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
Budnick is a first-generation college student graduating in May with an associate degree in mathematics. A former construction worker, he said he came to Perimeter College seeking a career path with opportunities to grow. He initially considered studying computer science, but fell in love with mathematics.
Selected as an undergraduate researcher for Georgia State’s Math Path program and as part of Perimeter’s Undergraduate Research Experience program in 2022, Budnick is working on research with Somaya Muiny, an assistant professor of mathematics at Perimeter.
“The Goldwater Scholarship symbolizes a significant milestone in my academic journey that would have been very difficult to achieve without the support from my mentors at Perimeter,” Budnick said. “Being selected demonstrates that my careful planning and hard work paid off. I’m excited to see where this journey takes me.”
After graduating from Perimeter, Budnick hopes to continue his studies at Georgia Tech where he will pursue research on game theory and computational mathematics with an emphasis on decision theory.
“Max is a talented student, and I’m so pleased the Goldwater Foundation recognized his many abilities,” said Perimeter College Honors Coordinator Kari Miller. “Max has always impressed me with his curiosity and open-mindedness. He wants to learn as much about math as he can, so he has sought out every opportunity to do so.”
Smith, who plans to graduate from Georgia State in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, owned an exercise and wellness business in New York City that closed during the pandemic. She enrolled in Perimeter College’s Kinesiology and Health pathway when she came to Atlanta.
“My initial motivation, and my reason for diving into school, was to investigate more effective rehabilitation strategies,” she said. “Ultimately, I decided to pursue an associate degree in physics because I needed to understand how the body works at its deepest level in order to understand how it changes at the macro level.”
Under the guidance of Assistant Professor of Physics Lisa Krishnamurthy, Smith is currently doing research at the Atlanta VA Medical Center on the impact of exercise on stroke patients. She is also working in Georgia State's Dynamical Neuroscience Lab with Associate Professor of Neuroscience Gennady Cymbalyuk.
“As a small-business owner returning to school after enduring the economic consequences of the pandemic, Emily started at Perimeter College and took the initiative to seize every research opportunity available to her,” said Christopher Goode, a principal lecturer in neuroscience and psychology at Georgia State. “Emily demonstrates the resilience, grit and determination characteristic of so many of our students at Georgia State. She has established a clear trajectory on a research career and will continue to an advanced degree.”
The Goldwater scholars were selected based on academic merit from a field of 1,267 natural science, mathematics and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. Forty-eight scholars are mathematics and computer science majors, 308 are majoring in the natural sciences and 57 are majoring in engineering. Many of the scholars have presented their work at professional society conferences.
The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, who served for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate. Since its first award in 1989, the foundation has granted more than 10,280 scholarships.
Story by Rebecca Rakoczy
Photos by Bill Roa and Meg Buscema