The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation named FIU biomedical engineering major Elizabeth Gallardo a Goldwater Scholar for the 2015-2016 academic year.
The scholarship program is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering; it is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields. Gallardo is the third FIU student to receive the scholarship, and the first since 2003.
“It’s an honor to be a Goldwater Scholar along with students from Harvard, MIT and other great schools,” Gallardo said.
Gallardo is one 260 undergraduate sophomores and juniors from across the United States selected as Goldwater Scholars. They were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,206 mathematics, science and engineering students.
The one and two year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and student housing up to a maximum of $7,500.
“She’s a joy to work with, and I couldn’t think of a more deserving student,” said Rebekah Schulze, the director of the Office of Scholarships & Fellowships who helped Gallardo throughout the application process.
Virtually all Goldwater Scholars intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their degree objective and Gallardo is no different. She hopes to continue to pursue research in biomechatronics – which aims to integrate mechanical elements, electronics and parts of biological organisms – as a doctorate student.
Growing up, she watched the anime show Fullmetal Alchemist and one of the show’s supporting characters was a teenage girl who built a specialized prosthetic arm and leg for one of the show’s main characters. The character’s skills as an “automail” – or automotive prosthetic limbs – engineer struck a chord in Gallardo.
“I saw that show and thought ‘I want to do that,’” Gallardo recalls.
When she came to FIU, she began doing research in Professor and Chair of Biomedical Engineering Ranu Jung’s Adaptive Neural Systems laboratory. Their work in prosthetic design and the nervous system, including research focused on one day integrating sensory feedback through prosthetic limbs, immediately appealed to her.
Gallardo, an avid runner who ran track and field in high school and still runs in her spare time, hopes to one day help design prosthetics that could give athletes and others a chance to compete or take part in the recreational activities they once enjoyed.
“Giving people who have lost an arm or a leg back that opportunity would be awesome,” she said. “Hopefully, we can give that back to people.”
After spending time at Harvard last summer for an REU (research experience for undergraduates), Gallardo is excited to go back to Boston this summer to take part in an REU at MIT. This time she will be working in a lab under Hugh Herr, the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group and a double amputee who has been responsible for breakthrough advances in bionic limbs.
For more information on the Goldwater Scholarship and how to apply, visit the Office of Scholarships & Fellowships website or call 305-348-0349.
by Joel Delgado