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Goldwater Scholarship is Awarded to Biotechnology Major Nathan May


JONESBORO —  A biotechnology major with an interest in statistical analysis and machine learning is Arkansas State University’s latest recipient of the prestigious national Goldwater Scholarship.

Nathan May of Newport, a sophomore Honors student, conducts research at Arkansas Biosciences Institute under the guidance of Dr. Sudeepa Bhattacharyya.  May credits her with introducing him to the concepts of research as a career and machine learning as an analytical tool.

“Being selected as a Goldwater Scholar is one of the most exciting things I have had happen to me this year. I am honored to have been selected by the committee,” May said.  “This is definitely a highlight in my college experience and a watershed moment for me.”

The Goldwater Scholarship Program seeks to identify and reward students in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics who show exceptional promise of becoming part of the nation’s next generation of research leaders. Goldwater Scholars annually receive an amount equal to the cost of tuition, mandatory fees, books, and room and board, up to a maximum of $7,500 annually for both their junior and senior years.

May is the only student at an Arkansas university to win a Goldwater in 2021, and is the fifth in A-State history.  Previous winners include Dr. Brandon Kemp, now a professor of electrical engineering at A-State, in 1995.

“We are so proud of Nathan, and this is a fantastic moment for his academic journey,” said Chancellor Kelly Damphousse.  “It is also an incredible compliment to the work done by our faculty with undergraduates in research.  I want to make sure to thank Sudeepa for her mentorship with Nathan, and the community who supports our undergraduate researchers.”

Quick to credit those who have worked with him thus far, he cited faculty members Dr. Ferebee Tunno, associate professor of statistics; Bhattacharyya, associate professor of bioinformatics; and Dr. Maureen Dolan, associate professor of molecular biology.  He also thanked Rebecca Oliver and John Williams in the Honors College, and Jennifer Salo, competitive fellowship and scholarships coordinator, for their support in the application process.

“This award speaks to the quality of A-State’s people and shows we are a competitive research institution on the state and national level,” he continued, adding he wants it to serve as encouragement to fellow students.

May wrote his Goldwater Scholarship application essay on research he designed and conducted at the Arkansas Biosciences Institute to develop an algorithm that pulled COVID-19 data from the Arkansas Department of Health website with statistical rate analysis for mortality, positivity and recovery.

He developed a database and wrote practice programs to work with the data. As part of the project, he also developed a web application for the public that displays COVID data for a selected county. His newest research project involves machine learning and using it to determine the prevalence of major depressive disorder in Arkansas.

His long-term goal is to pursue a Ph.D. degree in bioinformatics, and his career plans are to conduct research on healthcare data analytics and bioinformatics using machine learning and artificial intelligence. He is considering pursuing this as a career path in the uniformed services.

May also is a campus leader. He has been an Honors Ambassador and is vice president of administration for the A-State Honors College Association. He also was a co-founder of the Arkansas Beta chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and currently serves as its secretary, bylaws chairman, and sophomore judicial committee member.

The Goldwater Foundation, a federally endowed agency, is named for the late Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Established in 1986, the program is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

To boost the number of awards, the foundation entered a partnership this year with the National Defense Education Program of the Department of Defense.  A total of 410 participants were selected.

May’s parents are Lisa Dawn May and James Anthony May.