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April 13, 2006

Students win three major scholarships

Pitt students have won two Goldwater scholarships and a Truman scholarship this year.

University Honors College students Tanya Keenan, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience, and Margaret Bennewitz, a junior majoring in bioengineering with a minor in chemistry, have been awarded 2006 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships for their exceptional independent research in the science and engineering disciplines.

Honors College junior Adam Iddriss, a double major in bioengineering and chemistry, has been named a 2006 Harry S. Truman Scholarship winner for his outstanding academic and leadership abilities.

The Goldwater Scholarship was established in 1986 by Congress in honor of then-Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

Considered the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields, the Goldwater scholarship is awarded in either a student’s sophomore or junior year. It covers tuition, room and board, fees and books — up to a maximum of $7,500 per year — for each student recipient’s remaining period of study. Pitt undergrads have won a total of 35 Goldwater scholarships.

Keenan, who works with Anthony Grace, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience, is using a variety of neurophysiological techniques to understand the role of neural circuitry in such psychiatric disorders as schizophrenia, addiction and depression. Keenan’s particular interest is in the amygdala’s involvement in heightened emotional states. This summer she plans to complete experiments that probe the circuitry between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.

Also this summer, she plans to participate in the Pitt in China program. Keenan’s long-term career goal is to be a neuroscientist who is both a committed investigator at a major research institution and an active participant in the global scientific community.

Bennewitz worked under the direction of Timothy Corcoran, a research professor in the School of Medicine. Employing the imaging techniques of computed tomography (CT) and mucociliary clearance, Bennewitz analyzed scans of the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients using a model developed by Corcoran. She was able to determine how clearance rates varied according to lung region and the degree of cystic fibrosis.

Bennewitz plans to earn a Ph.D. degree in biotechnology and artificial organs and become a researcher and professor.

The Truman scholarship, established by Congress in 1975 in memory of the 33rd U.S. president, is a highly competitive, merit-based federal award for college juniors who wish to attend graduate or professional school in preparation for careers in government, the nonprofit sector or elsewhere in public service.

Iddriss, Pitt’s 10th Truman winner, is one of 75 students to be chosen as a 2006 Truman Scholar. The recipients were selected from 243 finalists from 156 institutions across the country. Pitt is the only public university in Pennsylvania to win a Truman this year.

Iddriss is president of Pitt’s Pre-Medical Organization for Minority Students (POMS). Under his leadership, POMS organized Pitt’s first blood drive to promote minority donations.

As the service and technology chair for FOCUS (Facilitating Opportunities and Climate for Underrepresented Students), Iddriss mentors freshman minority students and coordinates service projects. He also serves as a mentor and tutor for the college after-school mentoring team, which works with at-risk high school students in math and science.

From 2003 to 2005, he was a student recruiter and mentor on the freshman engineering leadership team, mentoring freshman engineers and designing workshops on global issues.

In addition, Iddriss is the founder and president of Engineers for a Sustainable World, which creates and helps fund service projects in developing nations. This summer, Iddriss will spend two months in Tanzania with the Engineering World Health Summer Institute, offered through Duke University.

Iddriss’s long-term goals are to pursue M.D. and Ph.D. degrees and to work as a bioengineer and physician dedicated to patient care, biomedical research in tissue engineering and advocacy work for minorities in science.

Upon completing his education, Iddriss would like to join the Peace Corps and serve in Ghana, offering clinical services and establishing an HIV/AIDS education program.

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