Three UGA Honors students named 2011 Goldwater Scholars

Athens, Ga. – Victoria Akin, Michael Burel and Amar Mirza, third-year students enrolled in the University of Georgia Honors Program, have been awarded 2011 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships. They are among a group of 275 recipients of this national award for undergraduates who have outstanding potential and intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering.

Akin, also a UGA Foundation Fellow, is from Macon and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. She is a graduate of Mount de Sales Academy. Burel is from Acworth and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in cellular biology. He is a graduate of Carlton J. Kell High School. Mirza is from Hiram and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. He is a graduate of Marietta High School.

UGA students have received this award almost every year since 1995 and this year’s recipients bring the university’s total to 39 Goldwater Scholars. Akin, Burel and Mirza were selected from an applicant pool of more than 1,000 candidates who were nominated by their colleges and universities.

“I am very pleased that Victoria, Michael and Amar have been recognized as Goldwater Scholars,” said UGA President Michael F. Adams.  “At a time when America is producing far too few graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we are proud that these UGA students are not only studying in those fields, they are excelling.”

Recipients receive up to $7,500 annually toward tuition, fees, books, and room and board for the one and two-year awards.  The Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was authorized by Congress in 1986 to honor the late U.S. senator.

“I am very pleased for Amar, Michael, and Tori on an individual basis,” said David S. Williams, associate provost and director of UGA’s Honors Program and UGA’s faculty representative for the Goldwater Scholarship. “Collectively, they underscore the importance of UGA’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities, through which they all have conducted impressive research.”

Akin began her research activities in epidemiology modeling after her freshman year at UGA, working under the guidance of epidemiologist and statistician Andreas Handel in UGA’s College of Public Health.  She created a computer program that simulates the progression of influenza, gathering data to support more efficient production of antiviral drugs. Since fall, Akin also has been involved in numerical analysis research with mathematics professor Jason Cantarella.

This past summer, Akin participated in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program and will be a presenter at UGA’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities Symposium on April 4. She also teaches math concepts to middle school children through the MathCounts Outreach Program and has been involved in the UGA Math Club. Last May, Akin taught math and phonetics to young children during a service abroad trip to Tanzania through the Volunteer Alliance program.

Akin would like to obtain a Ph.D. in mathematics and pursue a career in higher education as a researcher and professor.

Burel first was introduced to UGA undergraduate research when he was named a CURO Promising Scholar as a high school senior and attended the CURO Symposium in 2008. He went on to become a CURO apprentice during his first two years at UGA, working in the laboratory of Steven Stice, Georgia Research Alliance Scholar in Reproductive Physiology. He has continued his research with Stice, and is now a teaching assistant for the CURO apprentice program, offering guidance and support to the new group of apprentices.

Selected as one of two inaugural recipients of New York University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, Burel conducted research in France last summer, and will continue this summer at NYU’s Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. He has presented his stem cell research at the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris and at the CURO Symposium last spring.

Burel plans to pursue a doctorate in developmental biology and become a university professor and researcher.

Mirza has been working in the biochemistry and molecular biology laboratory of Natarajan Kannan since his freshman year. He also participated in CURO’s summer research fellowship program. His research has focused on various aspects of the structure and function of protein kinases, a family of proteins that has mutated in cancer.

Mirza has presented his projects at several symposia including the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in 2009 and the CURO Symposium last year.  Mirza participated in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program in summer 2010 and will be a presenter at the annual EXROP meeting in Chevy Chase, Maryland in May. He most recently traveled to Haiti and worked in a health clinic during the cholera outbreak through the Partners in Development program.

Mirza would like to earn an M.D./Ph.D. in molecular biology and pursue a career in genomic medicine.

For more information on the Goldwater Scholarship, see

For more information on UGA’s Honors Program, see

– Joëlle Walls

Posted April 4, 2011.