Six more Mary Gates scholars at UW Bothell

By Douglas Esser
Six University of Washington Bothell students won a $5,000 Mary Gates undergraduate research scholarship in the latest round of these awards. Six is the most since the office of undergraduate research and creative practice was created three years ago, said Director Charlotte Rasmussen.

The Mary Gates Endowment awards these competitive scholarships twice a year to enhance the educational experiences of undergraduate students at the University of Washington while they are engaged in research guided by faculty.

The scholarships were endowed by Bill and Melinda Gates in 1995 to honor the memory of his mother, Mary Maxwell Gates who served as a UW regent from 1975-1993. Criteria include demonstrated facility with the concepts, methodologies and questions in a field of study, and the student’s investment in the research and potential learning benefits.

Several of the students presented their work at the May 12 Undergraduate Research and Creative Practice Symposium in the Activities and Recreation Center. The UW Bothell winners, their major, faculty mentors and project titles are listed below.

Shelby Gramer, senior, neuroscience, Douglas Wacker
Non-Breeding American Crow Vocalizations and Responses

Shelby Gramer

Anyone who has been on the UW Bothell campus at dusk in winter has witnessed thousands of crows descending with raucous cries before roosting for the night in the wetlands. Most people think Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

Working with Assistant Professor Douglas Wacker, Gramer said, "We want to know what those noises mean. Are they conveying some kind of information before they roost at night? We think they might be sharing the location of food sources they found earlier in the day."

Wacker not only helped with the field research process but gave Gramer tips on how to write a scholarship application. A transfer from Bellevue College, she’s thinking about attending graduate school and would like a career in a research setting.

Researching with her mentor, learning about animal behavior and now receiving a Mary Gates scholarship has given Gramer more self-confidence about her career plans.

“Winning this scholarship affirms that I’m on the right track, and I belong here, and I do know what I’m doing.”

Samantha Sarrett, senior, biology, biochemistry, Lori Robins
Studying the Mechanism of Thioester Hydrolysis through Spectroscopy, Isotope Exchange, and Kinetics

Samantha Sarrett

The language of science, such as “thioester hydrolysis,” comes easily to Samantha Sarrett, who plans on going to graduate school and pursuing a career in the field of medical chemistry.

After transferring from another university to UW Bothell, Sarrett found others who not only spoke her language but also welcomed her into the conversation.

“Moving here was the best decision I’ve made,” Sarrett said, noting that she has established close connections with “not only my mentor but all the faculty I’ve had.” Her mentor, Associate Professor Lori Robins, “doesn’t tell us what to do; she guides us in what to do.”

Receiving a Mary Gates scholarship “solidified that someone believes in me. I have very supportive people in my life, but winning such a prestigious award for something I worked so hard in, was almost unbelievable.”

The money is particularly helpful since she worked nearly full time at a restaurant, sometimes on her feet 12 hours on the weekend. “I’d rather be on a computer studying,” she said.

Anthony Suherli, senior, electrical engineering, Mahmoud Ghofrani
Optimum Sizing and Siting of Renewable Energy based Distributed Generation Units

Anthony Suherli

When he came from Indonesia four years ago, Anthony Suherli said he couldn't speak English well enough even to order a sandwich. While learning English and studying computer science at North Seattle College, Suherli took time also to enroll in an electrical engineering class. He loved it — and realized this is the work he wants to do in his life.

“It’s challenging. It requires logical conclusions,” he said. “You can see what you’re doing in front of you.”

Transferring to UW Bothell, he found a lot of opportunity and an “amazing” mentor in Assistant Professor Ghofrani “who actually cares about my success.” Their research is a method to lower the cost of installing renewable energy.

With funding from the scholarship, Suherli said he doesn’t have to work as a tutor and can concentrate on finishing his degree. He’s taking 18 credits this spring. Still deciding what to do next, he’s considering a master’s in electrical engineering or taking a job offer back home in Jakarta to help build a subway.

Randy Wang, senior, business administration, Deanna Kennedy
Keys for Communication Media in Teamwork

Randy Want, Wolf Yeigh, Deanna Kennedy

Photo: Scholarship winner Randy Wang explains his research to Chancellor Wolf Yeigh as mentor Deanna Kennedy looks on. (Marc Studer photos)

The only non-STEM student among the most recent Mary Gates Scholarship winners, Randy Wang is majoring both in finance and in culture, literature and the arts (CLA). A big fan of anime, he sees his two majors intersecting in a possible job in media or entertainment.

With School of Business Assistant Professor Kennedy, Wang studies how people working together on a project choose different devices and social media to communicate. From his CLA perspective, he is interested in better understanding how culture affects the tools people choose.

A transfer from Cascadia College, Wang plans to continue his education after UW Bothell, earning a doctorate in organizational behavior or organizational management.

“I want to pursue as much knowledge as I can obtain in this management perspective,” he said.

And, he feels the Mary Gates scholarship is not just an honor but a responsibility.

“I will devote myself into my research. It does not have an end. As far as I can keep doing it, I will do it.”

Amber Thrall, junior, mathematics, Pietro Paparella
Nonnegative Inverse Eigenvalue Problem

Amber Thrall

The hardest part of Amber Thrall’s research may be trying to explain it to a non-mathematician.

“Our research basically boils down to matrices and their eigenvalues. In case you didn't know, when you multiply a matrix by some special vectors, known as eigenvectors, the resulting vector maintains its direction and is simply scaled by an eigenvalue.” Some possible applications in statistics and some areas of physics.

Thrall signed up for the May 19 poster presentation at the Undergraduate Research Symposium on the Seattle campus.

Thrall hopes to obtain a doctorate in mathematics and is considering a career as a professor. Assistant Professor Paparella has been helpful with career advice and the research, Thrall said. “I am very fortunate to be working with him.”

Receiving the scholarship is very motivating, Thrall said. Easing the financial stress allows her to focus more on research.

“It also is amazing to receive recognition for studying something I love.”

Zhan Shi, senior, electrical engineering, Harry Aintablian
Exploring an Algorithm about Worst Case Analysis
(No details available.)

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