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Science Stars

Two USC College undergraduates named Goldwater Scholars.

Science Stars

When April 1 rolled around, USC College undergraduates Dallas Shi and Sonya Hanson both knew that Goldwater Scholarship announcements were just around the corner.

Shi anxiously checked the honorable mention list first. Not seeing her name listed, she hesitantly checked the winners’ list. She was happily surprised to find that she had been honored for her research with a Goldwater Scholarship.

”I was happy,” Shi said with characteristic humility. ”It’s a pretty prestigious award.”

Hanson, who expected a delayed announcement, was similarly thrilled when her father called her with news that she had won.

From a field of 1035 applicants, 321 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships were awarded for the 2008–09 academic year. This undergraduate award, created by Congress in 1986, recognizes outstanding students in order to encourage them to continue careers in science, mathematics and engineering.

Shi, who works as a resident adviser at Fluor Tower, is a driven and ambitious student. She is currently conducting research with Dr. Biju Thomas, assistant professor of research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, looking at patterns of retinal degeneration in rodents. They are designing an optokinetic tracking device, an apparatus that identifies and characterizes the degree of degeneration. The research was recently presented in Florida at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology’s annual conference.

After graduating in only three years with a degree in biological sciences, Shi plans on taking a year off from school to teach English in China, where she grew up. Although she will spend the year away from science, her ultimate goal remains to work in medicine.

Shi credits her family with fueling her passion for science, but her experiences in China played an integral role as well.

“I wanted to be doctor because where I grew up in China, there were a lot of beggars with no legs and arms,” she said, “and I realized early on in life that the difference between them and myself is that I have all the opportunities in the world to go somewhere, be something and really give back.”

Shi plans to return to the United States to enroll in an M.D./Ph.D. program — possibly at USC — to fulfill her childhood goal of “providing equal opportunity in health to those who are born without it.”

The College’s other Goldwater Scholar, Sonya Hanson, is a junior majoring in biophysics. She is currently conducting research with Lin Chen, associate professor of biological sciences in the College, to develop a better understanding of the muscle disease myasthenia gravis, and to potentially create a drug to treat it.

Hanson recently spent a week in London presenting her research to prospective collaborators, with the aim of obtaining the necessary proteins for experimental research.

“It was amazing,” she said of the conference in England. At the conference Hanson met researchers who examine addictive behavior by looking at the same protein she studies. “It’s fascinating to watch this relatively small world and see the variety of its implications,” she added.

While this burgeoning scientist excels in her research, she is not by any means short on activities that put the right side of her brain to use.

A cinematic arts minor who loves to play the horn, Hanson spends her time outside of the lab writing screenplays and playing in the Trojan Marching Band. She is currently working on a script that details the personal lives of scientists, looking beyond their lab coats and goggles to highlight the often overlooked human element. Despite her varied interests, Hanson does not think she will stray far from the field of science.

“I am interested in a lot of other things,” she said, “but, long term, science feels like it is the most rewarding. You feel like you're really doing something for the world and at the same time you have a lot of freedom in terms of what you do for the world. I think that is really inspiring.”