Florida Gulf Coast University junior Elizabeth Recker has been awarded a golden opportunity to advance her dream of solving global problems through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
A bioengineering major at FGCU who minors in biology and chemistry, Recker has been named a 2021 Barry Goldwater Scholar. The preeminent program is dedicated to fostering the next generation of researchers in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. Just the third FGCU student to receive the recognition, Recker was one of 410 college sophomores and juniors chosen from 5,000 applicants from across the United States — about an 8% acceptance rate.
She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and then launch her own research company pursuing solutions through collaboration among STEM fields.
“I truly believe that STEM can tackle the biggest problems,” she said. “We have to develop the next cutting-edge technology and learn ways to improve our field to overcome challenges.”
As an undergraduate, Recker already has a track record of conducting research and developing solutions to overcome challenges. Under the guidance of FGCU chemistry professors, she’s contributing to a grant-funded study aimed at developing technologies to help fight climate change. And during an elite summer internship last year, Recker was part of a student team that designed and marketed a template that enables people to fabricate protective face masks — while raising money for COVID-19-related charities at the same time.
The internship was virtual because of the pandemic, but the outcome of her experience had real-world impact.
In part because of all this, Recker is also being spotlighted beside others in the FGCU family for their efforts to help the community during the pandemic. The FGCU on the Frontlines campaign features healthcare workers as well as teachers, mental health counselors and scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs — a legion of ordinary people who became extraordinary in challenging times and demonstrated the impact of FGCU in the world.
Many of those heroic Eagles, as well as the undergraduates preparing to follow them into the trenches, are able to do so because of donor-funded scholarships and other financial assistance. In addition to the President’s Gold Scholarship, a merit-based award Recker has received since she was a freshman, she has been a recipient of the Blair Foundation Scholarship and the Ruth M. and Cleveland L. Campbell Engineering Scholarship Endowed Fund for two years.
“If it wasn’t for scholarships and Pell Grants, I wouldn’t be here,” Recker said flat out. “FGCU has given me wonderful opportunities. I have met so many amazing professors at FGCU that have become my mentors. I would not want to go to any other school for my bachelor’s degree. I am so proud to be an FGCU Eagle.”
Mentorship from Arslan Mirjafari, an associate chemistry professor, and Terumi Rafferty-Osaki, director of FGCU’s Office of Competitive Fellowships, helped her win the coveted Goldwater scholarship as well. They spent countless hours last fall helping her complete the complicated application — including multiple essays, recommendations and transcripts. But it was time well spent considering her acceptance means $15,000 over two years, she said, as well as meaningful career benefits.
“Long term, I get connected to an entire society of people who are Goldwater Scholars, a whole community you have access to network with, and you are now part of it for the rest of your life,” Recker said. “Having this on my resume when I apply for graduate schools is going to really set me apart from everyone else. I’ll have a way better chance to get into good grad schools and programs.”
In true “FGCU Effect” fashion, Recker already is paying forward the investment and inspiration others have given to her as she developed as a student, as a researcher and as an engaged citizen. Through the Office of Competitive Fellowships, she helps high school students from underserved communities to hone their college applications. This year, she mentored four high school students in the fundamentals of synthetic chemistry as part of her climate-change research. Next fall, she hopes to take a presentation on her carbon dioxide capture experiments into area schools to demonstrate the exciting potential of pursuing STEM education and careers.
When she started college, Recker didn’t even think she would have the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate. But she found that FGCU professors truly are really dedicated to helping students reach their full potential.
“At any other university I wouldn’t have had these opportunities,” she said. “I have a lot of mentors. They do so much for me on a daily basis – answering questions or just coming to their offices and talking about life. They do a lot for me, so I’ve got to put the work in, too. All these people are putting in so much effort for me. I have a responsibility to do the same for someone else. I owe it to them.”
Support the frontlines
This is part of a series of stories spotlighting FGCU students, faculty and alumni making an impact during the pandemic.
By investing in a scholarship or a program at FGCU, you can empower more individuals like them to make a difference where it matters most — on the frontlines. For information on how you can help, call FGCU Advancement at 239-590-1067, or visit FGCU on the Frontlines to see more stories and give online.