Date April 19, 2024
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Five Brown students earn Truman, Goldwater scholarships

Brown’s two Truman scholars will pursue a future career in public policy, while three students will continue STEM research as Goldwater scholars.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In recognition of their own academic achievements and Brown University’s charge to develop exceptional scholars, four members of the Class of 2025 and one “2024.5er” have been named to this year’s cohorts of national Truman and Goldwater scholars.

Jay Philbrick, a member of the Class of 2024.5, and Brown junior Alexandra Mork have earned national Truman Scholarships for their commitment to public service, while juniors Elizabeth Polydefkis, Clara Tandar and Jennifer Wang were awarded Goldwater Scholarships for their contributions as rising science researchers.

The awardees' unique achievements and interdisciplinary interests highlight the flexibility of Brown's Open Curriculum, said Joel Simundich, assistant dean of the College for fellowships.

"We are enormously proud of this year's Goldwater and Truman scholars, as well as all of our nominees and applicants," Simundich said. "As Goldwater Scholars, Elizabeth, Clara and Jennifer demonstrate ingenuity and risk-taking in their research, reflecting both the rigor of Brown's STEM education as well as the unique interdisciplinarity fostered by the Open Curriculum. This year's Truman Scholars similarly exhibit ingenuity and confidence with risk: Alexandra and Jay are both determined to better the world through their work, and their research and ongoing contributions to their communities hold much promise for their future impact in law, policy and public service."

The five scholars offered insights on their research, favorite Brown pastimes, goals after graduation and how the awards will help enable them to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

Truman Scholarship

Awarded annually to selected college juniors across the United States, the prestigious Truman Scholarship recognizes students who demonstrate exceptional academic ability and a commitment to public service. 

The 60 new Truman Scholars, who come from 54 institutions, were selected from 709 candidates nominated by 285 colleges and universities. Truman Scholars receive $30,000 for graduate study that is intended to prepare them for careers as public service leaders. They also receive leadership training, career and graduate school advising and internship opportunities within the federal government. 

At Brown, the unveiling of the award was quite the surprise — literally. Philbrick said that Simundich invited him into his office under the pretense of debriefing the Truman Scholarship interview. He was waiting patiently outside the closed office door when Mork showed up, also expecting to speak to Simundich about her interview.

When the door opened, Philbrick and Mork were greeted by Simundich, Brown President Christina H. Paxson and Dean of the College Rashid Zia, who shared the exciting news that that they had both been selected as two of this year’s 60 Truman scholars.

“My jaw dropped,” Philbrick said. “I shook their hands, they congratulated me, and ‘Thank you so much’ were the only words I could get out. They had also gotten us cookies and cupcakes to celebrate, which were wonderful.”

Jay PhilbrickJay Philbrick, Class of 2024.5

Concentration: Applied mathematics-economics and computer science
Hometown: North Yarmouth, Maine

Since his sophomore year at Brown, Philbrick has been involved with the Economics Departmental Undergraduate Group, where he’s now a senior advisor. In addition to co-directing the Undergraduate Council of Students Polling Committee, Philbrick has served in various roles at the Watson Institute, PPE Center and Swearer Center. Growing up in rural Maine, he said he saw firsthand the life-changing impacts of government investments in areas like education and broadband, and hopes to pursue a J.D. and a Ph.D. in economics that he will use to build and implement effective policy, especially in rural communities. 

“When I found out I got the scholarship, I knew the weeks of mock interviews and preparation — not to mention a lifelong passion for public service — had paid off,” Philbrick said.  “Although the news wouldn't be made public for another week, I did share it with my parents, which was a surreal, tearful and joyful moment of pride and relief.”

Alexandra MorkAlexandra Mork, Class of 2025

Concentration: Political science and history 
Hometown: Henderson, Nevada and Los Angeles, California 

In addition to her work as a Meiklejohn Peer Advisor and officer on the advocacy team of Brown Votes, Mork serves as a political underrepresentation fellow at Brown’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy, where she conducts research on voter registration in high schools. She’s also involved with the Brown Political Review, where she was previously editor-in-chief.

“I am so grateful for the mentorship that I have received from people throughout my time at Brown,” Mork said. “It’s a really unique, encouraging and supportive environment.”

Mork is passionate about issues of democracy, criminal justice reform and educational access, and hopes to pursue a J.D. and master of public administration in order to become a civil rights appellate lawyer.

“It was wonderful to be surprised and really special to get to share the moment with Jay,” Mork said. “ So many people — from Truman scholar Brown alums to deans of the college — talked through my application with me, read and edited my many drafts and helped prepare me for interviews.”

Goldwater Scholarship

The Goldwater Scholarship supports outstanding students in the development of research careers in mathematics, engineering and the natural sciences. This year, the program awarded scholarships to 438 second- and third-year students, selected from a pool of 1,353 nominees representing 446 academic institutions from across the country. Each institution is permitted to nominate up to four students per year.

Winners are awarded up to $7,500 per full academic year to help cover costs of tuition, mandatory fees, books, and room and board. Goldwater Scholars, of which there have been over 10,000 since the program was founded in 1989, pursue Ph.D. programs at top research institutions and have an established record of earning further prestigious postgraduate fellowships, like Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

Elizabeth PolydefkisElizabeth Polydefkis, Class of 2025

Concentration: Biomedical engineering 
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland

When she’s not rowing for Brown’s varsity crew team, Polydefkis can be found tutoring kids through the STEM to Stern program or working with the Society of Women Engineers. She is particularly passionate about increasing accessibility and independence for individuals with disabilities. Polydefkis hopes to become a faculty member who’s part of an interdisciplinary research team where she can work with medical device users, medical providers, and civil engineering colleagues to develop devices to increase mobility and systems and incorporate them into society.

“At Brown, I am surrounded by people conducting amazing research on top of their extracurriculars and academic commitments, so I did not expect to win when I applied because doing incredible research is so normal here,” she said. “Being selected was truly an honor and solidified that my research is impactful. I am incredibly grateful to all of my mentors, faculty and coaches at Brown and beyond who have supported my academic, athletic, and research journeys and encouraged me to apply. “

Clara TandarClara Tandar, Class of 2025

Concentration: Bioengineering and international and public affairs (policy and governance)
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah

Since her first year at Brown, Tandar has worked with Associate Professor of Medical Science, Orthopaedics and Engineering Eric Darling to pursue her interest in using an interdisciplinary approach to bioengineer drug delivery systems that provide specificity in a complex and dynamic biological environment. Outside the lab, she serves as the vice president for development for the Brown Initiative for Policy and as a teaching assistant in chemistry and engineering courses. Tandar aims to become a physician-scientist within an academic setting so she can enable collaboration, mentor students and drive innovation in patient treatment development. 

“This award is a nice reminder that the interdisciplinary approach I have taken to my academic interests has and will hopefully continue to enrich my research and continued learning,” she said. “Being a student in the Program in Liberal Medical Education, combined with the flexibility of Brown’s Open Curriculum, has given me the opportunity to explore and combine my interests in scientific communication, public policy and bioengineering. Beyond this, I’m so appreciative to all of my mentors, from graduate students to PIs, who have guided and encouraged me to be persistent and creative with my research.”

Jennifer WangJennifer Wang, Class of 2025

Concentration: Computer science
Hometown: Harvard, Massachusetts

Wang has worked as a teaching assistant in the computer science department since her first year at Brown, and is now the head TA for Fairness in Automated Decision-Making, a course that she said left an indelible mark on her research interests. She’s currently the department’s Meta Undergrad Research Assistant and has served in various capacities to Full Stack, Hack@Brown and the Computer Science Departmental Undergraduate Group. Wang hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science to address the current challenges in algorithm fairness and ensure that the deployment of AI systems is grounded in societal contexts.

“Receiving the Goldwater Scholarship has been an incredible affirmation of my work at the intersection of computer science and policy,” she said. “I had always thought of computer science research as a space that valued depth and theoretical contributions, and I saw myself as a misfit, especially as I gravitated towards interdisciplinary studies and the application of technology for social good. The scholarship reinforced my belief that there is a place for merging my technical and policy interests, and I’m beyond grateful for all the support from my mentors and my community, whose encouragement has been instrumental in reaching this point in my journey.”