Academics & Research

UH junior recognized as one of nation’s top STEM students

Khanh Nguyen

Mathematics and physics junior Khanh Nguyen was selected as a 2014 recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious award that funds undergraduates who plan to pursue a career in research. | Courtesy of Chris Watts

One of her grandfather’s greatest wishes became a reality for mathematics and physics junior Khanh “Kate” Nguyen.

Nguyen was recognized as one of the nation’s top science students after she was selected as one of the 2014 recipients of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious awards available to undergraduate students in the country. It provides funding to sophomore and junior students majoring in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering with plans to pursue careers in research.

Nguyen was among 283 recipients selected from a field of 1,166 candidates and is the seventh student to receive a Goldwater Scholarship in UH’s history. Nguyen will receive $7,500 for tuition, fees, books, and room and board for the 2014-15 academic year.

“The Goldwater Scholarship is a marker of the very best young scientists in America today,” said Stuart Long, associate dean of undergraduate research and The Honors College. “When these students go on to apply for graduate school, having the Goldwater on their application will certainly capture the attention of admission committees.”

Nguyen said she was excited to come to America from Vietnam in 2008 at the age of 16, because she had more educational opportunities. However, because she had little understanding of the English language, most of her classes were difficult at first except mathematics, which was Nguyen’s favorite subject from an early age and didn’t require her to know English.

“My grandfather sponsored my family to come to America. He wanted to me get a good education, as I am the first one in my family to go to college. He had so much hope and so many plans for me. He wanted me to make him proud,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen had her first research opportunity last summer at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she did theoretical research in material science.

Although Nguyen said it was a great experience for her to understand more about the field, her greatest supporter, her grandfather, passed away while she was there.

Nguyen was persuaded to study physics after a faculty member from the UH physics department gave a speech at her AP Physics class. After coming to college, she decided to pair up physics with mathematics.


Nguyen is currently conducting research with Zachary Kilpatrick, her mentor and an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics. Their project concerns the brain’s ability to represent spatial location and has helped her gain an understanding of the anatomy of the brain’s networks that encode space.


“Kate is a very bright and persistent student, thinking deeply about all the work she does. Her receipt of the Goldwater Scholarship is well deserved,” Kilpatrick said.


After graduating from UH, Nguyen plans to pursue a Ph.D. in applied mathematics and continue working in the field of mathematical neuroscience. After earning her Ph.D., she hopes to be part of an interdisciplinary research team that studies the mechanisms that coordinate large-scale brain activity and applies these findings to medical and technological advances.


“Kate sincerely hopes to pursue graduate education in applied mathematics, so being a Goldwater Scholar will really make her stand out on her graduate applications. I truly look forward to continuing our work together and hearing about her future successes in graduate school,” Kilpatrick said.

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