Submitted on Monday, 6/16/2014, at 1:19 PM

April 24, 2014

By William Sweet

Donna Leet ’15 and Xiaoling Yu ’15

Two Amherst juniors intent on conducting biomedical research to fight fatal diseases are among the outstanding science students being honored this year by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. A third junior, fired with a passion to battle economic inequality and the political ambition to carry this out, is being honored by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.

Donna Leet ’15 of Seattle is one of 283 U.S. undergraduates receiving Goldwater Scholarships to help cover educational expenses for the 2014–15 academic year.

After her senior year at Amherst, Leet intends to pursue a Ph.D. in medical microbiology or oncology, aiming to work in biomedicine. “I hope to pursue a career as a principal investigator of a clinical research lab and use my degrees to research new cancer and/or HIV treatments and preventions,” she wrote in her application for the scholarship.

Over the summers of 2012 and 2013, she worked as an intern with Jesse Bloom at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, exploring a new vaccine strategy against influenza and HIV. She won Best Poster Design at the center’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program poster session of 2013.

At Amherst, Leet majors in both biology and French, and she spent the fall 2013 semester in Paris. As a varsity softball player, she represents her team on Amherst’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and participates in the Amherst LEADS Futures Program, a leadership program for Amherst athletes. She is a 2013 recipient of the college’s William C. Young Prize in Biology.

Xiaoling Yu ’15 of Highland Park, N.J., received an Honorable Mention from the Goldwater program.

Her interest is in the biochemical mechanisms of genetics, and she plans on becoming a physician-scientist and conducting research to help patients who suffer from genetic disorders.

Yu is majoring in biochemistry and biophysics and has been recruited to be a teaching assistant for courses in chemistry, statistics and biology. In addition to her work as a lab assistant and tutor, she is a co-president of Amherst’s badminton club, a co-president of the Asian Culture House and an event coordinator for the Asian Language Night Committee.

Her experience with research includes study of the flagella of African trypanosomes (parasites linked with sleeping sickness), and, with Anthony Bishop, associate professor of chemistry, she is working on ways to inhibit the enzyme Shp2. This research could help provide insight into what causes cancer cells to grow.

“My family consists mostly of scientists who truly love their fields,” she wrote in her Goldwater application. “I still remember sitting on my dad’s lap looking through microscopes at beautiful rock crystals, timidly touching a pipette in my aunt’s lab, watching in amazement as my uncle mixed baking soda and vinegar to entertain me.”

“Science, to me, is the genie in the bottle that grants wishes of the most passionate,” she wrote.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1986. This year’s awards were made on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,166 mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. The scholarship covers expenses for tuition, fees, books and room and board for as much as $7,500 annually.

Pierre Joseph ’15

Pierre Joseph ’15 will also be making a mark as one of 59 new Truman Scholars, selected from among 655 candidates nominated by 293 colleges and universities. A political science major, Joseph’s interest and involvement in politics dating back to his days at Springfield (Mass.) Central High School. After graduating high school, he spent a gap year as an intern in the office of former U.S. Senator John Kerry. He has also served as an intern in the Springfield office of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. At Amherst, he served on the Student Board of Advisors for the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, after serving two years as a Chapter President and a state Blueprint Fellow.

Joseph said he plans to pursue a four-year joint degree program in law and public policy at Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government, with the goal of a position as analyst with the Office of Community Planning and Development in the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In his application he wrote that his long-range goal is “to launch a campaign and win a State Senate seat in my hometown.”

His primary policy interests revolve around the growing inequality that exists in American life in the areas of education, housing, and urban development.

“Income inequality is moving to the center of policy discussions, as it becomes difficult for average people to live and work in cities,” he wrote in his application.” The challenge is to reduce income inequality by increasing social mobility and creating opportunities for all people to thrive … As a scholar and public servant I hope to bridge the gap between research and lived experience.”

Congress established the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 to support college students who are applying to graduate school in preparation for careers in government or other forms of public service. Each Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study, as well as leadership training and career counseling. The foundation also offers special internship opportunities within the federal government.