University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) students Ameen Barghi of Birmingham and Miranda Collier of Dothan, were named 2013 Goldwater Scholars by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in Excellence in Education Foundation.
“I congratulate Ameen and Miranda, as well as the programs and people that nurtured their development,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “It is a testament to the outstanding quality of our students, faculty and staff that UAB has produced 13 Goldwater Scholars and five honorable mentions in the past six years. We are extremely proud of their successes.”
Barghi, a sophomore, is a neuroscience major, minoring in chemistry and biology. He has a 4.0 GPA and is researching stroke rehabilitation, specifically Constrained-Induced Movement therapy (CI therapy), with Edward Taub, Ph.D., in the Taub Therapy Clinic. He also spends time researching stroke models with Tara DeSilva, Ph.D., in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
“I want to be the physical bridge between the realms of drug discovery and rehabilitation innovation,” said Barghi. “If I could create a therapy or a drug that would be inexpensive and work quickly, then that would be the ultimate success.”
Barghi wants to be an M.D./Ph.D., doing university-level research at UAB. His passion for medicine and UAB began as a sophomore in high school when he signed up for the Teenaged Volunteer (TAV) Program at UAB Hospital, and he was assigned to the Center for Psychiatric Medicine. The neuroimages and research in the lab fascinated him, and he wanted more.
He chose rehabilitation medicine because it is one of the few areas that offers positive long-term impacts, which Barghi sees firsthand.
“I once met a veteran U.S. Army Ranger who was missing an arm,” said Barghi. “This huge, tough guy would tear up when his son walked into the lab because he could not interact using his prosthetic arm. Three weeks of therapy, and he was able to hug his wife and pick up his son like it was natural. These are the type of tangible results we get daily.”
Collier, a junior, is a biochemistry major, minoring in math and biology. She has a 4.0 GPA and is studying whether different diets impact protein composition in the eye lens with Stephen Barnes, Ph.D., in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. She also studied abroad for six weeks last summer at the University of Oxford in the lab of Justin Benesch, Ph.D., with the Department of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry. It was one morning in Oxford when she had an epiphany and realized she wanted a Ph.D., not an M.D.
“I thought to myself, in 10 years do I want to be prescribing medicine to patients, or do I want to design the medicines that should be prescribed to them,” said Collier.
Collier describes her time in Oxford as a defining experience in her life. Under Benesch’s guidance, she used mass spectrometry, a method of displaying the singular spectrum of the masses of molecules in a protein, to research the structure and behavior of a particular protein complex.
The idea of looking at a complex organism as a whole is also how Collier, a member of the University Honors Program, sees UAB. She is a teaching assistant, co-editor of Inquiro, UAB’s undergraduate science research journal, and she has recently been working with another student to reinstitute the Undergraduate Research Organization to encourage collaboration among student researchers. She wants students, especially freshmen, to know what opportunities are available to them.
“If you just go through school only worrying about yourself, then what’s the point?” she said.
Collier is grateful to UAB faculty for their willingness to help undergraduate researchers.
“I’ve asked professors in chemistry, biology, vision sciences, pharmacology and nutrition sciences if I can work with them or use equipment in their labs, and they have all helped me,” said Collier. “I have learned so much from them.”
UAB has had four Goldwater scholar winners in the last two years. Barghi and Collier are the 16th and 17th UAB students to win, and they are two of only four students in Alabama to win the award for 2013. The magnitude of the award is not lost on Barghi or Collier.
“This award is not necessarily about what you have done, but about your potential and what you can do for the future of science,” said Collier. “I now feel a compulsion, because I have this award to my name, to do it justice. It is gratifying and humbling.”