USU Engineering Undergrad Sophia Hessami Named 2024 Goldwater Scholar

April 1, 2024

Sophia Hessami, a student majoring in biological engineering at Utah State University, has been named a 2024 Goldwater Scholar. This prestigious national competition recognizes exceptional achievements by undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The awards were announced March 29 by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. Hessami is among 438 awardees selected this year from more than 1,353 nominees from 466 institutions.

Sophia Hessami, an honors student and biological engineering major, is a 2024 Goldwater Scholar. The honor is among the nation’s top recognitions for undergraduate STEM scholars. (Photo: USU/Levi Sim)

Sophia Hessami, an honors student and biological engineering major, is a 2024 Goldwater Scholar. The honor is among the nation’s top recognitions for undergraduate STEM scholars. (Photo: USU/Levi Sim)

With this year’s award recipients, USU boasts 38 Goldwater Scholars and 15 honorable mention recipients since 1998— numbers that rival the nation’s top universities.

"The Goldwater Scholarship is a prestigious national award that recognizes the next generation of leaders in STEM research," says Ryan Berke, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and USU's Goldwater Scholarship faculty mentor. "To be truly competitive, applicants must show academic excellence that extends beyond the classroom, and produce scholarly output that pushes the limits of human understanding. Winners of the scholarship are among the most promising researchers in their fields at a relatively early point in their research careers."

Each year, USU may submit up to four nominations for the award. The process, coordinated by the USU Honors Program, begins in November. Nominated this year, in addition to the Hessami, were Jacey Hopkin, Kade Robison and Zachary Zito.

Award recipients receive one or two-year scholarships of up to $7,500 per year toward annual tuition and expenses.

"We are thrilled to congratulate Sophia Hessami on this well-deserved recognition," says USU President Elizabeth Cantwell. "Goldwater Scholars are selected from among the nation's top STEM undergraduate scholars and, for more than 25 years, Aggies have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with scholars from our country's premier research universities. This honor is not only a testament to our outstanding students, but also to our outstanding faculty mentors and undergraduate research programs."

Along with a degree in biological engineering, Hessami is also minoring in chemistry. Her most impactful experiences at Utah State have been in the tissue engineering lab of faculty mentor Elizabeth Vargis.

“The mentorship that Dr. Vargis and her graduate students have been instrumental in my development as a researcher,” she said.

Hessami plans to pursue a master’s degree in biological engineering at Utah State following graduation.

“I’m not certain what my next steps beyond that will be, but I hope my career leads me to a space where I can mentor women and other minorities in STEM,” she said.

In addition to Hessami, Kade Robison, also an undergraduate in biological engineering, was a Goldwater Scholar nominee. Robison lists participating in research in USU’s Antivirals Lab as a highlight of his academic career at Utah State, and an experience that will prepare him well following his undergraduate studies.

“I plan to pursue a medical scientist training program, in which I’ll earn an M.D. and a Ph.D.,”

he said. “My goals include completing a residency in cancer treatment and devoting my career to innovative cancer research and treatment.”

Both Hessami and Robison were recognized for their achievements during the College’s annual Engineers Week— Hessami was named an outstanding pre-professional for her department in 2023 and Robison was the biological engineering department’s outstanding junior for 2024.


Writer: Sydney Dahle,, 435-797-7512

Contact: Kristine Miller,, 435-797-3637