Tessa Steenwinkel is Michigan Technological University’s 11th recipient of the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.
When Thomas Werner, associate professor of biological sciences, talks about student Tessa Steenwinkel, it is with a mixture of pride and sadness. “I’m very, very proud of Tessa and a bit sad because I am pretty sure that I will never get a student like her again.”
With pride and sadness, you might add confidence to the emotions Werner feels in connection with Steenwinkel.
“When Tessa and I were waiting in front of her laptop for the Goldwater decision to come in, I told her that even if the competition were worldwide, I would still be sure she would get the award.”
Established in 1989 by Congress to honor the late Arizona Senator and administered by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, Goldwater scholarships are awarded to college sophomores and juniors. The awards are based on academic merit, research experience and intent to pursue a career in science, engineering or mathematics.
A Perfect Fit
To say that Steenwinkel, a biochemistry major who has just completed her second year, hit the ground running is an understatement. Born in the Netherlands, she spent some time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana before moving with her parents, both scientists, and brothers to Madison, Wisconsin. While still in high school she toured Werner’s lab with her mother on Preview Day and was impressed with both the lab and the University. “I thought that when I left high school I’d have to go to a bigger university to do the research I wanted to,” Steenwinkel said. She was excited to find a smaller school that does the kind of research she wanted to be a part of. “It’s a nerd school in the best possible way. I knew I wanted to be here.”
From her first day on campus she began working in Werner’s lab. In less than two years, she has gone from serving as a lab assistant for someone else to lead researcher on her own project, with a research assistant of her own.
Because fruit flies share about 70% of their genetic makeup with people, Steenwinkel, like her mentor Werner, uses the tiny insects for research that will affect human health. “My current research looks at how diet affects fertility and growth,” she said.
Her plans for the future include finishing her bachelor’s degree in fall 2020 and earning an accelerated master’s a year later. She plans on pursuing a PhD and eventually working in a laboratory conducting medical research.
Earlier this year, Steenwinkel was honored as the Departmental Scholar in Biological Sciences and was the recipient of the Provost’s Award for Scholarship. Perhaps her time so far at Michigan Tech is best summed up by Werner: “Tessa is the best student I have ever witnessed in my entire career, both here and overseas.”
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.