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Two NMSU students receive Goldwater scholarships

Two New Mexico State University engineering students have received the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious award designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

NMSU engineering student Mohammad Ghassemi, recipient of Goldwater Scholarship for the 2007-08 academic year. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips) NMSU engineering student Kwame Porter-Robinson, recipient of Goldwater Scholarship for the 2007-08 academic year. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Mohammad Ghassemi and Kwame Porter-Robinson were among 317 students from around the nation who received the $7,500 award for the 2007-08 school year. They were chosen from 1,110 students nominated for the scholarship by university faculty and are the only students in New Mexico to receive the award.

Both students are majoring in electrical engineering and applied mathematics. Brenton Taft, a mechanical engineering major, received an honorable mention.

Although the students all share a common interest in engineering, their interests, goals, and motivations are diverse.

Ghassemi is a senior who was raised in Las Cruces. His career goals involve both engineering and medicine; he plans to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering as well as an M.D.

"I'd like to ultimately do a combination of practicing medicine and researching human immune system function and how to replicate it, engineering-wise," Ghassemi said.

He has served as vice president of the National Association of Engineering Student Councils for the entire western region of the nation and has been a member of the Model United Nations team. He also has won awards for community service and philanthropy.

Porter-Robinson is a junior from Washington, D.C. He would like to get his Ph.D. in control systems engineering, a field of study he chose because it seemed broad.

"The more you know about control theory, the more you can control, as opposed to other fields where you do less and less as you get more specialized," Porter-Robinson said.

He is the secretary of the Collegiate Entrepreneur Organization and president of the Ultimate Frisbee club on campus.

Taft is a senior from Sandia Park. He is the secretary of the NMSU chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and last year competed at the regional level in the society's design and speech competitions. He is also involved with Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honors society, and Pi Tau Sigma, a mechanical engineering society.

Taft would like to pursue a career in the defense industry and has worked on research with the Air Force.

"I like being on the cutting edge of technology. Within mechanical engineering there's so many different fields and avenues you can take," he said.

Each student finds a different motivation to push on in his education.

"I'm just a very driven person," Taft said. "If I have interest in it, it has to be done right."

"What motivates me is a passion to improve my society, and a thirst for knowledge," said Ghassemi.

Porter-Robinson said he is motivated to go beyond the coursework and "really make something exciting."

All of the students, however, mentioned their parents as having the most influence on their education.

Ghassemi cited both his parents as an influence, but especially his mother. "She deserves a special thanks," he said. "I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for her hard work. She home-schooled five kids." Ghassemi's older sister Marzyeh received the scholarship in 2005.

"My late father was very supportive of my wide variety of interests," Porter-Robinson said. "I think that really helped."

"My parents both pushed me to do the best that I can," Taft said. His parents are both in the medical profession, and Taft noted that he is the first engineer in his family in a while.

Jason Ackleson, associate dean of the Honors College and national scholarships coordinator, expressed pride in the students' achievements. "The fact that we received two awards and one honorable mention this year continues to demonstrate the caliber of students and research on campus and the success our best students have on the national stage, he said. "Engineering students have done particularly well in this very prestigious competition."

This is the third straight year that NMSU students have received Goldwater scholarships, Ackleson said.