By Charles Anzalone
Published April 25, 2023
Lea Joan Kyle, a biochemistry student, and Sydney Rae Swedick, a biomedical engineering student, are UB’s latest recipients of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious and competitive research scholarship offered for undergraduate STEM students.
“Out of over 5,000 talented students, the achievement of Lea Kyle and Sydney Swedick in winning the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship highlights their exceptional academic prowess and dedication to advancing their fields,” says Megan Stewart, director of UB’s Office of Fellowships and Scholarships, which identifies, encourages and supports UB students applying for national and international fellowships and scholarships.
“Their success not only brings pride to the University at Buffalo, but also showcases the potential for these scholars to follow in the footsteps of past Goldwater recipients and win further prestigious post-graduate fellowships, paving the way for a bright future in the world of science, mathematics and engineering.”
Kyle and Swedick were among the 413 students chosen to receive the Goldwater scholarship from among more than 5,000 applicants — college sophomores and juniors pursuing research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.
Kyle, of Martville, N.Y., plans to pursue a PhD in biochemistry at a top-tier university, focusing on infectious disease prevention and transmission. She wants to eventually work in the public sector in a national lab.
“Since I was a child, I devoured science fiction novels, absorbing stories about crazy medical research feats and scientific breakthroughs that could change the world,” Kyle wrote in her Goldwater application.
“Though a lofty goal, I have always aspired to be like those people. I dreamed of finding a treatment for a deadly disease or designing a vaccine against something as prominent as malaria. While my goal to directly impact people remains, I still want to try to live up to those childhood dreams and manifest them into a more grounded reality.”
Kyle demonstrated “a blend of leadership and charisma … very early on and she continues to demonstrate it to this day,” Timothy R. Cook, professor of chemistry and director of graduate studies, wrote in his letter of recommendation. “There are many students that are sharp, acing all their classes, and even contributing to research papers. But it is quite rare to have a student that enhances those around her to such an extent.”
Kyle had other ardent boosters as well.
“It is hard for me to overstate Lea’s talents,” wrote Barry E. Knox, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and biochemistry and molecular biology at SUNY Upstate Medical University, who also endorsed her for the scholarship. Kyle began volunteering in Knox’s lab when she was 16 and continued during the summers until 2021.
“She is extremely conscientious and diligently works through unfamiliar research papers, filling in the background either by outside reading or by asking questions,” according to Knox. “Throughout her time in my lab, her enthusiasm and drive have rarely been matched in other students.
“I emphasize that she is only in her second year of college, yet she is now at a much higher level. She has a true talent for getting experiments to work, and her results are rock solid — she has the proverbial ‘great hands.’ In fact, I already think of her as a graduate student, one that I would invite to join my lab immediately.”
Swedick plans to pursue a PhD in neuroscience. She hopes to conduct research on peripheral nerve injuries and spinal cord injuries using tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
“Biomedical engineering is like a blank canvas,” Swedick wrote in her scholarship application “Its multidisciplinary nature provides me with the perfect landscape to utilize every color in the palette of my life. It allows me to incorporate my fascination with understanding why something occurs, or the science, while applying the knowledge to create impact through engineering.
“I look forward to employing every color of my existence to produce my final composition one day — better therapies for those with spinal cord and peripheral nerve injuries.”
Swedick, of Johnstown, N.Y., researched the environmental impact of an invasive species through collecting field data, executing biomass surveys, analyzing results and proposing solutions. She also performed bioinformatics analysis on opportunistic pathogens to elucidate disease-causing molecular mechanisms. Swedick also researched the development of inhibitory circuits in the ferret’s motion pathway in the Johns Hopkins Amgen Scholars Program.
Margaret McLellan-Zabielski, assistant professor of biotechnology at SUNY Schenectady County Community College, where Swedick took courses before transferring to UB in fall 2022, praised Swedick’s understanding of the fine line between putting all your energy into a project, a course, or multiple commitments, and falling into burnout.
“This is a rare quality and absolutely essential to those who have set their sights on such complex research topics as peripheral nerve and spinal cord injury recovery,” McLellan-Zabielski wrote in a recommendation for Swedick’s application.
“Graduate school is not a sprint; it is a marathon and she is not only aware of it, she is becoming practiced in the art of balancing high quality, intense work with health and thriving, not just surviving.”
Lorena Harris, director of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) and LSAMP program in the Math, Science, Technology and Health Division at SUNY Schenectady, wrote she has “no doubt” Swedick will become the researcher she hopes to be.
“She is a dedicated scholar that takes her classes very seriously,” wrote Harris. “She is always willing to step up and be a leader if the situation demands. Likewise, she always maintains an excellent attitude and has good interpersonal skills as she participates and works equally well independently or in a group setting.”