College of Science

Three College of Science students awarded 2019 Barry Goldwater Scholarships


Ben Slimmer and Erin Mihealsick pose together on Clemson's campus.
Physics major Benjamin Slimmer (left) and genetics and biochemistry major Erin Mihealsick were two of Clemson University’s three Goldwater Scholarship recipients.

CLEMSON, South Carolina – Three outstanding College of Science students are Clemson University’s winners of 2019 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, premier national undergraduate awards in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering.

The terrific trifecta is Laura McCann, a chemistry major; Erin Mihealsick, a genetics and biochemistry major; and Benjamin Slimmer, a physics major. They each will receive one-year scholarships that will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500.

McCann has been working in Carlos Garcia’s research lab since the summer before her freshman year at Clemson. Her research includes protein adsorption to cellulose and combustion kinetics of organophospate compounds. This past semester, she has been studying abroad in Seville, Spain.

Laura McCann poses in Seville, Spain.
Chemistry major Laura McCann has spent this past semester studying abroad in Spain.

“I am extremely excited and emotional to have received such an award, especially along with Erin and Ben, who have been two of my closest friends since being here at Clemson,” said McCann, a native of Hartland, Wisconsin. “The teams of faculty, Ph.D. students, and other undergrads like myself helped fuel my passion for science and also helped me discover what it really means to be a scientist.”

Garcia described McCann as one of the most remarkable students he has ever met.

“It’s not only that she had developed an incredible work ethic, but also that she understands priorities and long-term goals,” said Garcia, a professor of analytical chemistry. “Laura quickly learned what it takes to be a scientist, assumed the responsibility and decided to actively work toward that goal. She is the type of student all mentors want in their research groups.”

Mihealsick is working with Kerry Smith, director of Clemson’s Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center, on the role that acetate production plays in the virulence of a fungus responsible for cryptococcal meningitis in immunocompromised individuals.

“In the future, I plan to use my background in research to work with creating drugs that treat cancer,” said Mihealsick, a native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. “The award is incredibly valuable to me because it validates the hard work and dedication to research I have shown throughout college. It also helps to open a lot of doors for me – not only applying to Ph.D. programs but also making me more competitive for other fellowships and scholarship opportunities.”

Carlos Garcia and Laura McCann pose on campus.
Chemistry professor Carlos Garcia describes McCann as one of the most remarkable students he has ever met.

Smith has mentored the research of one current National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awardee, two past Goldwater recipients and the applications of six other Goldwater recipients from Clemson.

“Erin is an exceptional choice. I was very impressed with how hard-working and meticulous she is as a researcher,” Smith said. “Erin has an outstanding scientific curiosity and the patience and ability to problem-solve. I have no doubts that she will eventually lead her own research program and that her team will make significant scientific contributions.”

Slimmer’s research focuses on computational nuclear theory. He collaborates with a team at a Department of Energy laboratory to apply computational methods to study quantum chromodynamics, the theory of the force that binds together the most fundamental particles known.

“I am so elated to have won this award. I’m proud of the research I perform and it’s amazing to see the hard work pay off by being recognized with such a high honor,” said Slimmer, a native of Greenwood. “I also feel incredibly thankful for those who have helped me get here. Without my family, friends, mentors from the university and the amazing scientists I’ve gotten the chance to work under, I certainly couldn’t have won this award.”

Benjamin Slimmer and Joan Marler pose in a lab in Kinard Hall.
Physics assistant professor Joan Marler says that Slimmer’s approach to research is fearless.

Joan Marler, assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy, said that Slimmer is fearless when it comes to stretching the limits of his research.

“Ben has a good intuition for troubleshooting and his ability to think outside the box allowed us to rearrange some components of the experimental setup and make progress by the end of the summer,” Marler said. “Ben’s ability to not only do excellent research but also present it in a clear and concise way speaks volumes about his deep understanding of the project he is working on. Ben is destined to contribute much to the field.”

From an estimated pool of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors from around the country, 496 students from across the U.S. received Goldwater scholarships for the 2019-2020 academic year. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Sen. Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate.

Clemson students began working on their applications earlier than ever before because this was the first year that there has been a full-time office dedicated to guiding students through their nationally competitive application processes.

Kerry Smith and Erin Mihealsick pose in an EPIC lab.
EPIC director Kerry Smith describes Mihealsick as hard-working and meticulous.

“Erin, Ben and Laura faced fierce competition to earn Clemson’s nomination for the Goldwater Scholarship from a large pool of qualified sophomores and juniors,” said Robyn Curtis, director of the Office of Major Fellowships. “They worked on their applications for more than four months and it was very exciting to see the three of them recognized for their outstanding records of research and academic potential. I look forward to working with them on their applications for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships in the fall.”

“We have such tremendous talent here at Clemson – both faculty and students – and the signature Clemson undergraduate experience in science is working on a research project under the leadership of a faculty scholar,” said Cynthia Y. Young, dean of the College of Science. “We are focused on tackling tomorrow’s greatest scientific challenges and preparing the next generation of scientists. I’d like to thank Drs. Garcia, Smith and Marler for their leadership in advancing discovery and for their mentoring and development of such exceptional talents as Laura, Erin and Ben. And special thanks to Robyn and also Jennie LaMonte (director of scholar development in the College of Science) for coaching our students in their preparation of nationally competitive award candidacies.”

How to apply for awards

Students interested in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship, as well as other nationally competitive awards, should contact the Office of Major Fellowships at 864-656-9704 or

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