Rutgers junior earns Goldwater scholarship
School of Arts and Sciences junior Jennifer Coulter has become the latest Rutgers student to be named a Goldwater Scholar.
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is awarded each year to a limited number of undergraduate sophomores and juniors planning on entering research-based fields, according to the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. The scholarship grants a maximum of $7,500 per year to cover student tuition and fees.
Coulter received the award for a variety of successes, including her research experiences, which ranges from the development of solar cell technology to working with heavy-ion nuclear physics, she said. Before she found success in her field, Coulter pursued more liberal disciplines.
“In high school, I was going through doing a lot of art related, graphic design sort of classes, and it wasn’t until I took physics in high school that I realized that I really, really liked math and I really, really liked science,” she said.
Coulter largely attributes her change in direction to her high school physics teacher, Stephen Godkin.
A total of 13 Rutgers Department of Physics and Astronomy undergraduates have received the award over the past two decades, according to the School of Arts and Sciences website.
Although she enjoys a lot of the applied, hands-on aspects of working with the Engineering Department, she said her true passions lie in the analytical, formula-based studies of physics.
“There’s a different mindset between physics and engineering, and at this point, I am a blend (of) both because I’ve had both experiences ... I think I was better able to apply what I was learning in my classes to my research in the Physics Department,” she said.
She also spoke on the influence of Dunbar Birnie, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, who has played an instrumental role in her success, both in academics and research.
“I’ve worked with Professor Birnie on and off the whole time, because I just have a great relationship with him -- he’s a fantastic mentor,” she said.
When not dealing with her heavy course load and extensive research responsibilities, Coulter said that as a computer science minor, she enjoys working with computers. She has participated in multiple hackathons, including HackRU and Rutgers’ HackHERS.
She also holds the position of webmaster at the Rutgers University Women’s Center Coalition, she said.
“Physics and computer science go really well together. Sometimes it’s harder for me to make a team as a woman because I don’t always, you know, have people I can approach for a team,” she said.
She uses her computer science skills, among others, to help pave the way for other young women, who tend to be the minority in the STEM fields, she said.
She is also very involved in the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science, and Engineering, which backs women entering the STEM fields, she said.
“I’ve been a leader and a mentor in their program for a couple years now and I really have appreciated my experience there,” she said, “I think Douglass was really fundamental … you get to find a little bit of a community, at least within the Women in STEM Project.”
There is a lack of women in the sciences, including math, computer science and physics, she said.
“I have maybe, like, one female friend in the department … it can be challenging sometimes to find female mentors. My professor in physics is one,” she said.
Coulter seeks to help pave the way for more women through Rutgers organizations, such as the Douglass Project, and through her career, she said.
“I would definitely like to offer more to women in physics in the future because it can be really challenging. You feel alone a lot, I think,” she said.
Later, Coulter plans to attend graduate school to receive a PhD in physics, she said.
She also aspires to bridge the gap between her background in art and her future in science, using physics and graphic design to enhance modeling processes, she said.
A return to Rutgers is also a possibility for Coulter.
“I might become a professor some day. Industry is good too, it depends what opportunities are there,” she said.
Eric Weck is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @ericcweck.