RICHMOND, Ky. — Nick Koenig is the fourth-ever EKU Colonel selected for the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship, but he likely wouldn’t have applied if not for want of a cookie.
“I heard about the Goldwater Scholarship at an Honors LLC event hosted by Dr. Minh Nguyen” who was handing out cookies, said Koenig. “I was walking through Burnam Hall’s lobby and decided to get a cookie and he recommended that I stop by his office to see if I had enough experience to apply.”
He did — experience, it seems, is something he can’t get enough of. The rising junior from Louisville has maintained a 4.0 GPA while earning a degree in biological science with a focus on botany, as well as a minor in chemistry and a certificate in geographic information systems. He is also a member of EKU’s nationally recognized Honors Program, the Quick Recall Team, Green Crew and Student Senate.
Additionally, he has already participated in four research activities. That is the key component to being named a Goldwater Scholar, a national award specifically for students who intend to become the next generation of research leaders in engineering, mathematics and the natural sciences.
“Nick excels academically despite pursuing one of the most challenging of all possible curricular paths while actively and fruitfully pursuing high-impact undergraduate scientific research,” the nominating committee wrote in his application. “Our overall impression is that, besides being a kind and thoughtful person, Nick is a conscientious, hard-working and intelligent student who has the potential to do very well in scientific research.”
The committee that nominated Koenig included three of his mentors at EKU: Dr. Kelly Watson, geography professor; Dr. Brad Ruhfel, botany professor; and Dr. Pei Gao, chemistry professor. It was signed by Dr. Nguyen, associate director of the Honors Program and scholarship coordinator with the Office of National and International Scholarships and Fellowships.
Koenig became interested in botany early in his life while growing a garden with his father. He was amazed that a few tiny seeds — with a little water, luck and weeding — could become a bountiful harvest year after year. Once he discovered what he was passionate about, scientific curiosity came naturally.
“If I had any advice, it would be to find a passion that you love talking about. I could literally talk about plants for hours (which I have before),” he said.
His research activities so far have included: mounting, labeling and digitizing specimens for the EKU Herbarium with Dr. Ruhfel; gathering data on the endangered running buffalo clover population at Bluegrass Army Depot with a grad student under the supervision of Dr. Jennifer Koslow; maintaining DNA specimens in EKU’s genomics lab with Dr. Ruhfel; and an in-depth literature review of carbon capture and sequestration with Dr. Gao.
In the coming months, he will focus on two research projects: a bioinformatical analysis of Podostemaceae, an understudied but ecologically important riverweed that is threatened by the construction of hydroelectric dams, and a study of amine-based solutions’ ability to remove carbon from fossil fuel emissions, adding to a growing body of work on the topic.
Koenig says his passion for plants turned into a passion for research thanks to the very professors who nominated him for the Goldwater award.
“Dr. Ruhfel, Dr. Watson and Dr. Gao all supported me and encouraged me to apply. I could have never imagined how impactful and influential all my professors, especially those three, have been on my career so far,” he said.
Koenig also gave credit to Dr. Nguyen, who encouraged him to pursue the competitive scholarship.
“I really didn’t think it would even be possible for me to get it. But Dr. Nguyen kept me on track and going throughout the application process,” he said. “I cannot thank him enough for the enthusiasm.”