UConn Junior Receives Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

University of Connecticut junior Katie Hooker ’23 (CLAS), a molecular and cellular biology major and Guilford native, was named a Goldwater Scholar. The Goldwater Scholarship is considered the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduate students in mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering.

The Goldwater Scholarship was established by Congress to honor the late United States Senator Barry M. Goldwater, with the aim of identifying students of outstanding ability and promise, and encouraging them to pursue advanced study and research careers. Scholars receive one- or two-year fellowships that cover tuition, fees, books, room, and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Hooker is among 417 students nationally selected for the award this year.

“I am thrilled that Katie’s hard work and unique accomplishments have earned her this national recognition,” said Rowena Grainger, Associate Director of Enrichment Programs for Research and Fellowships. “With the help of her great mentors and her unwavering commitment to a career in research, I’m sure Katie will continue to make an impact in her area of ​​interest.”

Hooker plans to pursue a doctorate in genetics and genomics after graduation and conduct research into studying the genetics underlying cognitive traits such as reading and language ability.

“I’m interested in large-scale genetic data and data science,” says Hooker. “I think this may be the key to unlocking the mechanisms by which diseases and certain human traits act and could hopefully be the future of diagnostic measures and early intervention and treatment.”

Her interest in genetics began as a student at Guilford High School while leading a capstone project on the history of FOXP2 gene, situating this understanding in the larger context of what makes humans unique from our genetic ancestors.

She took this work further in 2020 in the lab of Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences Nicole Landi, studying the relationship between variation on the FOXP2 the gene, reading and language skills and brain parameters associated with these traits through the Holster Scholars program.

“Katie’s project is exciting – although we know that reading skills and disorders are inherited, we have a lot to learn about specific genetic mechanisms,” says Landi. “Katie is studying gene-brain-behaviour relationships for a gene that has been implicated in processing spoken language and therefore may also play a role in reading. This is a unique project that involves the interconnection of data at several levels. Katie has worked hard and I couldn’t be more delighted that she was selected for the Goldwater Scholarship.

Hooker’s current research continues to expand this work, further characterizing the complex relationship between FOXP2reading and language skills, and the brain through mediation and graph-theoretic analyses.

“I was shocked when I found out I was named a Goldwater Fellow,” says Hooker. “When you apply for something that is so competitive and nationally, you don’t expect to get it because there are so few people selected. I was sitting in a hallway in the Austin Building waiting for a class to start. I knew the selections were coming out that day. Then I got a notification on my watch and saw “Congratulations”. I didn’t see it coming at all!

“It’s like a prestigious title and something you carry with you after your undergraduate career.”

Outside of her academics, Hooker serves as Vice President of the UConn Irish Dance Team. She was a competitive Irish dancer from the age of seven until high school. She is also part of the Honors Guides for Peer Success and works at the Brain Imaging Research Center, where she helps children follow experimental protocols during MRI scans.

the Office of National Fellowships and Fellowships (ONSF) is a resource for students wishing to learn more about the Goldwater Scholarship and other prestigious scholarships and fellowships that support study in any field. ONSF is part of the enrichment programs and is open to all graduate and undergraduate students of the University, including students from regional campuses. For more information on STEM scholarships in particular, contact Rowena GraingerDeputy Director of Enrichment Programs for Research and Fellowships.

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