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Whitman Juniors Awarded Prestigious Goldwater Scholarships

From astrophysics to epidemiology, this year’s scholars are the future of STEM research

By Casey Brown

Kaleo Toguchi-Tani ’25 and Eliza Daigle ’25

From an estimated pool of over 5,000 nominees, 438 students nationwide received this year’s Goldwater Scholarship, named for two-term U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater. Among them are two Whitties—Kaleo Toguchi-Tani ’25 and Eliza Daigle ’25—who join 10 other Whitman College students to receive the prestigious scholarship since 1992.

The Goldwater Scholarship supports college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue careers in the natural sciences, math and engineering. Toguchi-Tani and Daigle will receive up to $7,500 toward tuition, fees, books, and room and board for the 2024–2025 academic year. 

Goldwater Scholars are chosen for their strong commitment to a research career, an effective display of intellectual intensity and the potential for a significant future contribution to research in their chosen field.

The Stars Align for Astrophysics Major

A love for the stars inspired Physics-Astronomy major Kaleo Toguchi-Tani to travel from Kailua, Hawaii, to Walla Walla for college. Her home in Hawaii, which she describes as “astrocentric,” was the perfect place for her love of the stars to develop.

“Hawaiian culture is so deeply rooted in understanding the stars because that’s how they were able to navigate so far across the Pacific Ocean … they only used stars and the currents of the water,” she says. “Studying astrophysics makes me feel a little bit more connected to my culture, and more connected to home, especially since I’m so far away from home now.” 

She chose Whitman over the closer-to-home University of Hawaii due to Whitman’s smaller class sizes and more personalized interactions with professors. Here she knew she’d be more than just another face in the crowd, and she could forge meaningful connections with professors and fellow students. 

Her parents’ own experiences also solidified her conviction in the value of a liberal arts education.

“I was kind of nurtured with the idea that a liberal arts education would … help me be more rounded as a person.”

Studying 2,700 miles from home, however, comes with a unique financial burden and makes the Goldwater Scholarship especially welcome.

“Getting some type of financial relief is important because there’s so many costs that go into living so far away from home,” she says.

Toguchi-Tani has big plans for the future. This summer, thanks to a Whitman Internship Grant, she’ll study with Daniel Huber and Daniel Hey—or “Dan Squared,”  as she calls them—at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy. She hopes to come away from the internship with a publishable research paper that will help her stand out in her graduate school applications. 

In graduate school and beyond, Toguchi-Tani will continue to study asteroseismology, which is the study of a star’s oscillations (movements back and forth), especially the Sagittarius Dwarf’s Royal Galaxy in the middle of the Milky Way.

 Toguchi-Tani being interviewed by NASA during the April 8 solar eclipse.

Photo taken by Pavel Mikuláček while Toguchi-Tani is being interviewed by NASA during the April 8 solar eclipse.

BBMB Major Focuses on Lifesaving Research

Eliza Daigle ’25, a Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology major from Portland, Oregon, also chose Whitman for the small class sizes and the “very welcoming” community. 

“I love how Whitman students enjoy spending quality time with one another,” she says. A group of her close friends gather for weekly family dinners and trivia nights. “My friends and I were often the last ones to leave Cleveland each night.”

She is also a member of Whitman’s women’s lacrosse team. She and her teammates listen to music and “laugh a lot” on the bus to away games. “We also made it to the first NWC women’s lacrosse tournament last season,” she says.

Currently taking advantage of off-campus studies at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England, Daigle is fascinated by epidemiology, the study of how diseases spread, and she appreciates the Goldwater Scholarship’s focus on supporting the next generation of STEM researchers. 

After her sophomore year, she had the opportunity to work in Whitman’s PFAS Project Lab with Associate Professor of Sociology and Garrett Fellow Alissa Cordner.

“I developed a publicly searchable database of United States policy and governance actions related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) alongside fellow Whitman students Gabe Wasserman and Arianna Castellanos,” Daigle says.

The project helped her discover an interest in using statistics for translational epidemiological research, she says. The goal of translational research is to expedite the translation of fundamental scientific breakthroughs into medical practice with greater speed and efficiency.

She says what she has studied each summer has varied, but this year she will be focusing on the gut microbiome, which she describes as a personal interest.

"This summer, I will be learning more about epidemiology and the gut microbiome while conducting research for my BBMB senior thesis with the Relman Lab at Stanford. My project will focus on potential differences in metabolite production between treatment and control groups of a large sanitation and nutrition intervention trial conducted by the lab.” 

After graduating from Whitman, she hopes to work as an EMT (emergency medical technician) or as a research assistant while applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs in epidemiology. She wants to study at a research-focused teaching hospital in pursuit of an advanced degree in epidemiology or immunology.

“As an M.D./Ph.D., I would like to specialize in infectious diseases or emergency medicine,” she says. 

Daigle in the lab with her friends while on a study break.

Photo submitted by Daigle. She is in the lab with her friends while on a study break.

The World Needs Whitties in STEM

Toguchi-Tani and Daigle join the list of 10 other Whitties to be awarded one of the oldest and most prestigious national scholarships in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. Previous winners include:

  • Clare Hermanson ’24.
  • Grace Newman ’23.
  • Gabe Juul ’18.
  • Nina Finley ’17.
  • Dieter Brandner ’13.
  • John Mark Hubenthal ’06.
  • Jeffrey Parker ’01.
  • Jessica Palmer ’98.
  • Patrick Lager ’93.
  • Stephen Miller ’92.

Learn more about fellowships and grants, and read about other recent recipients.

Published on Apr 29, 2024
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