Working with a faculty-staff team at Ball State University on ALS-related research may have served as the springboard for Ball State University student Siara Sandwith, a junior from Evansville, Indiana, to earn a major national scholarship.

Siara Sandwith, biology majorSandwith is the 12th Ball State student to be awarded a Goldwater Scholarship, considered the nation’s most prestigious scholarship for undergraduates planning to pursue research-focused careers in the STEM fields.

She is a student of the University’s Honors College and College of Sciences and Humanities. She is majoring in biology, with a concentration in cellular and molecular biology, as well as the professional certificate program in biotechnology.

At Ball State, Sandwith has been working in the cell biology lab of Philip Smaldino, an assistant professor of cell biology, since her freshman year, helping to conduct research on the association between a specific gene mutation and ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

“The highlight of my time at Ball State was being offered a position in the Smaldino Lab,” said Sandwith, who attended Reitz High School before enrolling at Ball State. “Without my research, I wouldn't receive this scholarship, and I wouldn't have my summer internship.”

Smaldino said he has been impressed with Sandwith from the beginning.

“Siara has worked tirelessly on several projects, but her primary project examines the molecular mechanisms of a common subtype of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),” he said. “There are three attributes of Siara that I have consistently observed in her over the past two years: her respect and consideration of others, her dedication to research and strong work ethic, and her authentic love and passion for scientific inquiry.”

As a sophomore, Sandwith was named the biology department’s Outstanding Undergraduate Student in Lab Sciences, an honor normally given to seniors. She was recently selected to participate in the Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Opportunity (NURO) program at the University of Michigan.

“Receiving this scholarship has helped boost my confidence as a scientist,” she said. “It makes me feel that I am capable of producing valuable and sound science, and more importantly, I can write and communicate to others the research I love doing. I believe this scholarship will open many doors for me as I continue in my career path.”

After earning a doctorate in biomedical science, she plans to launch a career with a biomedical company, researching neurodegenerative diseases.