Montana State University

MSU-Bozeman student from Dillon wins prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

March 27, 2003 -- Carol Schmidt


Bonnie Kirkpatrick   High-Res Available

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BOZEMAN - Bonnie Kirkpatrick, a Montana State University computer whiz from Dillon, is the most recent MSU student to receive the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for undergraduate excellence in science and math. As one of 300 national winners, and one of just 12 computer science students who received Goldwater scholarships from 1,093 applications in the disciplines of mathematics, science, and engineering, Kirkpatrick's scholarship will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year for two years of undergraduate schooling. Kirkpatrick said she plans to use the prestige of the award to help her in applying to graduate school with the eventual goal of becoming a university professor. This is the second Goldwater awarded to the family of George and Denise Kirkpatrick of Dillon. Kay, Bonnie's sister, won a Goldwater in 2001 and is now a Ph.D. student in mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. Kirkpatrick's work in bioinformatics, using computers to model proteins and predict protein structures, caught the eye of Goldwater Scholarship judges. Kirkpatrick's work, under the mentorship of Brendan Mumey of MSU's Department of Computer Science and Nancy Amato of Texas A&M University, has applications for pharmaceutical companies and other health care professionals seeking to understand the tiny messenger systems that are essential to all biological processes. Kirkpatrick is helping to map how the folding mechanisms of proteins which fold and unfold, somewhat like a ribbon. "Bonnie is an exceptional student and a pleasure to work with," Mumey said. "She possesses a rare combination of talent, drive and intellectual curiosity. Bonnie made significant contributions in our protein epitope mapping project." Curiosity is a key in Kirkpatrick's intellectual success, and it manifested itself early. As an eighth grader in Dillon, Kirkpatrick developed an interest in computers. Her teachers and her parents helped find her a computer mentor to enhance her interest. Feeding children's interest is a technique that Kirkpatrick believes is vital to developing children's success. "I think kids should be directing their own education," Kirkpatrick said. She said she advises kids "to do what you want to do: science, art, whatever the interest. It is all equally valuable. You definitely don't want to do something you don't like." Kirkpatrick knew that she wanted to study computer science long before she enrolled at MSU, which she says, "is a really good school." She lauds the opportunities for undergraduate scholars. "And one thing that's definitely special at MSU is that classes are smaller and the professors care about who's in their classes." Kirkpatrick also is minoring in math as well as French "because you can't sit in front of a computer all the time." She participated in a summer program with Amato at Texas A&M last summer and will return there this summer. Amato, her mentor there, said Kirkpatrick accomplished more than a graduate student. "She clearly enjoys a challenge," Amato said. "Mentioning something is unsolved or known to be difficult is sure to get her attention. Moreover, her choice of problems displays excellent taste and maturity, and her ideas are remarkably insightful for any researcher, let alone a novice undergraduate." Kirkpatrick's hobbies include several different forms of martial arts. She is a mentor for a fourth grade student at Morning Star Elementary, the Webmaster for the MSU Recycling Club, and involved in Women in Computing and a few other organizations on campus. Kirkpatrick says the Goldwater is a "great pat on the back, saying you are going in the right direction. It tells me that the things I am working on and the places I want to go are important to other people besides just me." Victoria O'Donnell, director of the MSU Honors Program, complimented Kirkpatrick's intellect, curiosity, and motivation, which have been nurtured, by her family and faculty. MSU is among the top ten institutions in the country for the number of students who have received the scholarship, according to Goldwater Foundation officials. Joining MSU in the top tier of institutions in number of students receiving Goldwater Scholarships are: Harvard/Radcliffe, Princeton, Duke, Kansas State, California Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, Penn State, University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana, Johns Hopkins and Washington University in St. Louis. Other Montana students who received the Goldwater in 2003 were Byron Crow, an avian biology student at Salish Kootenai College and Scott Raymond of Bozeman, a student at Brigham Young University. Raymond is the son of MSU College of Business professor Bruce Raymond. Congress established the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship program in 1986 to support outstanding students in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

Contact: Victoria O'Donnell, University Honors Program (406) 994-4110