Montana State University

Two MSU students win prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

March 31, 2011 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Daniel Barta from Helena (left) and Casey Donoven from Kremlin, both students at MSU, have won the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN - A math whiz from Kremlin and a long-time dinosaur lover from Helena are the latest Montana State University students to win the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

"I could hardly sleep, I was so excited," Casey Donoven, a junior in mathematics and the Honors Program, said Thursday.

"I was thrilled and excited. I had to call up everybody," said Daniel Barta, a junior in earth sciences and the Honors Program.

Donoven and Barta learned Wednesday evening that they had more in common than their friendship, Montana roots, Presidential Scholarships and service as vice presidents of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society at MSU. They had just won MSU's 52nd and 53rd Goldwater Scholarships, keeping MSU one of the nation's top institutions for total Goldwater recipients. Princeton University received four Goldwaters this year, Harvard University received three, and Duke University received one. This is the third year in a row that MSU has had two winners.

"We are in the big leagues," said Dr. Ilse-Mari Lee, director of the MSU Honors Program and administrator of the Goldwater Scholarship program at MSU.

The scholarship is the nation's premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering since the Goldwater Foundation was established in 1986. The scholarship gives each recipient up to $7,500 a year for tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

Lee said MSU students continue to win Goldwaters because of the university's emphasis on providing undergraduates with hands-on opportunities to conduct research early in their careers.

With more than $109 million in research expenditures last year, MSU is classified as one of only 108 universities out of more than 4,300 with "very high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Winning the Goldwater Scholarship not only benefits the students, but it draws national attention to the quality of undergraduate education at MSU, Lee said.

Barta was the first to read an e-mail from Lee that said he had won a Goldwater Scholarship. Donoven found out about his after listening to a congratulatory phone message from Barta. Donoven was tutoring students in MSU's Math Learning Center Wednesday evening, so he didn't get the message until about 9 p.m. after he finished working. The news resulted in a call to his parents, a celebratory meal with long-time friends from Havre, e-mails to MSU faculty members and a posting on Facebook. He probably fell asleep after 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., Donoven said.

Besides calling Donoven, Barta said he called his parents, talked to his girlfriend, and called Nate Carroll, an MSU paleontology student from Ekalaka who had won honorable mention for the Goldwater. David Stevens from Ronan, who majors in computer science, also won an honorable mention.

"I kind of had to stay up and visit with people. I was really excited," Barta said.

Barta and Donoven both showed early evidence of the interests that led them to MSU.

As a student at Havre High School, Donoven sometimes taught math and chemistry when his teachers were gone for the day. As a high school senior, he was one of eight students across the state who competed in the "Who Wants to be a Mathematician?" contest when it came to Montana.

"I have always been interested in why and how things work," Donoven said. "When it came to math classes, a lot of times in the lower levels like elementary and high school, they won't necessarily explain why it works. It made me curious."

He came to MSU, Donoven said, because of his Presidential Scholarship, also because of its strong math and science program.

Lukas Geyer, associate professor in mathematics, has taught Donoven in several classes and supervised his undergraduate research project in fractal geometry. He noted that Donoven is creative, curious and has a good grasp of mathematical patterns. Donoven was also one of three MSU students who went to Bergen, Norway last summer to research carbon sequestration.

Barta said he has been interested in dinosaurs ever since coming to MSU's Museum of the Rockies as a three or four-year-old boy.

"I was captivated in looking up and seeing reconstructions of dinosaurs and the fossils," Barta said. "That, combined with all the dinosaur things and pop culture at that time, really grabbed hold of me and didn't let go."

As a sixth grader, Barta came to the Museum of the Rockies and prepared his first dinosaur bone. Last summer he traveled to China to study dinosaur eggs. He is presenting his findings this spring at student research conferences on campus. He continues to research the weathering of carcasses on a Montana ranch.

He came to MSU, Barta said, because of "the world-class paleontology program here. Also when I learned more about the Honors Program and I was selected for a Presidential Scholarship, that's what sealed the deal."

Jack Horner, Regents Professor of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, said, "It says a lot about the quality of both MSU and the paleontology program to have a paleo winner and a paleo honorable mention. It also speaks very highly of our honors program. I congratulate the students and Ilse-Mari. It's wonderful."

Both Goldwater recipients said they plan to pursue careers in academia. Donoven said his main interest is conducting math research in a university. Barta said he wants to teach, conduct research and possibly curate museum collections.

Because of their Goldwater Scholarships, Lee said the two students "will undoubtedly be accepted into our nation's top graduate schools."

According to the Goldwater Foundation, Goldwater Scholars have very impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowships. Recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 77 Rhodes Scholarships, 108 Marshall Awards, 98 Churchill Scholarships and numerous other distinguished fellowships.

For a story about MSU's 2010 winners, see "Two MSU students receive Goldwater Scholarships."

Evelyn Boswell (406) 994-5135 or