Duquesne Junior Wins Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

A junior biochemistry major is one of only 13 students from Pennsylvania selected to receive the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for 2011.

Sara Katrancha

Sara Katrancha is the first Duquesne student to receive the $7,500 award, which is the country’s highest undergraduate honor for science, engineering, computer science and mathematics. She was chosen from more than 1,000 nominees.

“She is Duquesne’s first winner since these awards were initiated in 1989, and her achievement highlights our University’s commitment to student research opportunities and the high quality of our student body,” said Dr. Lewis Irwin, coordinator of the Office for National Fellowships.

Katrancha, an Honors College student from Dunlo, Cambria County, has retained a perfect 4.0 grade point average while amassing many honors and awards. Her research with Dr. Rita Mihailescu in the Bayer School—analyzing the RNA binding properties of the protein whose absence causes Fragile X syndrome, the most prevalent genetic cause of mental retardation—played an important role in earning this recognition.

“She is very independent in her lab research, and all of her hard work is paying off,” said Associate Professor Mihailescu. “As a researcher, you design experiments to address specific hypotheses, but many times things don’t go according to the plan and, while this could take you into a new exciting direction, it can also be sometimes frustrating. Sara is able to stay with a problem and work diligently to resolve it, which is remarkable for an undergraduate. She has developed from not even knowing how to keep a pipette in her hand to carrying out complex projects independently, being able to analyze critically her results and fit her data with complex equations to determine the parameters we are looking for.”

Katrancha plans to become a biomedical researcher “to help those in future generations with life-altering disabilities.” She is motivated to research this area because her younger brother, Dustin, has a genetic disability.

“We are especially proud of Sara’s accomplishment as the first Duquesne Goldwater Scholar,” said Bayer School Dean David Seybert. “While this honor is a remarkable individual accolade for Sara, it also reflects the far-reaching significance of the high quality research opportunities we offer to our science majors in the Bayer School.”

Katrancha was one of only 282 college sophomores and juniors nationwide intending to pursue Ph.D.s to receive this award.