University of Kansas nominates two SM East graduates for national STEM scholarship

Eleanor Stewart-Jones (left) and Pierce Giffin, both graduates of Shawnee Mission East, were nominated by the University of Kansas for the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships.

The University of Kansas has nominated two students — both graduates of Shawnee Mission East — for Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, based on their undergraduate experience and interest in STEM-related fields.

Pierce Giffin, a junior from Leawood studying mathematics and physics, and Eleanor Stewart-Jones, a junior from Mission majoring in chemistry, both received nominations this year.

Anne Wallen, program director for the Office of Fellowships at the University of Kansas, said Giffin and Stewart-Jones were among several “great candidates at KU” for the nomination.

“It’s a lot of hard work, and we have a really great track record, so we always feel like the KU students we nominate are some of the best in the country and have a great chance of getting recognized,” she said.

Giffin works in the lab of Assistant Professor Daniel Tapia Takaki in the KU Department of Physics & Astronomy studying the fractal properties of proton structure. Giffin also participated in a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates Program at Duke University, on a nuclear physics topic. He is working on a research project in the Lenexa-based PhytoTechnology Laboratories.

“He has some really diverse research experience with different labs, and that really solidified his interest in having a scientific research career,” Wallen said. “The committee just really felt that he has a very solid commitment to research.”

And while he was still at SM East, Giffin also participated in a STEM program with QuarkNet and the KU physics department, Wallen added. He is the son of Paul and Maria Giffin of Leawood and is planning a career researching theoretical particle physics.

Stewart-Jones works in the lab of Professor Tim Jackson in the KU Department of Chemistry, researching reactivity in manganese model systems. Stewart-Jones also serves as a research ambassador for the Center for Undergraduate Research. Just a few months ago, she presented her research at the Max Planck Matter to Life Conference in Tegernsee, Germany.

“Ellie is also very accomplished,” Wallen said. “She’s very enthusiastic about science, especially science communication.”

Stewart-Jones is the daughter of Brian Jones and Teresa Stewart and and stepdaughter of Loes Niedekker and Scott Leigh.

The scholarships cover up to $7,500 annually in eligible expenses for undergraduate tuition, fees, books and room and board. Only sophomores and juniors with outstanding academic records, significant research experience and high potential for careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering were eligible for nomination.

The Goldwater Foundation will announce the roughly 250 scholarship winners and 300 honorable mentions by the end of March. If selected, Giffin and Stewart-Jones will join 65 previous KU students who have received Goldwater scholarships since 1989. As tribute to Goldwater, a retired U.S. senator from Arizona, Congress established the program in 1986 to ensure a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers.

“It’s so competitive at the national level, and we think it’s important to recognize how great the students are,” Wallen said. “Just getting the KU nomination shows that the students are competitive at a national level and doing really great work.”