Two FAU Students Named 2022 Goldwater Scholars


By brittany sylvestri | 3/30/2022

Florida Atlantic University students Kate Maier and Samantha Zaninelli have been named 2022 Goldwater Scholars. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship is the most prestigious national research fellowship for undergraduate students.

Maier and Zaninelli were selected from a pool of 1,242 students from 433 institutions across the country. This is the first time in FAU history a student has been named a Goldwater Scholar.

“We could not be prouder of Samantha and Kate,” said Donna Chamely-Wiik, Ph.D., associate dean for Undergraduate Research and Prestigious Fellowships and associate scientist in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Their curiosity and passion for research, and determination for making their mark in science is refreshing. As undergraduates, they are already contributing original work to the scientific community as published authors. These scholars are setting the foundation to become successful doctoral students and the next generation of cutting-edge researchers.”

Maier, 18, is a junior, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at FAU’s John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter, and a dual-enrolled FAU High School senior. Her research focuses on computer vision and computational approaches in neuroscience under the mentorship of Salil Bidaye, Ph.D., through the MaryLynn Magar Data Science Fellowship at FAU High School in partnership with Max Planck Academy.

Kate Maier

Kate Maier

“After obtaining a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience, my goal is to start an independent lab to investigate diverse brain functions through computational modeling,” said Maier. “My mentors have been integral in shaping my research trajectory, and I would love to take up the mantle, mentoring the next generation of scientists.”

Maier also conducted computer vision research for biomedical and neuroscience applications with Oge Marques, Ph.D., professor in FAU’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and David Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., chief executive officer and scientific director at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. Her research accomplishments include first authorship on a publication with Marques, multiple research presentations, along with an impressive academic record.

“This exceptional honor is a testament to Kate’s dedication and passion for serving the neuroscience community,” said Joel Herbst, Ed.D., superintendent of schools at FAU Lab Schools. “The intersection of investigating brain functions and computational modeling create genuine awe for anybody fortunate enough to see her work. Her body of work is furthered by her desire to give back to the research community both at FAU High School and The Max Planck Academy. Our entire school community is honored by the exceptional impact Kate’s work will have on furthering the field of neuroscience.”

Zaninelli, 19, is a first-generation college student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. Her research area focuses on behavioral neuroscience, under the guidance of her primary research mentor Erik Duboué, Ph.D. assistant professor of biology in Wilkes Honors College.

Samantha Zaninelli

Samantha Zaninelli

Zaninelli was selected as only one of four students to be part of the National Institute of Health (NIH)-URISE training program, an NIH funded program to promote underrepresented minority students in science and prepare them for graduate school. She is also a published author, with a manuscript in the journal Evolution.

“My goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience,” said Zaninelli. “I would also like to lead an academic research team conducting evolutionary neuroscience research examining how our brain has evolved in terms of physiology and cognition.”

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency. The scholarship program honoring U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

Maier and Zaninelli applied for the Goldwater Scholarship with assistance from FAU’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry and Prestigious Fellowships. For more information on Prestigious Fellowships, visit