Sarah McGrath and Matthew Loberg

Sarah McGrath and Matthew Loberg have received Goldwater Scholarships in recognition of their superior academic achievements and their exceptional research endeavors.


Goldwater Foundation Taps Two More Exemplary Wooster Scholars

Sarah McGrath and Matthew Loberg recognized for exceptional academic achievement

10 April, 2015 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Sarah McGrath and Matthew Loberg, both science majors at The College of Wooster, have been recognized for distinguished academic achievement and noteworthy research pursuits by the Goldwater Foundation.

McGrath, a sophomore geology major with a minor in mathematics, and Loberg, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major, join an impressive group of students chosen from a pool of more than 1,200 applicants nationwide in mathematics, science, and engineering. The scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

McGrath, a graduate of Sharon High School in Sharon, Mass., is the daughter of two geologists, including mother Betsy, who is a 1985 Wooster graduate. "I really felt wanted here," says McGrath in explaining why she chose to attend Wooster and major in geology. "Dr. [Mark] Wilson reached out to me and welcomed me, and I was very impressed with the geology department."

Of particular interest to McGrath was the opportunity to conduct research. She was selected as a Clare Booth Luce Scholar, and last summer spent time in Utah investigating the possibility of using ancient soil horizons in Paleocene-Eocene aged rocks to reconstruct past climate controls in the region during a field experience with Shelley Judge, associate professor of geology at Wooster. She also assisted Greg Wiles, professor of geology at Wooster, last summer and fall in reconstructing a portion of the yellow-cedar history of Pleasant Island in Icy Strait, Southeast Alaska, which led to a presentation at the annual Geological Society of America Meeting last fall in Vancouver and a journal article she is currently working on. This summer, she will travel to Columbia University and participate in the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory summer intern program, a research opportunity for undergraduates focused on climate change.

"I have had excellent mentors who have pushed me to take advantage of great research opportunities," says McGrath, who also is a member of the Geology Club and the varsity field hockey team at Wooster. "I would not have received this honor without them."

McGrath is believed to be the first geology major from Wooster ever to have won a Goldwater Scholarship, which has the department extremely excited, according to Judge. "Sarah is most deserving of the award, which is focused on a student's aspirations for a research trajectory," says Judge. "From the time she set foot on our campus, she has shown abundant interest in research, a desire to attend graduate school after her undergraduate career is finished, and a focused energy for anything related to climate-change issues. She has the potential to use her geology major and her coursework in mathematics for a wonderful research career."

Loberg, a graduate of North Salem High School in Salem, Ore., was certainly intrigued by Wooster's robust and wide-ranging commitment to undergraduate research, but he says it was the hospitality of the campus and the genuineness of the people that ultimately sealed the deal.

He came to Wooster intending to major in neuroscience, but decided to switch to biochemistry and molecular biology after becoming enamored with the research opportunities made available by James West, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Wooster. "He converted me," says Loberg. "We started working together in May of my first year and have continued ever since."

During that time, Loberg has progressed through a series of high-level research experiences, including one with Karen O'Malley at Washington University in St. Louis, where he studied the molecular mechanisms of Parkinson's disease as an AMGEN program scholar last summer. This summer, he will work at Jackson Laboratories in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he will study epigenetic patterns of leukemia stem cells.

All of this will prepare Loberg well for his Senior Independent Study project (Wooster's highly acclaimed undergraduate research experience, also known as I.S.). "I have been studying the oxidant defense system of baker's yeast as a way to better understand how organisms defend against spontaneous mutations implicated in the incidence of many forms of cancer," he says. "In correspondence with my interest in cancer biology, my work in Dr. West's lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms by which cells protect against genomic instability — a hallmark of cancer."

Like McGrath, Loberg extols the value of mentorship at Wooster. "Dr. West has been my primary mentor, and he has really been instrumental in my becoming the student I am, both in the classroom and in the lab," he says. "I feel fortunate; I would not be where I am without Dr. West and my other mentors, particularly Dr. O'Malley from Washington University."

West is equally complimentary of Loberg. "Matt's receipt of a Goldwater Scholarship is a well-deserved recognition of his scientific achievements as an undergraduate," says West. "Matt is an excellent student in all respects. He has done exemplary work in the classroom and is a thoughtful experimentalist in the laboratory. I am very proud of him and all that he has accomplished scientifically during his time at Wooster. He shows great promise for a future in research."

In many ways, McGrath and Loberg embody the essence of a Wooster education, particularly in regard to undergraduate research. McGrath sees herself as a research geologist, who according to Judge "will ask and answer some of our most pressing questions in the natural sciences in the future." Loberg is exploring the possibility of becoming an M.D./Ph.D., a rigorous eight-year track that will enable him to practice medicine and conduct research, which, he says, "won't necessarily change the world, but will give me an opportunity to help as many people as I can."