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Two BYU students awarded prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship

The Goldwater Scholarship gives up to $7,500 to students who intend to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.

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Wendy Billings, chemistry major and junior from Orem, Utah

BYU students Wendy Billings and Orion Weller were recently named Barry M. Goldwater Scholars for the 2020–2021 academic year. Each student will receive scholarships of up to $7,500 for the next academic year.

Billings, a junior from Orem, Utah, is a chemistry major and intends to pursue a career in research and plans to begin applying for Ph.D. programs toward the end of this year.

“I always knew I wanted a career in science, but I also just really enjoy learning,” Billings said. “I love research especially because I’m always asking new questions and learning new things. Researchers are never able to know everything about the subject they study, so it always keeps them learning.”

Billings started participating in research at BYU while still a student in high school. She worked as an intern in the lab of Dr. Joshua L. Price the summer between her junior and senior years of high school and has conducted research with BYU professors Price, Dennis Della Corte and David Wingate. Billings has co-authored multiple academic research papers and presented at college, national and international conferences in her field. Her research focuses on the structure of proteins and their potential use in pharmaceuticals.

“Wendy has been an essential resource in my lab over the last 12 months,” said Della Corte, a professor in the physics department with whom Billings has worked. “She has driven, after short training periods, two research topics from concept to publication. Without her willingness to work, ability to succeed, and driven personality, we would not have achieved as much in such a short time.”

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Orion Weller, a junior double majoring in computer science and statistics from Seattle, Washington

Weller, a junior from Seattle, Washington, is double majoring in computer science and statistics, and researches with BYU professors Kevin Seppi, Nancy Fulda and Quinn Snell. Weller describes his research as the intersection between computer science, statistics and linguistics.

One of Weller’s projects studied humor and found that computers have a hard time creating good jokes but have an easier time differentiating between a funny joke and one that isn’t.

“The goal was to understand how humor works and whether or not machines can identify humor and what parts of a joke make it funny,” Weller said. “It started out as just a class project but eventually turned into a research study we published at a well-known research conference.”

He presented the research at an international conference in Hong Kong this past November.

Weller plans to pursue a career in industry research and also intends to begin applying for Ph.D. programs towards the end of this year.

Learn more about the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship at www.act.org/goldwater .

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