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Striking Gold(water)

As roommates, Luke Guerdan and Evan Teters had lively conversations in the apartment they shared. Oftentimes, those discussions revolved around computer science.

Luke Guerdan
Luke Guerdan

“This may sound boring at first,” Guerdan acknowledges, “but after a few hours it becomes quite fun.”

They never imagined that both would eventually become Goldwater Scholarship recipients.

Earlier this month, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation awarded 211 scholarships for the 2018-19 academic year to undergraduate sophomores and juniors from the United States, with Guerdan and Teters named among the group of Scholars. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. An additional 281 nominees were named as Honorable Mentions, including Mizzou biochemistry major Amanda Blythe.

Two years ago, as more than 300 students filed into a large lecture hall at MU for a computer programming class, Guerdan and Teters took seats near the front. They didn’t know each other at the time, but that soon changed. As the class progressed, they began working together on course material.

Evan Teters
Evan Teters

“As for all nerds, this quickly digressed into dreaming up fun projects to work on to distract us from our homework,” Guerdan says.

They shared similar interests and a friendship developed. Eventually Guerdan and Teters, along with another computer science major, became roommates, leading to hours spent reading algorithms and arguing about programming style. All three also spent countless hours at the College of Engineering computer science labs.

“It was almost a competition amongst the three of us to see who would get back to our apartment the latest,” Teters says. “A competition that Luke won often.”

Their conversations were not always about computer science. They debated the best films and podcasts, and when all three roommates took a course titled “The Ancient World,” a discussion arose about the nature of the universe. Too tired for the existential crisis, Teters headed to his room.

“I found out the next day that the conversation went until 2 a.m.,” Teters says.

Guerdan and Teters are two of just three Missouri residents to receive this year’s Goldwater Scholarship. Guerdan, a junior from St. Charles, Missouri, is majoring in psychology in addition to computer science. He is studying in Spain this semester and will work in Berlin this summer through the DAAD Research Internship in Science and Engineering program. He plans to pursue a doctorate in computer science, then hopes to teach at a university level while conducting research in machine learning and affective computing.

“With a big school come many possibilities and I have really enjoyed the diverse class choices, interdisciplinary research and extracurricular activities Mizzou offers,” Guerdan says. “At the same time, the Honors College and Fellowships Office have given me all of the perks of a small private school.”

Teters is a junior from Springfield, Missouri. He also plans to pursue a PhD in computer science, then conduct further research in computer vision and machine learning.

“Mizzou has helped me in a number of ways,” Teters says. “While I have learned a lot of useful information in my classes, I have learned as much, if not more, outside of class.”

Goldwater Scholars are selected based on academic merit from a field of 1,280 natural sciences, mathematics and engineering students nominated by the campus representatives. Mizzou’s newest Goldwater Scholars credit MU for helping them achieve this award.

“To have been chosen by the Goldwater Foundation when they had so many great students across disciplines to choose from is a great honor,” Teters says. “It means I have surrounded myself with the right people to help me succeed at the things I enjoy doing.”

Guerdan agrees. “Receiving the Goldwater makes me tremendously grateful for the support I have received here at Mizzou,” he says.

The support is necessary because, as Guerdan and Teters found out, success does not come easy. Applying for a fellowship can be both rewarding and intense.

“The process was a lot of writing,” Teters says. “I went through several drafts of some of the essay responses while going through my ideas and trying to decide what would be best.”

Guerdan admits it was intimidating to compete against many talented young researchers, but he carried on, knowing others, including his friend, were facing the same challenges.

“The biggest benefit for me was knowing that someone else was going through the same rigorous process,” Guerdan says.