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Thursday, Feb 9, 2023

Student makes history as first Black Goldwater Scholar at Mercer 

Junior Ebonye Smith was named Mercer's first Black Goldwater Scholar. Photo provided by Ebonye Smith
Junior Ebonye Smith was named Mercer's first Black Goldwater Scholar. Photo provided by Ebonye Smith

Ever since grade school, junior Ebonye Smith knew she wanted to pursue engineering. Now, Smith is a 2021 Recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship.

Smith was one of 410 college students in the country and three Mercer students to receive this year’s scholarship. The scholarship program was “designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics,” according to the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation’s website.

Her interest in engineering started young, but it wasn’t until college where she understood the field.

“I didn’t really know what engineering was until I got here to Mercer,” Smith said. “But after taking my first couple of classes and doing research, I was like ‘okay, I hit the nail on the head. I didn’t know what it was but I’m glad I’m here because I enjoy it,’” she said.

Smith was first introduced to the Goldwater Scholarship at a student presentation during a high school visit to Mercer. She said she knew then that it was an accomplishment she wanted to achieve.

According to the Goldwater website, in order to qualify for eligibility, students must intend to work in research.

Smith has worked with Makhin Thitsa, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, on research she said played a big part in making her application stand out.

“In just a couple of years in training, Ebonye has proven to be a very productive researcher,” Thitsa said. “When I found out that Ebonye had won the Goldwater scholarship, I was overjoyed because I knew how much she deserves it.”

As a student researcher in Thitsa’s lab, Smith has investigated data-driven control methodologies for transportation networks. Her work has been presented at three conferences and compiled as a journal article, which is currently under review.

“She is truly an asset in my research group,” Thitsa said.

Smith is the first Black student from Mercer University to be named as a Goldwater Scholar.

“In one of my essays, I talked about how there’s a lack of women of color and Black women in STEM,” she said. “A lot of younger Black girls don’t have a lot of role models to look up to or a lot of role models encouraging them to pursue STEM. It’s kind of nice to win something like this because now I can be a role model to little Black girls and be like, ‘hey, I’m doing this, you can do it too.’”

In the future, Smith plans to do research within the industry through a company or laboratory.

“I think there’s a difference between practicing engineering and practicing what you find in your textbook versus discovering things you would put in a textbook,” she said.


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