OC student recognized by Goldwater Scholars program

Oklahoma Christian University student Nick Conley, an honors/biochemistry major from Antioch, Tenn., was selected for an award from the Goldwater Scholars program.

Conley, who has engaged in undergraduate research at Oklahoma Christian and Vanderbilt University, was selected in the extremely competitive program for a national award for the study of undergraduate science. Conley was named Honorable Mention Goldwater Scholar for Tennessee.    

All candidates for the Goldwater Scholar program are nominated by their college or university. Four-year institutions nominate up to four sophomores or juniors. An independent review committee evaluated 1,123 nominations and recommended the most outstanding nominees from each state. Conley was included in this group. From that group, the review committee selected 282 Barry M. Goldwater Scholars.  

“Nick Conley’s naming is further evidence of the strength of Oklahoma Christian’s excellent science programs and undergraduate research opportunities,” said Allison Garrett, senior vice president for academic affairs. “He is one of many OC students who participate in challenging research under the direction of our capable faculty researchers. This recognition of an OC student by the Goldwater Scholars program places OC among the few private Christian universities that achieve this high level of performance in undergraduate research.” 

Tim VanWagoner echoed Garrett's thoughts regarding Conley.

“Nick is a promising student researcher who has performed very well in a challenging program,” said Tim VanWagoner, Goldwater Scholars liaison for OC. “This recognition is a great example that demonstrates the importance of experiential learning to the academic development of young scholars.”    

VanWagoner is assistant professor of biology and chair of the OC biology department as well as an assistant professor of research in the pediatrics department at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Conley's research has been mentored by OC faculty, including chemistry professor Bill Luttrell, with whom Conley has published two technical papers in a national chemistry journal, The Journal of Chemical Health and Safety. One article was about benzene and the other about methanol, two important organic compounds. 

Conley also is co-author of findings with his Vanderbilt mentors, and he is working on a fourth research project with VanWagoner. For the past two years, Nick has presented his undergraduate research at the Oklahoma Academy of Science technical meetings.    

Conley’s senior year will include a Science Seminar project, which will then be revised and improved for Honors Senior Capstone. The project also will be eligible for supplemental funding if Conley and his faculty mentor choose to apply for the Honors Program’s new Catalyst Grant funding, mini-grants that extend additional resources for outstanding faculty/student collaborations.  

Conley is especially active in his local church and in many other campus activities. He is also a volunteer Honors photographer, and many of his works can be seen at www.oc.edu/honors.

“I am so proud of Nick, who has been a determined researcher since I first interviewed him when he was a high school senior working in a Vanderbilt lab for the summer,” said Scott LaMascus, honors director. “Nick isn’t merely a fine student researcher. He is a renaissance man who reads, travels and thinks deeply. He is a fun and valued friend to many. Nick is on a quest to pursue everything he does ‘as if for the Lord,’ and it is a privilege to be alongside him for this leg of his journey.”    

LaMascus is chair of the OC national scholarships and fellowships committee, which twice has nominated Conley for the Goldwater Scholars award. Garrett and VanWagoner also serve on the committee.  

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by the United States Congress in 1986 in honor of former U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, from Arizona. The Goldwater Scholars mission is to support undergraduates who plan careers in research for science, engineering and math. More information is available at www.act.org/goldwater.