Tyler Starr ’12 has earned a national award for students in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences or engineering.Tyler Starr ’12 has earned a national award for students in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences or engineering.

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Biology and biochemistry double major brings in Goldwater Scholarship

Tyler Starr ’12 came to Willamette University with the intent to study biology, and he has wholeheartedly fulfilled his ambitions — to a level above and beyond what he imagined.

In recognition of his dedication to science, Starr, a biochemistry and biology major, was awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a national award for students in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences or engineering. Starr will receive $7,500 to put toward tuition and other university expenses.

Along with the Goldwater, Starr was also recently accepted to undertake a Research Experience for Undergraduates program this summer through the National Science Foundation. He will work at the University of Oregon with a professor who investigates the molecular evolution of hormone receptors — an opportunity that Starr says will enrich the work he plans to continue in Willamette labs.

Researching with a Professor

Since Starr’s first year at Willamette, he and Biology Assistant Professor Chris Smith have collaborated on research involving reciprocal natural selection between the Joshua tree and its pollinator, yucca moths. (Read more about their research.)

“I was incredibly lucky to connect with Professor Smith during my first year of college,” Starr says. “Working with him allowed me to narrow my interests and figure out exactly what I wanted to research.”

Starr went on to participate in a nine-week project on Joshua trees through Willamette’s Science Collaborative Research Program following his freshman year. He continued with this research for several years, and also worked with Smith to co-write a paper and submit it to the academic journal “Heredity” for possible publication.

Personal Attention

Starr says his immediate exposure to dedicated and welcoming professors made getting involved in research effortless, and allowed him to narrow his career goals down to conducting research on the evolution of molecular function, either in a professional or academic environment.

“There are 12 chemistry majors and nine professors available to be senior thesis advisors next year,” he says. “That’s almost a 1-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, allowing us to get extensive personal attention when completing our rigorous, research-based thesis.

“During my first year at Willamette, I wondered if going to a large research institution would have been a more logical choice for my science major. But now I am so grateful to be at Willamette. The close interactions with my professors have been the most important part of my education.”

Involved on Campus

Outside of his lab work, Starr participates in many facets of Willamette life. He serves as philanthropy chair for Sigma Chi fraternity; volunteers at Chemawa Indian School, a nearby high school for Native American students; and works as a biology teacher’s assistant.

He has also gone on Take a Break service trips, played trumpet in the University Wind Ensemble and studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador.

For more information on national scholarships for students, visit Student Academic Grants and Awards.