MTSU forensics, Honors student named 2023 Goldwater Scholar

Apr 19, 2023 at 11:00 pm by WGNS News

As part of U.S. Department of Forensic Science internship training in the summer of 2022, Middle Tennessee State University senior Elizabeth Kowalczyk of Huntsville, Ala., takes photos at a mock crime scene, with bullet recovery depicted in the image. Kowalczyk was recently named a 2023 Goldwater Scholar by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. The award encourages outstanding undergraduate students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics research. (Submitted photo)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Middle Tennessee State University Honors student Elizabeth Kowalczyk was recently named as a 2023 Goldwater Scholar. She is one of only eight students from Tennessee institutions to receive the award this year and the only one from MTSU.

The prestigious Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate scholarship in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering in the United States.


The scholarships are awarded by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation to encourage outstanding undergraduate students to pursue careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — research.

“Receiving Goldwater validates all the hours I have dedicated to my research endeavors and other academic accomplishments,” said Kowalczyk, a Huntsville, Alabama, native who plans to conduct forensic microbiology research while earning her doctorate. “I have always flown under the radar, working in the lab. It is incredible knowing my contributions to this university have not gone unrecognized.”

Forensic Science major, Kowalczyk was among more than 400 college students selected from more than 5,000 applicants to receive the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship this year. The award provides funding for up to $7,500 per year to cover the cost of tuition after other scholarships.

“Elizabeth has been very proactive about obtaining practical research experience to supplement her formal university training,” said Thomas Holland, director, Forensic Institute for Research and Education, or FIRE, at MTSU. “For someone at her stage of education, she has compiled an impressive list of research involvement in a variety of fields: genetics, anthropology, law and biology.”

Holland has more than 30 years’ experience running a large, accredited crime laboratory for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Passionate about forensic science - Kowalczyk has a passion for forensic science. In 2022, she interned at the Washington, D.C., Department of Forensic Science, and she serves as an active member of MTSU’s Forensic Anthropology Search and Recovery team. FASR team members receive hands-on experience assisting law enforcement with recovery and documentation of human remains from actual crime scenes.

“As much of a leader as Elizabeth is in the classroom, the laboratory and in field recoveries, she is even more of an active leader on the outside, where she tutors and mentors fellow students as an Honors Ambassador,” added Holland. “I have witnessed her interaction with her peers and it is clear to me that she is a born leader.”

“I have always had a passion for biology and crime scenes, so choosing forensic science just made sense at the time,” said Kowalczyk, explaining how she chose her major. “With forensic science, I can bring a form of closure by solving the mystery of ‘Who done it?’ Ultimately, I decided to go with a major I knew would be flexible and something I enjoyed.”

MTSU students have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships nearly every year since 2007, when then-child prodigy Taylor Barnes became the university’s first Goldwater recipient. Last year, MTSU Honors student Yaseen Ginnab received the prestigious award. Both Ginnab and Kowalczyk will graduate this year.

Most Goldwater recipients, including those from MTSU, have continued their studies in the sciences at prestigious colleges and universities throughout the country. Barnes is a software scientist and part of the Virginia Tech Molecular Sciences Software Institute.

Kowalczyk is very active in the community. Her roles outside of the classroom have helped her achieve this scholarship.

“I have fostered a community through the swim team, the Honors Ambassador program, poster presentations and the Forensic Anthropology Search and Recovery Team,” she said. “Bringing people together brings me much happiness.”

MTSU’s scholarships are coordinated through the Undergraduate Fellowships Office, or  UFO, in the Honors College. Students interested in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship, or other national  and international awards, should contact Laura Clippard, International Fellowships and Honors College coordinator, at 615-898-5464 or  

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