University of Connecticut junior Katie Hooker ’23 (CLAS), a molecular and cell biology major and a native of Guilford, has been named a Goldwater Scholar. The Goldwater Scholarship is considered the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences, and engineering.
The Goldwater Scholarship was established by Congress to honor the late U.S. Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, with the purpose of identifying students of outstanding ability and promise, and encouraging them to pursue advanced study and research careers. Scholars receive one- or two-year awards that cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
Hooker is among just 417 students selected nationally for the award this year.
“I am elated that Katie’s hard work and unique achievements has earned her this national recognition,” says Rowena Grainger, Enrichment Programs Assistant Director for Research and Fellowships. “With the help of her excellent mentors and her unwavering commitment to a career in research, I am sure Katie will continue to make an impact in her field of interest.”
Hooker plans to pursue a doctorate in genetic and genomics following graduation and conduct research in studying the genetics underlying cognitive traits such as reading and language ability.
“I am interested in large-scale genetic data and data science,” says Hooker. “I think that can be the key to unlocking the mechanisms by which diseases and certain human traits act and could hopefully be the future for diagnostics measures and early intervention and treatment.”
Her interest in genetics began as a student at Guilford High School as she conducted a capstone project on the history of the FOXP2 gene, situating this understanding into the larger context of what makes humans unique from our genetic ancestors.
She expanded on this work in 2020 in the lab of associate professor of psychological sciences Nicole Landi, studying the relationship between variation on the FOXP2 gene, reading and language abilities, and brain metrics associated with these traits through the Holster Scholars Program.
“Katie’s project is exciting – while we know that reading skill and reading disability are heritable, we have a lot to learn about the specific genetic mechanisms,” says Landi. “Katie is investigating gene-brain-behavior relations for a gene that has been implicated in spoken language processing and thus may play a role in reading as well. This is a unique project that involves inter-relating data at multiple levels. Katie has put in a lot of hard work, and I could not be more thrilled that she was selected for the Goldwater Scholarship.”
Hooker’s current research continues to extend this work, more accurately characterizing the complex relationship between FOXP2, reading and language abilities, and the brain through mediation and graph theoretical analyses.
“I was shocked when I found out I was named a Goldwater Scholar,” says Hooker. “When you apply for something that is so competitive and at a national scale, there’s no expectation to get it, because there are so few selected. I was sitting in a hallway of the Austin Building waiting for a class to start. I knew the selections were coming out that day. Then I got a notification on my watch and just saw ‘Congratulations.’ I didn’t see it coming at all!
“It’s such as prestigious title and something you carry with you past your undergraduate career.”
Outside of her academics, Hooker serves as the vice president of the UConn Irish Dance Team. She has been a competitive Irish dancer from age seven through high school. She is also part of the Honors Guides for Peer Success and works at Brain Imaging Research Center, where she helps run children through experimental protocols during MRIs.
The Office of National Scholarships & Fellowships (ONSF) is a resource for students interested in learning more about the Goldwater Scholarship and other prestigious scholarships and fellowships that support study in all fields. ONSF is part of Enrichment Programs and is open to all graduate and undergraduate students at the University, including students at the regional campuses. For more information about STEM fellowships specifically, contact Rowena Grainger, Enrichment Programs Assistant Director for Research and Fellowships.