2 Trojans awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarships

Bryson Choy and Haoda “Harry” Wang were chosen from a pool of more than 5,000 students at 438 academic institutions.

May 21, 2021 Crisann Begley-Smith, Cheyenne Gaima

Two USC undergraduates have been awarded scholarships from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

Bryson Choy of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and Haoda “Harry” Wang of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering were chosen from a pool of over 5,000 students from 438 academic institutions.

Bryson Choy focuses on how computer science can benefit human health

“Many unanswered questions in the life sciences can be viewed through an interdisciplinary lens informed by computer science and mathematics,” Choy said, “and I’m excited by the prospect of using my background in quantitative biology to tackle such outstanding questions.”

Choy, from Honolulu, plans to use the Goldwater Scholarship to apply the computational techniques he learned at USC Dornsife to advance knowledge of human health. In particular, he’ll focus on how the shape of certain proteins and biological molecules contributes to their role in disease and how they might be targeted with therapies.

“My future research will place an emphasis on elucidating the structure-function of clinically relevant proteins and biological macromolecules, as well as the development of novel computational tools for accelerating structure-based drug discovery,” he said.

Choy expressed gratitude toward his many mentors and professors for their guidance and hopes to pay it forward by mentoring students and young researchers in the future.

My mentors have all played an instrumental role in supporting my growth as a researcher.

Bryson Choy

“My mentors have all played an instrumental role in supporting my growth as a researcher, and I’m deeply grateful for their mentorship and guidance,” he said.

As for future Goldwater Scholarship applicants, he recommends they showcase their passion for their particular field in their application, emphasize their research experience and seek feedback from faculty and colleagues.

“Each of your writing components should highlight a different aspect of yourself that would make you a successful research scientist,” he said.

During his last year at USC, Choy plans to use the funds from the Goldwater Scholarship to focus on research projects at the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience Bridge Institute and the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, as well as his senior thesis in computational structural biology.

“The scholarship has not only provided me with monetary support but also connected me to a community of like-minded researchers who share similar career goals and interests,” he said.

Read more on the USC Dornsife website.

Harry Wang’s research: “Making computers work faster”

Harry Wang was born to solve complex problems.

In fact, when he received the notification one late March morning that he was awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, he shut off his phone and rolled back over in bed. He had been up the night prior tackling a bug embedded in his Jet Propulsion Laboratory internship project.

When the accomplishment set in later, he phoned his adviser, Jelena Mirkovic, project leader at the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI) and research associate professor of computer science at USC Viterbi, who was thrilled but not surprised to hear the good news.

“I think Harry has a unique combination of skills, maturity and grit, which makes him very productive in research,” she said.

When asked to describe his research to a toddler, Wang responded, “Making computers work faster.”

It’s really satisfying to introduce an elegant solution to a complicated problem.

Harry Wang

“It’s really satisfying to introduce an elegant solution to a complicated problem, and building secure and reliable computer systems in a distributed way is a super hard problem,” said Wang, a rising senior in computer engineering and computer science. “In life-threatening applications such as power grid networks, your systems have to be reliable.”

Since joining ISI in the fall of his freshman year, Wang has co-authored two papers that were submitted to the USENIX Security Symposium, one of the top security conferences in the country.

In addition to his projects at ISI, Wang has made notable contributions in his research internships. The summer after his freshman year, he worked at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque to improve efficiency on the packet capture system.

Throughout his sophomore and junior years, he has worked remotely for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he developed kinematic simulation software that caught fatal bugs in the Mars 2020 flight software.

Wang hopes to earn a doctorate in computer science and pursue research in industry settings. For now, he is working on his senior thesis proposal that will be advised by Mirkovic.

“It felt great to receive this award,” Wang said. “This is what I love to do.”

Congress established the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation in 1986 as a living memorial to Sen. Barry Goldwater just before his retirement from the U.S. Senate. It’s is the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship awarded to students who show “exceptional promise of becoming the nation’s next generation of natural sciences, mathematics and engineering research leaders.”

Goldwater Scholars receive assistance with their application from experts at USC Academic Honors and Fellowships. The office helps USC students earn competitive fellowships and other prestigious honors, providing advice, essay reviews and mock interviews to help them prepare for national competitions.