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Computer Science and Mathematics Dual Major Receives Goldwater Scholarship

Luisa Mao photo

Luisa Mao, a computer science and mathematics dual major pursuing a minor in robotics, is one of the 438 recipients of a 2024 Goldwater Scholarship. The University of Texas at Austin sophomore joins a long line of Longhorns who have received this scholarship, one of the oldest and most prestigious awards for undergraduates studying the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the United States. 

Mao first heard about the Goldwater Scholarship Program during a summer internship. “I was doing robotics research at NASA for the Astrobee robots on the International Space Station,” she explains, when she met a 2023 recipient of the award. “He encouraged me to apply for the scholarship with this research.”

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which awards the scholarships in partnership with Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs and UWorld, was established in 1986 in honor of Sen. Barry Goldwater. Awardees, who are sophomores or juniors in college, receive funding to cover the cost of tuition, mandatory fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per full academic year.

Mao, who is a Turing Scholar and the recipient of Martin Luther King Youth Legacy Award in Math and Science, had a team of University faculty and staff supporting her application. “I received assistance from Dr. Leanne Fields, who has lots of experience coaching students for the Goldwater and other distinguished scholarships,” she shares, “[as well as] help from Dr. Calvin Lin, the director of the Turing Scholars Honors Program, and my research advisor, Dr. Joydeep Biswas.”

The Goldwater Scholarship will alleviate financial stress during Mao’s next year of undergraduate study and help her prepare for graduate school, where she hopes to earn a PhD in robotics and AI. And then there’s the mentoring and social aspects: “The Goldwater Scholars community is a great resource for advice about future careers, further education, research, and applying for grants and other awards. It’s also just a great place to meet and befriend other scientists and researchers.”

Close on the heels of the Goldwater announcement, Mao also received a major award from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF). Founded in 1984 by the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts, the ASF provides one of the largest merit-based scholarships for undergraduate STEM students in the United States. Through her Astronaut Scholarship, Mao will receive up to $15,000, an all-expenses-paid trip to the ASF Innovators Weekend, and access to many mentorship, professional development and networking opportunities with fellow Astronaut Scholars.

Mao says she wouldn’t be pursuing research if she hadn’t had the encouragement of Dr. Biswas and her other research advisor, Dr. Peter Stone, over the past two years. Now, with the Goldwater and Astronaut Scholarships, her future is looking brighter than ever. “I’m currently working on vision foundation models for mobile robots, which would have great implications in long-term robust autonomy,” she says. “I’m very thankful for all the support I’ve received along the way.”

Students and alumni interested in learning more about these prestigious awards should contact the Undergraduate College’s Office of Distinguished and Postgraduate Scholarships at odps@austin.utexas.edu or visit Undergraduate College. Depending on their affiliation, prospective applicants also work closely with either the Cockrell School of Engineering or the College of Natural Sciences to prepare their Goldwater applications.