The University of New Mexico is recognizing three incredible students who were officially given the prestigious distinction of Goldwater Scholars.

On March 29, Mia Baca, Victoria Nisoli, and Ariana Pritha were named among the 2024-2025 Goldwater Scholars. These scholars were selected from a pool of 1,353 college sophomores and juniors nominated by 446 academic institutions.  

“Congratulations to Mia, Victoria, and Ariana on this remarkable achievement! Earning this prestigious award not only validates their academic excellence but also underscores their potential to make significant contributions to their respective fields through their dedicated research efforts,”  Honors College Scholarship Coordinator Kiyoko Simmons said.

Founded in recognition of the U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the Goldwater Scholarship provides up to $7,500 in financial support for students who are planning to pursue a Ph.D. and a career in STEM research. 

According to the Foundation, 438 Goldwater Scholars were selected based on academic merit. Of students who reported, 188 of the Scholars are men, 236 are women, and all intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their highest degree objective. 57 Scholars intend to pursue research careers in mathematics and computer science, 237 in the sciences, 80 in medicine, and 64 in engineering and materials research. Many of the Scholars have published their research in leading professional journals and have presented their work at professional society conferences.

Below, you’ll see why these Lobos are among those selected, and how they stood out among the competition. 


Mia Baca
Mia Baca is a junior majoring in chemical engineering with a minor in mathematics. She is also a McNair Scholar and recipient of the UNM Regents' Scholarship. She conducts research in the synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials for optical refrigeration at the UNM Center for High Technology Materials. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering and conduct research in materials for energy conversion.

“I am honored to have been selected as a 2024 Goldwater Scholar. I have faced many challenges pursuing a research career and I will surely face more, so this award symbolizes my progress toward my goals. I have a passion for science, and I am excited to contribute to the global effort to expand our knowledge and better our world. I am very thankful for the support of my mentors, Dr. Marek Osiński and Dr. Maxwell Gregoire, as well as my advisor, Dr. Shuya Wei,” Baca said. 

Victoria Nisoli

Victoria Nisoli is majoring in chemistry and minoring in art studio and honors interdisciplinary liberal arts. In addition to optical nanoparticle synthesis research at Los Alamos National Labs and Sandia National Labs, Nisoli has started research in the UNM Department of Chemistry on small molecular probes synthesis. She has also served as a Supplemental Instructor for General Chemistry II and Organic Chemistry II. One day, Nisoli hopes to expand her research in the realm of synthetic chemistry and someday teach and mentor future generations of chemists.

“I am extremely grateful to have been selected as a recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship, as it is a particular privilege to receive an award for something I feel strongly about–my research work. I am indebted to my previous research mentor Dr. Jennifer Hollingsworth, all of my professors, particularly Dr. Lisa Whalen and Dr. David Keller, and my current PI Dr. Matthew Aronoff and his group,” Nisoli said. “All have always devoted time to answering my questions or engaging with my work. Additionally, Dr. Jeffrey Rack and Dr. Kiyoko Simmons took time to provide insightful feedback for my application. I credit this scholarship to the compassion I have been shown by all these mentors throughout every step of my journey as a chemist. These people have all shown me a degree of kindness which afforded me a multitude of opportunities and allowed me to pursue my interests in the field.

Ariana Pritha

Ariana Pritha is a junior majoring in biochemistry and psychology. She is a proud student researcher currently serving as an NIH T34 U-RISE Scholar under the guidance of Shahani Noor at Noor Lab in the UNM School of Medicine’s Department of Neuroscience. Her primary research focus is on identifying blood biomarkers for detecting prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and understanding its neuroimmune consequences. Pritha is dedicated to advancing neuroscience in both basic science and translational/clinical approaches.

“As a Goldwater Scholar, I am honored to be recognized for my research and potential to be a leader in academia. I am deeply grateful for the invaluable guidance and mentorship provided by Dr. Shahani Noor, Dr. Erin Milligan, and Dr. Cristina Takacs, along with my mentors in the U-RISE program, Dr. Helen Wearing and Dr. Jenna Fonta,” Pritha said. “I would also like to thank our campus advisor Dr. Kiyoko Simmons for helping me apply for this prestigious scholarship. Their support has been instrumental in shaping my journey and fostering my passion for advancing knowledge and innovation in neuroscience research.


UNM has produced 17 recipients of Goldwater Scholarships within the past decade. The past six have been women. These three join the ranks of 10,720 scholarships awarded since 1989 by the Goldwater Foundation.

The UNM’s Goldwater Selection Committee reviews the preliminary applications and selects outstanding nominees from UNM. Simmons is thanking this year’s committee members (Dr. Ganesh Balakrishnan, Dr. Jeffrey Rack, Dr. Sally Seidel, Dr. Felisa Smith, and Dr. Heng Zuo) for their work and contributions.

UNM’s Center for Academic Excellence & Leadership Development (CAELD) provides students with merit-based scholarship and fellowship opportunities. The Center helps UNM students to become competitive candidates for prestigious scholarships by coordinating the institutional endorsement and assisting the UNM nominees with the scholarship application process. Students who are interested in these scholarships must submit a preliminary application to obtain institutional endorsement.