Three University of Maryland undergraduates with long records of accomplishments and community service have been awarded scholarships for the 2021-22 year by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which encourages students to pursue advanced study and research careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. 

Sanketh Andhavarapu ’23, a biological sciences and neuroeconomics (Individual Studies) dual-degree student; Naveen Raman ’22, a computer science and mathematics double major; and physics major Ela Rockafellow ’22 are among 410 Barry Goldwater Scholars selected from 1,256 nominees nationally. Goldwater Scholars receive one- or two-year scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 per year.

Over the last decade, UMD’s nominations yielded 37 scholarships—the second-most in the nation behind Stanford University. The Goldwater Foundation has honored 73 UMD winners and five honorable mentions since the program’s first award was given in 1989.

“Our scholars are already contributing significantly to understanding a broad array of important scientific problems through their research. Collectively, there are advancing our understanding of plasma physics and laser-matter interactions, neurological disorders, and bias in artificial intelligence-based algorithms,” said Robert Infantino, associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, who has led the university’s Goldwater Scholarship nominating process since 2001. “These young research stars are on trajectories to make major research contributions throughout their careers.” 

Andhavarapu, a Banneker/Key Scholar and member of the University Honors program from Ellicott City, Maryland, began doing research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) after his freshman year of high school. He has worked in three research groups there as well as one at the University of Toronto—publishing six journal articles, including two as first author, and submitting four more.

He has made research contributions to potential therapies for HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder, the cellular dynamics of multiple sclerosis pathology, and an animal model for HIV-associated primary central nervous system lymphoma. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, he has contributed to five meta-analyses on emergency medicine and critical care topics, as well as conducting neuroeconomics research on neurologists’ decision-making in treating multiple sclerosis patients and seeking non-opioid alternatives for neuropathic pain.

“Sanketh joined my lab because he was interested in expanding his research horizons within the field of neurology,” said UMSOM neurosurgery Associate Professor Volodymyr Gerzanich. “After seeing him work, I can confidently say that Sanketh is the most motivated and intellectually curious undergraduate that I have mentored yet.”

Andhavarapu is also a serial entrepreneur. As co-founder and co-CEO of Vitalize App, he seeks to improve the wellness of health care professionals with digitally delivered, tailored mindfulness and resilience practices. The company participated in Terp Startup, a summer accelerator program for student entrepreneurs, and raised $20,000 in grant funding. 

He also founded and is CEO of the educational nonprofit STEPS Inc., which connects volunteers with families seeking long-term tutors and donates the profits to support education in low-income areas. The company has generated nearly $18,000 in revenue and recently launched a grant foundation to support other education nonprofits working with underserved communities.

In addition, he serves as vice president of Peer to Peer, a mentorship program that connects 40 UMD students with high school-aged children of refugee families in the community, volunteers with Mobile Medical Care, a clinic that serves uninsured patients, and writes articles about applied behavioral science topics for The Decision Lab, an international think tank and consultancy.

Andhavarapu was named to DC Inno's 25 under 25 list for 2020. After graduating, he plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in neuroscience and stay involved with digital health innovation and behavioral science.

Raman, who is a President’s Scholarship recipient and member of the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES) Honors College program from Derwood, Maryland, began working with UMD computer science faculty members in 2018. Since then, he has published four papers and submitted a fifth for publication. 

Raman’s focus is on advancing so-called named entity linking algorithms, which connect names found in a question to larger repositories of data about them like Wikipedia. These advances will ultimately help question answering systems perform better on a diverse set of questions.

“Naveen Raman is a clear star researcher—and practitioner—in the making,” said Assistant Professor John Dickerson. “He is driven, questioning, curious and technically talented, as well as a young adult with a strong sense of civic duty and commitment to using technology for social good.”

In Summer 2019, Raman worked to detect rudeness, toxicity and burnout in open-source communities as a participant in Carnegie Mellon University’s Research Experience for Undergraduates in Software Engineering program. Last summer, he worked at Facebook to develop a user interface for debugging machine learning models and learned about social uses for machine learning, such as hate speech detection. 

An avid competitor, Raman’s team won the National Academy Quiz Tournaments’ Division 2 Intercollegiate Championship Tournament as a freshman. In 2020, his team received an honorable mention in the 72-hour Mathematical Contest in Modeling. He also received an outstanding award in the 2020 SIMIODE Challenge Using Differential Equations Modeling for his team’s work on modeling interactions in refugee camps. 

He has been a teaching assistant for a programming languages class and the lead student instructor for a class on algorithms for coding interviews. He also serves as vice president of UMD’s Puzzle Club.

Off campus, Raman teaches literacy skills to underprivileged elementary school students in the Maryland Mentor Program and volunteers at the College Park Academy charter school. 

Raman plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, with a focus on the fairness of artificial intelligence algorithms in critical fields such as criminal justice, job markets and health care.

Rockafellow—a Banneker/Key Scholar and part of the University Honors program, went to elementary school in Zambia and graduated from high school in Washington, D.C. She conducts research on a rare type of high-power, ultrafast laser. She has co-authored a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters and presented two posters at national American Physical Society meetings. 

Rockafellow designed and constructed an autocorrelator—a device for measuring the duration of short laser pulses—for a 3.9-micron laser. She was also instrumental in the measurement of ionization yield by lasers of 14 orders of magnitude. 

“Ela’s measurements and analysis were critical to the success of this experiment,” said Physics Professor Howard Milchberg. “She set up sensitive imaging optics and wrote really clever algorithms that required her to not only learn about lasers in general, but she had to master our unique mid-infrared system, which is most definitely not a turnkey laser.”

Currently, she is running simulations and conducting experiments measuring terahertz radiation generation.

“She exhibits a rare combination of intelligence, creativity and dedication that I seldom find, even in graduate students,” said one of Ela’s course instructors, Thomas E. Murphy, Keystone Professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Rockafellow has been an undergraduate teaching assistant for several physics courses and is currently designing a physics course about diversity, equity and inclusion. She also serves as outreach coordinator and as a volunteer tutor for the university’s Society of Physics Students chapter and was the mentor coordinator for the 2021 Conference for Undergraduate Underrepresented Minorities in Physics (CU2MIP).

Outside of school, she has been competing in equestrian events since age 6 and wrestled for five years.

After graduation, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics and continue her work in experimental intense laser/matter interactions.