Three MSU honors students receive prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Portrait of David  C. Heson
David C. Heson
Portrait of Annamarie Thompson
Annamarie Thompson 
Portrait of Alyssa Williams
Alyssa Williams 

(Photos by Grace Cockrell)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Three Mississippi State rising seniors—all students in the university’s Shackouls Honors College—are being celebrated for their selection as national Barry Goldwater Scholars.

MSU’s David C. Heson of Guntown, Annamarie L. Thompson of Trussville, Alabama, and Alyssa Williams of Franklin, Tennessee, are receiving one of the nation’s premier undergraduate scholarships for STEM students who have significant research experience and a passion for making important research contributions in graduate school and their careers.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum congratulated the scholars upon news of their selection.

“Alyssa, David and Annamarie deserve great credit for their achievements and hard work in earning this high honor. I know they will represent Mississippi State University well during their participation in this outstanding program. I am also grateful for our faculty who have taught and mentored them and provided exceptional, hands-on research opportunities,” Keenum said.

Collectively, the prestigious scholars are the university’s 23rd, 24th and 25th students to achieve this honor since the Goldwater Foundation’s inception 38 years ago. The MSU awardees are among only 438 Goldwater Scholars chosen this year from 1,353 natural science, engineering and mathematics students nominated by 446 colleges and universities.

Heson, a Hassell Franklin Presidential Scholar, is majoring in physics, mathematics and computer science, with minors in statistics and German. He plans to pursue a doctoral degree in computational-theoretical condensed matter, and he aspires to become a physics professor at a large, public university. In addition to research experiences at MSU, he’s done work at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Middle Tennessee State University. At MSU, Heson has been heavily involved in co-curricular activities, including New Maroon Camp staff; honors college student Literary Society, which he established; Undergraduate Student Research Ambassadors, inaugural president; Society for Physics Students, vice president and president; and member of Music Maker Productions, Students for Sustainable Campus, MSU Energy Club, Student Association, and DayOne Leadership Community, among other activities.

Thompson, an MSU Provost Scholar, is a biomedical engineering major with a minor in mathematics. She also is enrolled in MSU’s MBA Venture Pathway Program, which supplements her STEM curriculum with one business course each semester. She will seek a doctoral degree in cancer biology and aims to conduct translational and clinical pediatric oncology research on brain tumors at a leading research and teaching hospital. She’s had research experiences with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, MSU College of Veterinary Medicine and University of Mississippi Medical Center. She has served as part of the Bagley College of Engineering Ambassadors, vice president and president; Provost Scholars Leadership Council, member and freshman class representative; Shackouls Honors College Ambassadors; and Society of Women Engineers. She’s also been involved with the MSU Baptist Student Union and Reformed University Fellowship, as well as community organizations such as the Oktibbeha County Humane Society and Cotton District Arts Festival.

Williams, a biochemistry and psychology double major with a minor in cognitive science, plans to study cognitive neuroscience during her doctoral program. She will conduct research investigating learning and memory through the lens of computational modeling and neuroimaging, and she also plans to teach at the university level. She has conducted research at MSU, the University of Washington, and Florida’s Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute. As an undergraduate, Williams has been a Supplemental Instruction chemistry leader; and been involved with the Neuroscience Club, vice president and event coordinator; Women in STEM Departmental Outreach, outreach officer; Brickfire Mentoring Program, mentoring supervisor and director of education; as well as a member of the Biochemistry Club and Shackouls Honors Council.

Each MSU 2024 Goldwater Scholar has amassed numerous awards and accolades, as well as publications and presentations.

David Hoffman, director of MSU’s Office of Prestigious External Scholarships, said the university leadership is “incredibly proud of the fact that this is only the second time since the Goldwater Scholarship began selecting students in 1989 that MSU has three scholars.

“While all from different STEM disciplines, they each gained early and extended research engagements with on-campus mentors. They have pursued opportunities to deepen their skills and experience via summer research at other institutions, and they have found success in presenting and publishing with their mentors, as well as academic excellence in their chosen majors. Even more impressive is the fact that, on top of their time-consuming research endeavors, they all have engaged in significant activities on campus and in the Starkville community,” said Hoffman, who also serves as an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures.

“Ultimately, it was their early and continued engagement with the world-class research and faculty mentorship that helped them accumulate the knowledge and experience that made them stand out against the best and the brightest in the nation,” Hoffman observed.

For more about the Goldwater Scholarship program, visit

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