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Skidmore College

Student scientist wins prestigious scholarship

April 28, 2021
by James Helicke

Skidmore chemistry major Heather Ricker ’22 has been awarded a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious scholarship in the United States for undergraduates in STEM fields. 

Ricker, who is also pursuing a minor in environmental studies and sciences, was selected from a pool of more than 5,000 sophomores and juniors nominated by hundreds of colleges across the United States.  

“My priority rests with leaving a positive, lasting impact on Earth, so I intend on pursuing a career in mitigating human-driven climate change,” said Ricker of Londonderry, New Hampshire. “I will do everything in my power to research and undo some of the negative impacts that humans have left on the climate by using chemistry, environmental science and geoscience.” 

The government-funded scholarship supports undergraduate students who intend to pursue research careers in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.  

Ricker, who has also received the highly selective Porter/Wachenheim Presidential Scholarship in Science and Mathematics and support from the Schupf Scholar Program at Skidmore, plans to pursue a doctorate in chemistry. She eventually hopes to help develop chemical solutions to support climate change alleviation and adaptation. 

“I’m very excited about this award and am also grateful for opportunities that have allowed me to pursue my interest in science at Skidmore,” Ricker said.  "Skidmore makes research and scientific engagement so accessible."

Winning this award at a small liberal arts college goes to show that Skidmore offers all of the opportunities of a large research institution while still fostering close student-faculty relationships, small class sizes and a strong sense of community.
Heather Ricker '22

Throughout her time at Skidmore, Ricker has been actively involved in research opportunities with Skidmore faculty, a hallmark of a Skidmore education.  

Working with Associate Professor of Chemistry Juan Navea, she has participated in collaborative research experience over the past two summers and has been one of just a few undergraduate research assistants for the Center for Atmospheric Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE), a National Science Foundation center for chemical innovation based at the University of California, San Diego. 

She has also collaborated with international projects like SeaSCAPE, which models ocean-atmosphere interactions in a controlled experiment. 

“My passion and involvement in science, along with the funding, research and classes that Skidmore offers, have taken me to where I am today,” Ricker said.  

Those research opportunities have also allowed her to co-author several scientific papers, including “Particle formation and surface processes on atmospheric aerosols: a short review of applied quantum chemical calculations” in the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry (2020) and “Atmospheric Processing of Anthropogenic Combustion Particles: Effects of Acid Media and Solar Flux on the Iron Mobility from Fly Ash” in ACS Earth and Space Chemistry (2020). 

She is the lead author on another research article that seeks to explain the presence of an elusive molecule, nitrous acid, in the marine atmosphere. It will be submitted for peer review this summer.   

Heather Ricker '22 with Associate Professor Juan Navea

Heather Ricker '22 with Associate Professor Juan Navea in the new Center for Integrated Sciences.

“Heather is a brilliant young scientist and has been able to pursue research and professional opportunities at Skidmore that otherwise might be reserved for graduate students,” said Navea, who is also associate chair of the Chemistry Department and leads Skidmore’s Laboratory of Atmospheric Physical Chemistry. “I’m very proud that Heather has been selected for this prestigious honor and expect her to make important contributions to climate science solutions of the future.” 

Skidmore continues to provide new opportunities in the sciences with the belief that scientific literacy is essential for all students — not just science majors — and will drive careers of the future.  

This academic year, the first phase of Skidmore’s ambitious Center for Integrated Sciences, the North Wing, opened its doors. The CIS project is the largest single academic project in College history and will house all of Skidmore’s science departments and programs, including more than 90 faculty members, when the entire project is completed in 2024. 

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