Two students from UNO receive prestigious Goldwater Scholarships


Sara Meadows

Recipients of the scholarship are given up to $7,500 each semester to help with expenses for up to two years. Photo courtesy of UNO News Center.

Two Mavericks who received the Barry Goldwater Scholarship Award were among 417 students from across the county to receive the award.

For the second time in UNO history, the two students were nationally recognized as pioneers in the fields of natural science, mathematics and engineering.

When UNO’s scholarship winners were announced, both sophomore Brandon Villanueva-Sanchez and junior Maia Bennet celebrated quietly.

Maia Bennet, A transfer student from American University who is majoring in bioinformatics, Bennett is an INBRE scholar, is an undergraduate research assistant, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences.
“Bennett is very much a go-getter, very driven, focused on achieving her career goals, and has a strong work ethic,” her mentor, Paul Denton, assistant professor of biology, said. “I’d describe Bennett as a pioneer in this lab.”

“My lab meeting started at 11, so they were supposed to start the meeting while I got my results,” Villanueva-Sanchez said. “But right before we started the lab meeting, I got an email that said Goldwater 2022. I opened it and read the first line saying ‘congratulations.’ I turned to my mentor, I’m trying not to freak out because there’s like 20 other people in the room, and I’m just like, ‘I got the Goldwater,’ and he gave me a high five.”

Bennet received the news about the scholarship while participating in a panel for the College of Arts and Sciences.

“I was able to celebrate quietly with my mentor about 15 minutes after the Goldwater list was released,” she said

Those who receive the scholarship are given up to $7,500 each semester to help with the expenses of tuition, fees, books and room and board for up to two years.

To be considered for the scholarship, applicants must be skillful in their academic and extracurricular activities and provide an essay about what they are doing in their research.

Brandon Villanueva-Sanchez is an honors student and Johns Hopkins fellow majoring in neuroscience. He is the first in his family to pursue a four-year degree and plans to pursue an M.D. or Ph.D. program in the future.
“Brandon is the one leading the charge and he is doing a lot on his own. He is very insightful and he’s always thinking about how methodologies or particular technologies fit into the broader scheme of things, and I think that’s a very rare trait, especially for students at Brandon’s level,” his mentor, Ryan Wong, associate professor of biology, said.

“We did have some applicants who did not receive an award and that’s always a struggle every year,” Lucy Morrison, director of UNO’s Office of National Scholarship and Fellowships, said. “But these students are investing in themselves by doing the application because they will learn about themselves, their career goals, their pathways, and it sometimes helps to narrow that focus. You learn about yourself, and you realize what you’ve already done, and all our applicants had outstanding research experiments already.”

Students interested in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship or similar national scholarship opportunities should contact the UNO Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships at