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Mechanical engineering junior becomes OSU latest Goldwater Scholar

Friday, April 7, 2006

Melinda Hale, a mechanical and aerospace engineering junior at Oklahoma State University, has been named a Goldwater Scholar. The national distinction recognizes undergraduates with aspirations in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering.

A native of Fishkill, New York, Hale is the 13th OSU student to receive the honor.

“There is no better affirmation to the quality of our students and the education they are receiving than for our best to compete successfully with the nation’s best for prestigious scholarships like the Goldwater,” said OSU System CEO and President David Schmidly. “I congratulate Melinda on this special accomplishment and also want to commend her professors, advisers and all those who help our students reach their goals.”

At 18, Hale is also the university’s youngest Goldwater Scholar.

“I came to OSU at age 16,” said Hale, who is in her second year in OSU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Homeschooled until she completed high school at 13, Hale attended Duchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, New York, near her parents’ home before enrolling at OSU. In addition to prerequisite math and science courses, the school afforded her the opportunity to take an array of arts and humanities classes that typically cannot be squeezed into an engineering degree track. The three years there was also enough time for her to turn 16.

“The main reason I waited those three years was I had to have a driver’s license before coming to Stillwater,” Hale said.

Hale was recruited by a number of prestigious institutions. She maintained a family tradition in opting to attend the state’s university. Originally from Jenks, Oklahoma, her parents, Michael and Patricia Hale, are both alumni.

“My dad studied mechanical engineering here and went on a got his master’s and doctorate from MIT,” Hale said. “My mom got her bachelor’s here in management information systems and her master’s from Boston University.

“I had been looking at colleges in the Northeast, but when I came to visit, Dr. [Larry] Hoberock, the head of the mechanical engineering department, gave me a personal tour and showed me around the labs and research facilities. Even though OSU is a large state school, they still take the time to show individual attention to students, and I appreciated that.”

Selection for the Goldwater Scholarship, which provides up to $7,500 per year, is based on academic potential — an evaluation of transcript, grade point average and reference letters — and research acumen. Hale’s application centered on her internship in summer 2005 at IBM’s Hudson Valley Research Center in Hopewell Junction, New York.

Assigned to determine the cause of malfunctioning computer chips produced at the plant, she devised and conducted a series of experiments to test an insulation layer upgrade to the chip wafers. Aspects of Hale’s research results, which included proposed potential methods to eliminate the defect, were used to solve the manufacturing problem.

She acknowledges that her selection for the Goldwater Scholarship is attributable largely to the quality of education she is receiving at OSU.

“The fact OSU has had so many Goldwater winners shows that it competes on the national level with other engineering schools,” Hale said. “The faculty here are very dedicated to what they do, and that dedication produces an education that I think rivals more respected, big-name engineering schools.”

Established in 1989 in honor of the late Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, the Goldwater Scholarship program selects just 300 recipients each year from as many as 3,000 applicants. In addition to Hale, Michael Gamble, an OSU junior from Ponca City, Oklahoma, studying chemical engineering, received an honorable mention in this year’s competition.

“Both Michael and Melinda have established exceptional academic resumes and, just as importantly, have challenged themselves to conduct research at a high level during their stays at OSU and on summer assignments,” said Dr. Robert Graalman, director of OSU’s Scholar Development and Recognition office. “Both have the potential to become outstanding professionals in their fields.”

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