WSU Honors College students Morris and Sly land Goldwater Awards to support STEM research

April 13, 2021

MEDIA CONTACT: April Seehafer, Director of the WSU Distinguished Scholarships Program, 509-335-8239,

Haley Morris

PULLMAN, Wash.—The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has announced that Washington State University Honors College students Haley Morris and Gunnar Sly have each received $7,500 awards for the coming year, said April Seehafer, director of the WSU Distinguished Scholarships Program.

Prestigious national Goldwater awards are given to highly qualified undergraduates intending to pursue careers in math, the natural sciences, or engineering. One other WSU student received the award in addition to Honors’ Morris and Sly.

Morris, a junior from Issaquah, is in the WSU Honors College and majoring in biochemistry in the School of Molecular Biosciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Her mentors are Michael Konkel, John Wyrick, and Bill Davis.

Sly, a junior from Spokane Valley, is majoring in chemical engineering in the Voiland School of Engineering and Biosciences in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. His mentors are Min-Kyu Song, M. Grant Norton, and Younghwan Cha. Sly is also in the WSU Honors College.

For 2021-22, the Goldwater Foundation announced it made 410 awards to students across the United States from over 5,000 applications from college sophomores and juniors. Of the 11 students from Washington who received Goldwater awards, two others go to Washington colleges—one to the University of Washington-Seattle and one to Gonzaga University.

Haley Morris: Future biomedical sciences researcher

At Issaquah High School, biology teacher Christopher Foley inspired Haley Morris to see science as a way to solve problems at the cellular and molecular level, she said. She related this awareness to how she could help resolve problems related to cancer.

“Everyone has, or knows someone who has, been negatively impacted by cancer, and from an early age I’d always said I wanted to help people but I didn’t know how,” Morris recalled. “I realized I could solve problems through science, and that I’d found my passion.”

Applying to WSU was a family tradition. Her parents are Brenda and Greg (’88 Accounting), and her younger sister Nicole will come to Pullman as a freshman this fall.

“I loved the opportunities at WSU and the environment. I investigated researchers, talked to Bill Davis (SMB associate dean for undergraduate studies), and was invited to join the Research Scholars program for freshmen,” she said. “I got a position in the Wyrick lab investigating the mutagenic effects of UV light on DNA using yeast as a model organism, ultimately looking into melanoma.” Morris is listed co-author on an article published in 2020.

She also was invited to join the prestigious SMB STARS program (Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies) that fast-tracks top biomedical students and includes research lab rotations. Her second rotation was in the Konkel lab, studying the foodborne-illness culprit Campylobacter jejuni to determine the mechanism it uses to invade host cells.

“Thanks to my classes, Research Scholars, and the STARS program, I have discovered how to think like a scientist and have gained confidence in myself and my abilities in a laboratory setting.”

At SURCA this year, she presented on “Determining the Cause of Diarrheal Disease from a Major Food-borne Pathogen in the U.S.” in the molecular, cellular, and chemical biology category.

During the COVID-19 international pandemic, when WSU classes were conducted at a distance, Morris was happy to spend 30-40 hours each week in the lab, distancing from others, attending virtual classes on her computer, and doing research.

In addition to her duties as an officer in her sorority Alpha Delta Pi, she said receiving the Goldwater will help her to further network—she’s already joined its social media group to “talk to like-minded students who are also into science.”

Morris plans to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry and pursue a career as a tenure-track professor and biomedical sciences researcher, focusing on cancer and possible therapeutics.

Gunnar Sly: Future professor and energy-storage researcher

Gunnar Sly worries a lot about climate change, he said.

“There’s no greater problem that we have. The planet has never undergone such changes as it is now. We can’t just put our foot in the door—we have to work on it. I’m betting that batteries to store renewable energy is a great option—our best option—now and in the future.”

The son of Tim and Cindy Sly of Spokane Valley, he grew up thinking of engineering as his future career. Two University High School teachers—Mike Conklin, math, and Ken Matheison, chemistry—reinforced Sly’s idea to go into a STEM field—specifically chemical engineering—to “solve problems.”

WSU was easily his university of choice.

“I talked to a lot of people, learned of the collaborative atmosphere here, and knew I’d thrive in a cooperative setting. I was offered a Regents Scholarship and a place in the Honors College, which has been a huge part of my fundamental success at college.”

It was through Honors that he enjoyed a “life-changing” summer research experience at Southeast University in Nanjing, China, working with materials science relating to lithium-ion batteries, the ones often used for energy storage in everything from smartphones to cars. He worked on degradation issues with silicon anodes, and got experience in X-ray diffractometry, electron microscopy, and electrochemical characterization as well as overcoming language and communication barriers.

Sly enjoyed his time and research so much and appreciated learning to “think globally,” that he plans to return to China within the decade.

At WSU, he was worked with mentors to develop a process to convert silica to silicon as part of a process to form carbon-covered silica as a high-capacity anode for lithium-ion batteries. A silica source Sly is explored is abundant diatoms which have cell walls composed primarily of silica.

At SURCA, he presented on “Growth and Utilization of Diatoms in the Creation of High-performance Silicon Anodes for Li-ion Batteries” in the engineering and physical sciences category.

Sly plans to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and direct a research group and teach undergraduates. He’s getting teaching practice as a peer instructor for an Honors freshman introductory class.