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The Mexican-American athlete is pursuing a mechanical engineering major with a minor in chemistry from Temple University. Photo: Joseph V. Labolito

Temple fencer earns prestigious engineering scholarship

Diana Tiburcio, a Division I athlete and a mechanical engineering major with a minor in chemistry, receives a prestigious national scholarship.

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For the first time in more than 30 years, two Temple University women are recipients of the Goldwater Scholarship in the same year. The first was mechanical engineering student Diana Tiburcio. While biology major Nala Hamilton, a first-generation college student from Harrisburg, was the second. 

Interested in computational genetics since high school, Hamilton began her research the summer after her freshman year in Professor Rob Kulathinal's genetics lab. 

The Goldwater Scholarship has awarded 10,283 scholarships since 1989; considered one of the most prestigious national awards for undergraduate students excelling in research in natural science, engineering, and mathematics across the United States. 

For the 2023-2024 academic year, there was an estimated student pool of over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, 1267 natural science, engineering, and mathematics students—nominated by 427 academic institutions, and only 413 college students from across the nation received the award this year—203 are women and intend on obtaining a Ph.D.

“Nala and Diana are excellent role models: driven and ambitious, but also hard-working and humble,” said Director of Fellowships Advising Barbara Gorka to Temple Now. “I am confident they will inspire more students to pursue STEM research in the future. We are so proud of the accomplishments of these two talented young researchers.”

In an interview with AL DÍA, Tiburcio shares her love for fencing and research trajectory. 

Diana Tiburcio

Fencing is one of Diana’s passions—admitting it was Lucy’s character from The Chronicles of Narnia that inspired her to dream and play with make-believe swords—later competing on Temple University’s nationally ranked team. 

She candidly acknowledges Susan was also a great source of inspiration, but she will always be a Lucy stan. 

The first-generation student shares her disbelief of being the first woman of color to receive the prestigious award at Temple, noting, “Definitely more has to be done to assure that I’m not the last one.” 

“I’ve always been very inquisitive and curious, and I feel research fuels that,” said Tiburcio, who discovered how much she enjoyed research while looking for a job on campus, expressing her “commitment to research clean water and nutrient recovery.”  

She explored environmental engineering while working in Dr. Erica McKenzie’s lab, researching the transportation of pollutants—working on a project called I-95, trying to collect measurements and groundwater samples to analyze how much metal concentration was present and runoff from the highway.  

Tiburcio is enjoying the lab environment more— acquiring a research position with Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Heyang Yuan, working on decentralized wastewater treatment systems for livestock wastewater and nutrient recovery. 

“We integrated a lot of different systems into our overall comprehensive system. I love this project. I like the impact it would have if it could come to fruition,” she reiterated. 

Tiburcio will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering upon graduating from TU—the reason why she wanted more exposure to chemistry research—she works with Dr. Ann M. Valentine, Chemistry Department Chair, researching biological relevant metals that are very sensitive to hydrolysis, specifically ferritin protein and how it can react to iron and titanium—problems related to metal uptake and transport and biomineralization. 

She will attend Stanford University this summer to research in a chemical engineering lab under Dr. William Tapay to remove nutrients from liquid waste streams. 

“My biggest ideology is, if you do what you are passionate about, you are sure to find success,” she concluded. 
 

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