Posted on Apr 27, 2001

He is an aspiring teacher who enjoys “sitting around talking about calculus.” She is a double major in bio-chem and math who somehow has time for two radio shows, several research projects and programming for the Coffeehouse.

They are William Johnson '02 and Desirée Plata '03,the College's Barry M. Goldwater Scholars. The prestigious award supports promising scientists, mathematicians and engineers with a $7,500 stipend for each of their remaining years of undergraduate study.

Johnson, who is a tutor at the Calculus Crisis Center, says he has always known he wanted to be a teacher. “I just want to be in front of a classroom,” he says. “It's one of my favorite things to do. I like to be in a position where people are asking me to explain things.”

Johnson was one of 20 graduates in the Class of 1998 at tiny Romulus (N.Y.) High School in central New York. With a classmate also on this year's list, he jokes that a full 10 percent of his high school class earned Goldwater Scholarships.

With both parents high school teachers, Johnson spends his breaks from Union as a substitute teacher at his alma mater.

A Union Scholar, Johnson also is a member of the Rugby Club, Sigma Phi and a Gatekeeper. He has done research with Prof. Brenda Johnson in the field of graph theory and plans to continue that work this summer at Oregon State University. Last fall, he studied math on a term abroad in Budapest.

He may teach high school math at first, he says, but eventually he would like to earn his Ph.D. and teach at the college level.

Plata, a native of Portland, Maine, plans to pursue a chemistry and teach at the college level and do research.

She learned of the Goldwater Scholarship after Prof.Byron Nichols, director of graduate fellowships and honors, called to say that several faculty members had recommended her.”Without (Nichols) we wouldn't have found out about this opportunity,”said Plata, a thought echoed by Johnson.

In the space of a week, Plata prepared seven essays, got three faculty recommendations and wrote statements about research plans and career goals. She said she enjoyed preparing a personal history statement, in which she acknowledged the support of her family.

Plata's schedule is nothing if not busy. Besides her academics, the Union Scholar is a member of the WRUC executive board, scheduling director for the UC EMS (EmergencyMedical Service), house manager for the Coffeehouse, a member ofthe U2K steering committee, and president of the Chemistry Club. She used to work part time as a presenter for MAD Science,which does science shows for elementary students.

She has been involved with a research project with Profs. Grant Brown and James Adrian (on fish communication andpheromones). This summer, she will do a mini term abroad in Panama with Profs. Leo Fleischman and Rob Olberg.