Paul Urayama
1993, University of California – Irvine

“As a first-generation college student, I knew little about college and knew nothing about engaging in research as an undergraduate. While my parents valued education and encouraged me, my father was born in a concentration camp, with his college plans then sidetracked by the Vietnam War, and my mother grew up humbly in post-war Japan,” Paul Urayama explained as he started describing his college experience. “I really had no one to tell me what I should be doing.”

It was happenstance that in his sophomore year, Paul answered Dr. Bill Heidbrink’s advertisement to work in his laboratory. “That opportunity and the opportunity later to work in the lab of Dr. Gregory Benford changed my life,” Paul would say. Learning to think through problems, to improvise, and to be persistent were attributes of these experiences Dr. Urayama described.

Even with these experiences, it was not obvious to Paul that doing research was an actual career possibility, not, at least, until he won the Goldwater in 1993. “Winning was a big deal,” Paul said. “Winning the Goldwater actually helped put me on a path to a PhD in physics at Princeton University.”

Paul has and continues to give back. Today he is a faculty member at Miami University where he has served as the research mentor of over 60 students since 2003, 2 of whom have won Goldwater scholarships. Sixty percent have gone on to doctoral or professional programs in physics, biophysics, pharmacology, biomedical engineering, medicine, public health, and medical physics. He is also now the Goldwater Campus Representative at Miami, seeking out and working with students from across the university. “While I certainly like to see our students win the award, what’s important is that they work through the application. The process is valuable in helping them set a career path, develop critical thinking skills, develop independent ideas and, most importantly, understand their passion for doing research,” Paul said. Dr. Urayama is clearly having an impact.