On a warm afternoon last March, Austin Peay State University physics student Drew Kerr received a phone call from his friend and classmate Mason Yost about the Goldwater Scholarship.
Both had applied for the scholarship named for the late Arizona senator and 1964 presidential candidate. It is awarded each year to only 300 college students nationwide who are pursuing a degree in science or mathematics.
“I kept checking the website for our names,” Yost said. “I was hoping at least one of us would make it. When I saw our names, I called Drew.”
Kerr had a busy week, preparing a presentation for a conference he was going to attend, so he hadn’t had a chance to check the Goldwater Scholarship website.
“I got a call from Mason,” he recalled. “I kept saying, ‘Mason, you’re joking with me.’”
But his friend wasn’t joking. Their names were on the list among the other recipients from institutions such as Yale and Duke University.
The son of Jim and Deanna Von Cannon Kerr, Kerr’s grandparents are Charles and Shirley Von Cannon, Elizabethton.
Only five Goldwater Scholarships were awarded to students attending schools in Tennessee. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the University of Memphis and Middle Tennessee State University each had one student earn the scholarship.
‘’There aren’t that many schools that get two scholarships,” said Alex King, chair of the APSU physics department. “For us to have two students both get it, that’s really cool. They both worked really hard to get it.”
He was also proud that both Kerr and Yost are physics majors.
When awarding the scholarships, a selection committee looks through thousands of applications and singles out those individuals who are working to make a significant contribution to his or her field of study.
The application process takes into account all the work and research students have done during their college careers.
APSU associate professor of physics Justin Olegoetz said students don’t simply decide one day to apply for the Goldwater Scholars. It is something they must prepare for their time at the university in order to have a shot at the award.
Kerr’s application included an analysis of particle decay research he conducted last summer and hopes to continue. Yost submitted a literature review he helped work on with APSU physics department faculty, analyzing quantum systems using acoustic networks.
Both students first came to APSU in the summer of 2008 as high school students attending the Governor’s School in Computational Physics. Yost was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University and Kerr considered attending the University of Chicago. But King and Jaime Taylor, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, persuaded the two students to enroll at APSU.
“I told them when they applied here they would have more opportunities at Austin Peay than they would at those other schools,” said Taylor, who is also a former chair of physics. “And that has proven to be true. I think these two individuals are examples of the caliber of students that are choosing APSU. They make me miss being in the physics department, interacting with these kinds of students on a daily basis.”
Kerr has also studied at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.