Nicole Hondrogiannis wins prestigious Goldwater scholarship

By Cody Boteler on April 8, 2020

Nicole Hondrogiannis, a junior studying biology, won a prestigious scholarship awarded to those with a promising future in research.

Nicole Hondrogiannis presenting her research
Nicole Hondrogiannis, winner of the Goldwater Scholarship, presenting her research.

For the second time in two years, a Towson University undergraduate student has won a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, awarded by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

Nicole Hondrogiannis, a junior biology major from Harford County, received the award this year, an honor given to students who apply and who demonstrate a strong commitment to research, display intellectual rigor and who have the potential to make a future, significant contribution to their field of study. 

For Hondrogiannis, that realm of study is the emerging field of nanoscience.  

“It’s just fascinating,” she says. “These nano-molecular models…They hold so much capability.”  

Hondrogiannis says her focus is on developing minimally-invasive chemotherapy treatments. She wants to get a PhD in nanoscience, research targeted drug delivery and teach at the university level.  

The proud Towson Tiger says she cried when she found out she had won the award, because of all the hard work that had gone into it, and its significance.  

“I’ve worked so hard. I’ve spent so many hours in lab. My research mentor has gone above and beyond to mentor me as a student,” Hondrogiannis says. “To see all this hard work, this constant hard work pay off…it was absolutely incredible. I’ll never forget it. From here, I just need to keep working even harder, to maintain that. It’s a propelling point in my academic success.”  

Throughout her undergraduate career, she’s worked in the lab of assistant professor Mary Sajini Devadas, in the department of chemistry.  

In her lab, Devadas works on developing nanoscale functional materials largely for medical applications and for harvesting energy from light, like on solar panels, Devadas says.  

Devadas also works hard on mentoring students – from the high school level to the post-graduate level. She says more than 65 students have passed through her lab.  

I had never seen a mentor so interactive, patient and willing to help her students. She’s truly wanted the best for me ”

Nicole Hondrogiannis

The mentorship, and seeing her students succeed, she says, is a highlight of her career.  

“If you’re able to transform these kids into understanding what it means, and what it takes to be this all-around great researcher and become an academic in the future, that means more than me winning my awards and my research grants,” she says.  

“This is basically my life. I teach, and I do research, and I mentor all of these students,” Devadas says.  

Hondrogiannis says working with Devadas is “an opportunity like no other.”

“I had never seen a mentor so interactive, patient and willing to help her students. She’s truly wanted the best for me,” she says.  

Hondrogiannis is one of just 396 students across the United States chosen to be a Goldwater Scholar for the 2020-2021 academic year. Students who win the award are given up to $7,500 to support their academic career. More than 5,000 students applied for the awards, according to the Goldwater Foundation.  

“It’s outstanding. I think that our students are excellent. Towson University is able to attract excellent students from high schools. We have just a fantastic crop of students,” says Clare Muhoro, a professor in the department of chemistry and director of competitive fellowships and awards in the Office of the Provost.  

Last year, chemistry major Marella Schammel won the award. Two other TU students have won Goldwater scholarships: Jimmy Ninh in 1999 and Michelle Weber in 2002.  

Hondrogiannis is already on her way to a career as a successful research scientist. She’s co-authored two papers, including one in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.  

The Honors College student has presented her research at various conferences, helped manage Devadas’ lab and been an orientation leader. She was on the university’s cross-country team her first year on campus, and has been an academic tutor for students.  

“She’s kind of an all-rounder,” says Devadas.  

“Nicole has really gotten involved in Towson from the moment she stepped foot on campus,” says Rhiannon Napoli Clements, director of co-curricular programs and constituent relationships for the Honors College.  

Napoli Clements says she had emails in her inbox from Hondrogiannis from “before she started” about Honors College orientation programs.  

“She’s been on top of her stuff since the very beginning,” Napoli Clements says.  

Hondrogiannis says she chose Towson University in part because of the opportunities she knew she would have here. At other schools, she might be viewed as “just a number” by her professors – but not at TU.  

“I felt like I would be noticed by my professor as an individual, not just as another student in the classroom,” she says.  

Hondrogiannis has enjoyed her rigorous schedule at TU, and says she knows that she could not be as successful as she is without the help of her mentor, Devadas.  

“Any time I’ve gone to her with any sort of doubt, she’s pushed me up,” Hondrogiannis says. “She’s driven me to excel.”