UAF undergraduate wins Goldwater Scholarship

person standing in front of dinosaur fossils with thumbs up
Photo provided by Xochitl Muñoz
Xochitl Muñoz at the Annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting.

University of Alaska Fairbanks geosciences undergraduate Xochitl Muñoz has been named a 2024 Barry Goldwater Scholar. The Goldwater Scholarship program is designed to identify, encourage and financially support outstanding collegiate juniors and seniors pursuing research careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. 

The program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1986 to honor the late Senator Barry Goldwater. Muñoz is the 10th UAF student to win the award, which provides up to $7,500 per year to cover tuition, fees, books, and room and board. As a rising junior, Muñoz will receive scholarship support for two years.

To be considered for the award, students must complete a rigorous application process in which their home university nominates them for national consideration. Muñoz was selected from a pool of 5,000 candidates from 446 academic institutions to receive one of 438 scholarships.

Muñoz’s career goals include researching early mammalian evolution to earn a Ph.D. in paleontology and working as a university professor or museum curator.

“Xochitl was the perfect candidate for this award,” said Eugenie Euskirchen, UAF’s Goldwater Scholarship coordinator. “They have such a strong research background for someone at their career stage. I’m not surprised they won,” she said.

Muñoz is mentored by Patrick Druckenmiller, director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North and professor of geology; Sarah Fowell, professor of geology; and Beth Caissie, physical scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey. 

“Xochitl is a talented up-and-coming young scientist,” said Druckenmiller. 

“In the first semester of their freshman year, Xochitl eagerly latched on to a research project in our lab concerning some understudied mammal fossils,” he said. “They have since produced some amazing findings, presented this work at a professional conference, and have a manuscript for publication in the works.” 

person wearing helmet on boat in front of scientific equipment with notebook.
UAF photo by JR Ancheta
Xochitl Muñoz aboard R/V Sikuliaq in August 2023.

"It’s common to find students who are excited about research in a general sense and passionate about changing the world," said Caissie, who sailed with Xochitl for a month last summer on a research cruise. 

"But it’s rare to find a student who is genuinely happy to put in the time it takes to do mundane but necessary tasks. Xochitl saw even these as worthy of close attention. They are possibly the most conscientious person I have ever met," she said.

“In the lab or in the field, Xochitl has demonstrated commitment, creativity, hard work and collegiality. We are lucky to have them in the lab,” said Druckenmiller.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Xochitl Muñoz,; Eugenie Euskirchen, 907-474-1958,; Beth Caissie, 413-824-2388,