UNC Asheville students Dylan Major and Ari Puentes have been awarded a Goldwater Scholarship, the preeminent national scholarship awarded to undergraduates studying the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. They are two of only 308 students across the country majoring in the natural sciences to receive the Goldwater Scholarship this year.
Puentes is a biology major with a minor in American Indian and Indigenous studies, who has recently conducted research on macrofungal communities and prescribed fires as a University McCullough Fellow.
The McCullough Fellowship is a competitive program in which undergraduates complete applied research addressing challenges in land use and conservation, urban planning, sustainable agriculture, and resilience and environmental sustainability. His project, “Assessing the Effects of Prescribed Fires on Macrofungal Community Composition in Upland Mixed Oak-Pine Forests,” led to the establishment of the University’s first-ever fungarium. Puentes also recruits citizen science volunteers from around the world to study the ocean surface ecosystem as part of the GO-SEA (Global Ocean Surface Ecosystem Alliance) community science project.
Major is an atmospheric sciences and computer science double major, with a minor in applied mathematics, and is a student-athlete competing in cross country and track and field. As a recipient of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship, Major will conduct research to evaluate an AI-based blended marine air temperature (MAT) dataset as part of a full-time paid internship this summer with NOAA and the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies (NCICS). He currently serves as a precipitation and climate studies research intern with NOAA/NCICS.
Major and Puentes are the fourth and fifth students at UNC Asheville to receive the Goldwater Scholarship, following Mallory Rothrock ‘20, and Blanton Gillespie ‘18 and Grace Volk ‘21, who were both student-athletes.
The federally-endowed Goldwater Scholarship will provide $7,500 for Major’s and Puentes’ expenses during their senior year. Beyond that, the award will distinguish them as strong scholars for consideration by graduate programs.