Goldwater Scholar finds inspiration in new Science Building

James Unzaga
James Unzaga, recipient of the 2021 Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

Plenty of ink has been spilled in advocacy for the Yellowstone Science and Health Building (YSHB). The most compelling argument is clear: current and future MSU Billings students need it, and the future needs MSU Billings students.

Consider James Unzaga.

Unzaga is a first-generation college student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and plans to earn a doctorate in biomaterials science.

“When I first enrolled at MSUB, I studied chemistry to understand the world,” explained the junior from Billings, Mont. “Now, I study chemistry to change it.”

Associate Professor of Analytical Chemistry Matt Queen, Ph.D., was impressed with Unzaga’s persistent desire to learn and invited Unzaga to join his research group.

“Students like James are incredibly rare. The pairing of intellectual curiosity and creativity are not often found in the same individual, and to couple that with his maturity and professionalism is something I have never seen,” said Queen. “James has so much innovation to offer the world, and honestly, the world needs that kind of thing right now.”

Unzaga’s innovation came to light when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Unzaga wanted to participate in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) to build his resume for graduate school. But all the projects Unzaga applied to were canceled due to the pandemic. Unzaga persevered by working at a local environmental analysis lab, where he honed the techniques he learned in class. This spring, Unzaga was selected for a REU project at Kansas State University investigating molecular transport through nanopores.

Unzaga was recently announced as a recipient of the 2021 Barry Goldwater Scholarship. Established in 1986, The Barry Goldwater Scholarship recognizes students who excel in natural science, engineering, and mathematic research.
With the YSHB nearing completion, MSU Billings will be better equipped than ever to nurture students like Unzaga.

“I had the inspiring opportunity to tour our new Yellowstone Science and Health Building. I say ‘inspiring’ because I feel it is full of scientific and educational potential,” he said.

Unzaga added that he feels fortunate to have an entire year of study in the new building.

“Admittedly, I am both excited and envious of anyone who can utilize this developing gem on our campus,” he shared. “Thank you to the many donors who made [the building] possible for student-scientists like me.”