Warhawk earns Goldwater recognition, national championship

April 10, 2017

Written by Jeff Angileri   |  Photos by Craig Schreiner

Slack, GirardGoldwater Scholar honorable mention recipient Tina Slack, left, is shown with her faculty adviser, assistant professor Steven Girard, in a lab at Upham Hall on the UW-Whitewater campus on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.

Tina Slack may be a quintessential Warhawk. She won a national championship as a member of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater gymnastics team and — on the very same day — was named one of the finest science students in the United States.

"It's extremely impressive," said Steven Girard, assistant professor of chemistry and Tina's research mentor. "Besides being a very talented gymnast, she's extremely well organized and performs at a high level academically, balancing responsibilities in the gym and in the laboratory."

Slack, from Albrightsville, Pennsylvania, was recruited by the Warhawk gymnastics team and chose UW-Whitewater because of its tradition of excellence and the "family-feel" of the program. Over the last three years, she's competed in vault, bars and floor routines.

On March 31, the Warhawks won their fourth National Collegiate Gymnastics Association team championship.

Slack, gymnasticsUW-Whitewater senior Tina Slack cheers with teammates at a gymnastics meet in Whitewater on February 6, 2016.

"I've never been so happy in my life — we had amazing energy during the finals," she said.

That same day, she received Honorable Mention recognition from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. The U.S. Congress established the program in 1986 to encourage young people to become scientists, mathematicians and engineers. The Goldwater Scholarship is a highly competitive and merit-based award. Only 547 college students in the nation were recognized.

Girard, who teaches inorganic chemistry and nano-chemistry, saw Slack's potential and passion for science early on in her collegiate career.

"I had her in the very first class I taught at UW-Whitewater — Chemistry 102. We shared the same research interests, and she joined me in the lab spring semester of her freshman year," Girard said.

Since then, the duo has conducted research every semester — including summer terms.

"We work with elements that make up sand, glass and rocks to create tiny materials called nanoparticles. We use them to convert waste heat, like fossil fuel combustion, into useful energy," Slack said.

"The renewable energy applications can include solar cells, batteries, and thermoelectric materials that convert heat into electricity," Girard said.

Slack recently presented her work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at the University of Memphis, in Tennessee, on April 6-8, and at UW-Whitewater's Undergraduate Research Day on March 16.

This summer, Slack will be working at the Office of Naval Research in Indian Head, Maryland, as part of the nationally competitive Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program.

"She'll likely be getting a security clearance and will be working on really complex problems in science that can only be addressed in these laboratories. It's a fantastic opportunity for Tina to experience government lab work firsthand," Girard said.

Slack aspires to earn a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry. Thereafter she seeks to be a research scientist with a government agency such as the Department of Defense or the U.S. Naval Civilian workforce. Her goal is to work with the armed services to develop new technologies useful in energetic materials, specifically thermoelectric energy sources, as well as renewable energy sources such as solar cells.

"With science, you can always discover new things or ways to solve problems. I want to be able to use my talents and serve my country, to give back."