Biology student earns prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

April 01, 2020

Detroit Mercy junior Sara Abdulelah.Sara Abdulelah, a junior Biology student in Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering & Science, has been named a 2020 Goldwater Scholar.

Abdulelah is one of 396 students in the United States to earn the prestigious national scholarship from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

Founded by Congress in 1986, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship has awarded more than $71 million to thousands of undergraduate students in the United States. The program encourages outstanding college sophomores and juniors studying science, mathematics and engineering to pursue research careers.

“I am so honored to be selected as a Goldwater Scholar,” Abdulelah said. “This achievement drastically improves my confidence in my prior accomplishments as a research student, and motivates me to continue doing research in my future profession.”

A total of 1,343 sophomores and juniors were nominated for the competitive scholarship by 461 academic institutions across the United States. The scholarships are worth up to $7,500 and help offset tuition, room and board, books and other fees.

Abdulelah applied for the scholarship through a pre-application approved by Richard Hill, assistant dean for Research & External Initiatives at the College of Engineering & Science. Three faculty members — Professor of Biology Gregory Grabowski, Assistant Professor of Biology Nicole Najor and Associate Professor of Biology Rachelle Belanger — supported Abdulelah’s application with reference letters.

For the past two years, Abdulelah and her classmates have studied the effects of atrazine on aquatic environments in Belanger’s lab.

They found that atrazine, a commonly used herbicide, can have detrimental effects, including damage to DNA, on aquatic organisms when running off into water sources.

“In our lab, we use the crayfish as a model organism, and the studies that I focus on have shown diminished chemosensory abilities of the animal following atrazine exposure,” Abdulelah said.

Abdulelah furthered this study by examining the olfactory sensory neurons (OSN) of the crayfish’s lateral antennules, which the crayfish use to find food.

“I found that OSN damage increases as atrazine levels increase,” she said.

Abdulelah plans to continue her research and earn a doctorate in a scientific field.

“Sara is an amazing part of my research team, she designs and implements experiments and she collects and analyzes the data,” Belanger said. “She effectively mentors other junior members of the lab and has co-authored two peer-reviewed scientific research articles in respected international journals that focus on toxicology and chemoreception.”

Seeing Abdulelah honored as a Goldwater Scholar leaves Belanger overjoyed.

“I feel so proud to have mentored Sara and a lot of other great undergraduate researchers,” Belanger said. “Being awarded this prestigious award is a testament to both Sara’s research abilities and the effective collaborative work being done in my research laboratory, which Sara is an active part of.”

Visit to watch a video detailing the research Abdulelah and her classmates are performing.

To learn more about the College of Engineering & Science, visit

— By Ricky LindsayFollow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.