An Honors biology student at The University of Toledo was awarded the 2023 Goldwater Scholarship, considered the country’s most prestigious award undergraduate students in STEM can receive.
Derek Kluczynski, a junior from Bedford Township, Mich., is one of the 413 Goldwater Scholars awarded this year from a field of more than 5,000 college students.
The Goldwater Scholarship was established in 1986 to provide support for highly qualified STEM students who plan to pursue a Ph.D. and research career in the fields of science and mathematics. It provides $7,500 to scholars in support of their junior and/or senior year of undergraduate study.
“I am incredibly honored to be selected as a Goldwater Scholar,” Kluczynski said. “The first feeling was disbelief. It nudges you in the direction that you are doing something correct and to keep continuing that course.”
Kluczynski has been a research assistant in the laboratory of Dr. Tomer Avidor-Reiss, a professor of biological sciences, since his freshman year.
Taking advantage of access to research equipment typically reserved for graduate students, postdocs and research professors, Kluczynski has co-authored several research papers, including one identifying potential biomarkers, or early warning, for male infertility.
A problem for one out of every seven couples, infertility means not being able to get pregnant despite trying for one year.
Kluczynski was a leader on a related research project in its final stage of preparation for publication in a scientific journal suggesting that the technique the lab developed to identify better-quality sperm in humans in a clinical setting also identifies sperm from bulls with better centrioles, critical structures in sperm that plays a vital role in fertilization.
After completing his undergraduate degree at UToledo, Kluczynski plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in reproductive cell biology, conduct research into male infertility and then clinically treat those patients as an endocrinologist to help patients achieve a healthy baby. He is looking into a variety of 8-year M.D./Ph.D. programs across the country.
Both of his brothers are UToledo alumni. Dylan Kluczynski earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology in 2017. Dalton Kluczynski earned his bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2020.
Kluczynski said, in addition to staying close to his family, one of the main reasons he chose UToledo was because of the undergraduate research opportunities available.
In fact, he reached out to Avidor-Reiss before he registered for a single class nearly three years ago.
“Unlike most students who need time to adapt to the University environment before beginning research, Derek immediately started his research,” Avidor-Reiss said. “He has demonstrated outstanding leadership. He is now an independent researcher in my laboratory and has started mentoring a new first-year student who is shadowing him in a human embryo project.”
The human embryo project is a study the Avidor-Reiss team hasn’t done before. Kluczynski is looking at videos of patients’ embryos obtained during infertility treatments at the University of Michigan and testing whether defects in the sperm’s centriole, determined by their composition, can predict a defect in the function of the embryo’s centrosome after the sperm fertilizes an egg.
“Derek models the best of our undergraduate student body,” said Dr. Robert Schultz, associate dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College and director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. “He takes ownership of his learning, asks questions and leans in to stretch himself. We are proud of his accomplishments and know being a Goldwater Scholar will open doors he does not yet realize exist.”
“I see few students with Derek’s degree of understanding of the nature of science research, patience for its incremental nature, and personal inspiration obtained from the process,” said Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College and professor of environmental science.
Kluczynski said support from faculty, staff and graduate students has played a major role in his success.
“I am incredibly privileged to work with them,” he said.
Kluczynski serves as an Honors Ambassador for the Jesup Scott Honors College. He also serves as a mentor for a FIRST Robotics team, helping high school students spread STEM education in their local community.