By Elisabeth Bruce Wall
The Excellence in Education Foundation has awarded Appalachian State University junior geology major Devin K. Hoffman of Franklinton a $7,500 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. He is one of 252 undergraduate sophomores and juniors across the nation and three in North Carolina to receive the award this year.
The scholarship program, established in 1986, honors Sen. Barry Goldwater and was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. More than 1,150 students competed for the awards this year.
Department of Geology Professor Andy Heckert, who was a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship recipient in 1991, said students who have outstanding potential may be considered for the award but must be vetted by their institution pre-nomination, in this case by Appalachian’s Prestigious Scholars Program. Heckert recalled including in his letter of recommendation for Hoffman that “there was no question in my mind he is more prepared and experienced at this age than I was when I won mine.”
Hoffman was an excellent candidate, Heckert said, and had been performing at top level since arriving at Appalachian. He gave his first academic presentation at Virginia Tech during the second semester of his freshman year on phytosaur tooth enamel. In addition, Hoffman presented his research at the Geological Society of America as well as at an annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. He was recently awarded Appalachian’s McKinney Paleontology Scholarship and Webb Field Camp Scholarship and, according to Heckert, has had a great deal of support from Office of Student Research and been awarded a number of grants. “There is a growth story here, too,” he added. “Devin’s always been smart and sound academically but naturally an introvert. He’s chipping away at his outreach skills, going out with me and my fossil group to fairs, on field studies…engaging children and other students in his field. He’s an all-around solid person.”
Hoffman, who attended Franklinton High School, is also a Chancellor’s Scholar, Appalachian’s scholarship for the highest-achieving students who have earned entry into The Honors College. According to Heckert, Hoffman could have attended any number of universities but chose Appalachian because here he was able to start his research with Heckert immediately and build his research resume.
Hoffman’s degree concentration is in paleontology, specifically researching the tooth enamel microstructure of phytosaurs, fossil reptiles superficially resembling a crocodile. He plans to do his required field study in Turkey this summer and said he hoped the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship funds could be applied to those costs.
Hoffman has wanted to be a paleontologist since he was 3 years old after finding fossils in his back yard in Ottawa, Ontario, and seeing dinosaurs in the Ottawa science museum. He believes it is important to study paleontology to better understand mass extinctions and their causes. He is philosophical about the impending sixth mass destruction. “Species go extinct all the time,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of all species are extinct now. Periods of extinction are followed by periods of massive diversification. I guess my positive outlook is we’ll have a new chapter in evolution.”
Hoffman plans to pursue his doctorate and teach or do research. He is an unbidden and avid advocate for Appalachian’s geology department.
“Dr. Heckert has several other students who do great research. It’s a good team of undergraduates,” he said. “We have an excellent department with lots of people doing different types of research in lots of different fields of geology. I’d like to attract more students. It’s a great place to get ahead.”
“Species go extinct all the time…99 percent of all species are extinct now. Periods of extinction are followed by periods of massive diversification. I guess my positive outlook is we’ll have a new chapter in evolution.”
– student Devin Hoffman