Sisters Gifted in Science Find Their Calling at Rutgers
Alina and Yuliya Afinogenova plan to make their marks in medicine and law.
It’s known as the premier undergraduate award in the sciences.
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is awarded each year to a select group of sophomores and juniors nationwide.
The School of Arts and Sciences can boast of more than a dozen Goldwater scholars since the School’s inception in 2007.
But one New Jersey family has an impressive claim all to its own. Russian émigrés Semion and Zhanna Afinogenova have two daughters—Alina and Yuliya—both of whom won the scholarship as Arts and Sciences juniors.
Alina SAS’16 won 2015. Yulia, SAS’11, received the scholarship in 2010.
“In my 16 years of being a fellowship advisor I have never been associated with two siblings winning, says Arthur D. Casciato, director of the Office of Distinguished Fellowships at Rutgers, and who held a similar post at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s pretty special.”
The sisters take it all in stride.
“We’ve always had a predisposition for science,” Alina says. “It goes way back.”
At Rutgers, the sisters embraced the liberal arts tradition. They each double-majored across life sciences and social and behavioral sciences while developing specialties that could shape their careers and make them innovators in their fields.
Yuliya worked with Nancy Woychik, a Robert Wood Johnson Medical School professor whose research focuses on developing improved treatments for tuberculosis. Yuliya went on to Harvard Medical School and is doing her residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
“Before Rutgers, I didn’t even know you could do research as an undergraduate,” says Yuliya, who majored in majored in molecular biology and biochemistry, and economics. “Dr. Woychik was so supportive about me being there.”
Woychik says her former student has exceptional math and computational skills that make her a natural fit in the increasingly complex field of medicine.
“Yuliya has the ability to revolutionize these big data areas,” Woychik says.
Alina is forging her own direction. After focusing on genetics and neuroscience in her research, she has decided to attend law school.
“I’m fascinated by the broader implications of the science,” says Alina, who majored in genetics and economics. “In the transition from the laboratory to the public sphere, there are so many important questions that arise.”
My biggest takeaway from Rutgers is all the people I have interacted with, and all the ideas I have been exposed to—it shapes you as a person.
-Alina Afinogenova, Rutgers Student
Studying economics complemented her understanding of science and broadened her worldview, she adds.
“Economics is really the study of behavior, and behavior is the result of molecular changes,” she says. “The more I saw the overlap, the more interested I became in the interface of science and ethics.”
The sisters are in complete agreement about what made their undergraduate education essential.
“Meeting so many people and hearing their stories,” Yuliya says.
Alina agreed. “My biggest takeaway from Rutgers is all the people I have interacted with, and all the ideas I have been exposed to,” she says. “It shapes you as a person.”
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by public law in 1986. The scholarship program honoring the late U.S. Sen. Barry M. Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. It is regarded as the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.