From Taxes to Quantum Computing: Truman and Goldwater Fellows Pursue Passions

Head shots of Eshika Kaul ’23 and Cora Barrett ’23.
Author  Carine Tarazi ’03
Published on 

Two Wellesley students received prestigious scholarships this spring: Eshika Kaul ’23 has been named a Truman Scholar and Cora Barrett ’23 is a Goldwater Scholar.

Kaul, an economics and peace and justice studies double major, brims with particular enthusiasm for the tax code. “When I started working at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and their Federal Tax Clinic, I really had no background in taxes. I thought it was an incredibly complex process,” she says. These days, she uses her tax knowledge to help low-income taxpayers navigate the system and directs them to other resources they might need. “Witnessing how the tax code intersects with other systemic barriers, I have come to view it as something like a gold mine for helping people,” she says. “It was so valuable to see how my work centered around taxes empowered my clients to be able to pay their children’s medical bills or put food on the table.”

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship was awarded this year to 58 accomplished college students who demonstrate outstanding leadership potential, academic excellence, and a commitment to a career in public service. Madeleine Korbel Albright ’59 was president of the Truman Scholarship Foundation from 2003 until her recent passing; while Kaul never met her, she has connected with Wellesley alumnae who received the Truman Scholarship in years past. Kaul is excited to have a community of public service-minded scholars with whom to exchange ideas and cooperate down the line.

Kaul’s passion for economics stems from her interest in understanding the world by quantifying it, she says, but “the world is so inherently complex that I also wanted some contextualization and a different perspective.” Through economic research at Wellesley, work at the Department of Commerce, and on-the-ground volunteering through the Ministrare Council, Kaul is exploring different ways to serve her community. “My economics and peace and justice double major has allowed me to see, in different ways, what works, what doesn’t, and how to support people,” she says. Crediting her mother and brother as her main inspiration, she also attributes her successes thus far to those professors who pointed her in the right direction.

Kaul will work in an economic consulting firm in Washington this summer through the Wellesley in Washington program, hoping, she says, to “understand to what extent I will incorporate economics into my future policymaking or future career.” She is considering attending law school but hasn’t decided on a future career path. Among other lessons, she says, “the pandemic taught me the value of being very open-minded to unexpected opportunities. … I have found that the experiences I pivoted to were the most valuable in enhancing my skills to enact the systemic change I hope to make.”

Barrett is the recipient of a 2022 Goldwater Scholarship, awarded to outstanding students who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. She plans to get a Ph.D., but like Kaul, she’s not sure if she’ll head to grad school straightaway. “I just want to keep my options open,” she says. “There are a lot of really exciting opportunities in industry, too.”

Inspired by her grandfather, a ballistics engineer, and her uncle, a particle physicist, Barrett is a physics and mathematics double major. Her research interests focus on quantum engineering and quantum computing. “In physics, chemistry, [and] biology, quantum systems are really difficult to simulate,” she says. “The benefit of building quantum computers is that we can simulate the time evolution of complex quantum systems, which are practically impossible to study with classical computers.”

“For example,” she adds in an email, “we could use quantum simulation to aid the search for high-temperature superconductivity (the gateway to a clean energy future). Or we could use a quantum computer to simulate proteins that play important roles in neurodegenerative diseases to help discover a cure. … Really, the possibilities are endless. The quantum computer is the perfect tool to simulate anything in nature because nature is inherently quantum!”

After working with quantum materials in the lab of Robbie Berg, professor of physics at Wellesley, Barrett completed a 10-week WAVE Fellowship at Caltech the summer before her junior year. “I was working in an experimental condensed matter physics lab and studying the electronic phases of complex crystals,” Barrett explains. This summer, she’ll conduct experimental quantum computing research through the MIT Summer Research Program—with the added bonus of being able to continue in the lab of William D. Oliver, director of the Center for Quantum Engineering at MIT, where she’s been working all year. “That will turn into my senior honors thesis next year,” she says.

Karen Lange, Theresa Mall Mullarkey Associate Professor of Mathematics, encouraged Barrett to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship, which is jointly funded by the Department of Defense and the Barry S. Goldwater Foundation. As one of 417 scholarship recipients, Barrett plans to make the most of the access she has to a community of scientists who come together for panels and can offer advice.

For now, Barrett is relishing the Wellesley Blue crew team winning the 2022 NCAA DIII Rowing National Championship.“I honestly can’t imagine my life without rowing,” she says. “My teammates are some of my biggest inspirations. We’re all there because we love to work hard and push ourselves and push each other.”