CU senior, 16, will graduate summa cum laude before heading to Harvard to study atmospheric chemistry

Natasha Goss, 16, is graduating from CU-Boulder summa cum laude and is going to graduate school at Harvard University in the fall. CU Photo by Glenn Asakawa.

By Clay Evans

It’s been a busy four years for Natasha Goss, who will graduate summa cum laude May 10 with a major in chemistry and a minor in mathematics from the University of Colorado Boulder.

She’s been deeply involved in campus life, most notably through the CU Environmental Center, participated in two research projects, submitted papers for publication and even spent three weeks abroad in Australia.

This fall, she’ll begin a Ph.D. program in atmospheric chemistry at Harvard University on a three-year National Science Foundation fellowship.

All of this, and Goss will be just 16 when she tosses her tassel to one side during commencement. She arrived at CU-Boulder at age 13 after graduating from Longmont’s Silver Creek High School and, she said, never looked back.

“I found that in high school a lot of people found my age to be something unusual, worthy of comment,” she said. “At CU, it was just about whether you were an intellectual peer. I was fortunate to be in good courses, both honors courses and starting in advanced science and math courses. I found that everyone there was just interested in learning … so I was able to talk about those topics and socialize.”

Her colleagues at CU-Boulder have found her self-assured from the very moment she first set foot on campus.

“She walked into my office one day in the summer of 2009 and said, ‘So I have been looking at everything the Environmental Center does and I think I can help you a lot,’ ” recalled Dave Newport, director of the center and associate in the Environmental Studies Program. “ ‘And the good news is,’ she said, ‘you don’t have to pay me because I’m only 13.’ ”

“She was just confident in her ability to execute work because she said, ‘I love homework.’ If I had a nickel for every time an incoming student said that to me, I’d have a nickel,” Newport said.

Goss lived with her mother and father — both are CU graduates, a Montessori teacher and high school math teacher, respectively — in Longmont for the first three years of her undergraduate career. She moved into the residence halls for the first time last summer.

“I was on campus for the first time in consideration of the fact that CU doesn’t normally have students under the age of 16 in the dorms,” she said. “It’s been a great experience. I got a lot of studying done — and it was a much shorter commute.”

While enrolled at CU-Boulder, Goss was a Norlin Scholar, a Marjorie Skiff Rose Scholar and a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar. She also won an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program grant while working as an intern in a water chemistry lab.

At the Environmental Center, Goss honed her interest in sustainability, serving as chair and co-chair of the CU Environmental Board, which provides policy and strategic direction to the center. She and another student, Linda Giudice, spearheaded the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Reporting — or STARS — program.

“Currently a few hundred institutions in higher education use it,” Goss said. “We got in right at the start. CU was the third to submit a STARS report and the first to receive a gold rating.”

She supplemented her honors research into trace gases in the atmosphere and isotopic substitution with a year and a half of work with another campus research group at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. That research involved dust deposition from the atmosphere in the Rocky Mountains.

“I helped develop and improve dry deposition collection,” she said.

At Harvard, she is interested in researching the atmosphere with a chemical focus.

“I’m interested in looking at human impacts on those processes and assessing what the anthropogenic is currently and is likely to be in years to come. That could potentially inform policy decisions and how to mitigate those impacts,” she said.

But she recognizes that her focus is likely to be refined or perhaps even changed once she gets going at Harvard.

“I went to Boston over spring break to talk a little about the future with my research adviser,” she said. “I came in with initial ideas of what I want to do, but it also depends on what you see in the first few months. You really do spend the first year exploring, then get started on a project.”

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