Tesla STEM alum excels at technology and robotics

Goto is among three WSU undergraduates to receive national Goldwater awards.

Washington State University (WSU) junior Daniel Goto has received a nationally competitive Goldwater Scholarship in a nod to his entrepreneurial and technological accomplishments that include robotics.

Goto, who is from Sammamish and graduated from Tesla STEM High School near Redmond, is a double major in electrical engineering and materials science engineering.

Faced a strong field

“Our newest Goldwater Scholars submitted impressive applications for the award, and overcame tough competition from top students across the nation,” April Seehafer, director of WSU’s Distinguished Scholarships Program, said in a press release.

Seehafer and select faculty members mentor students seeking the awards.

This year’s national Goldwater pool included more than 1,200 students nominated by 443 academic institutions for the 2019-20 awards, the release states. Goto is among 74 awardees from engineering.

Goto, along with two other WSU students, bring to 41 the total number of Goldwater recipients at WSU since the first in 1990 — four years after the award was established by the U.S. Congress, the release states. Considered the premier undergraduate award given to junior and senior natural science, engineering and mathematics students, the Goldwater award pays $7,500 per year per recipient to cover educational costs such as tuition and fees. The purpose of the Goldwater awards, according to the website of its federally funded foundation, is to ensure that the United States “has the scientific talent it needs to maintain its global competitiveness and security.”

“All of our new Goldwater scholars are deeply involved in undergraduate research and creative projects, which adds to their competitiveness for top awards at the national level,” said Mary Sánchez Lanier, assistant vice provost and WSU’s faculty liaison to the Goldwater program, in the release. “They are all advancing knowledge in their fields and sharing their work publicly. They are campus leaders, and they envision careers that will have make a difference in their communities, our nation, and the world.”

Goto: Innovator, retired hacker, and leader

According to the release, Goto could have followed family tradition and attended college in Michigan. But Midwest schools were never on his radar. WSU was his top choice; he liked its reputation for involving undergraduates in research, the Honors College and the much-appreciated scholarship offers it extended to him, the release states.

“I know first-hand that WSU is really, a really good school,” he said in the release. “I learn a lot in classrooms, but the ability to apply it provides unique experiences. I have access to tremendous opportunities to do engineering that has impact. I can do all kinds of research, I can invent things, and I can inspire others to be interested in science. WSU has everything I want.”

Some unique opportunities, he said in the release, arise from classes. For example, when an honors assignment required information about autism, his curiosity kicked in, and he followed some leads and made phone connections with autistic trailblazer, author, and animal science professor Temple Grandin, the release states. She visited with him for an hour and provided enough information that he was able to list her as a primary resource on his project.

Goto’s entrepreneurial spirit has also sparked unique opportunities beyond classes. He has led multiple first-place teams in hackathons, according to the release. His most recent was the 2019 national Hack Washington event in January at the Space Needle in Seattle. His interdisciplinary team developed a bracelet plus software that could be used by a person who is deaf to communicate with and through Amazon’s digital personal assistant product, Alexa. In addition to winning the competition, Goto and his team took the top Microsoft prize for utilizing the company’s software in their project, and a special Amazon prize for hacking its theretofore-thought-unhackable Echo smart speaker, the release states.

“I’m a retired hacker,” Goto said in the release. “I’ve won enough. That was my last hackathon. At least for now.”

In the release, he added, “Receiving the Goldwater award gives me financial freedom so I can focus on my education, plus it’s validation to me that my WSU education is top notch. The Goldwater will help pay for tuition and expenses for two years, and I think it will look pretty good on my resume and help open doors to graduate school.”