Northeastern junior Jose Orozco won a 2011 Goldwater Scholarship.

Northeastern junior Jose Orozco recently won a 2011 Goldwater Scholarship, an honor that recognizes outstanding undergraduate academic achievement in mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering.

Orozco, a mathematics and biochemistry double major, learned of his award last month. No more than 300 students each year win the prestigious scholarship, which covers tuition, fees, books and room and board, up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Orozco praises Northeastern’s cooperative education program for “making all the difference in the world.” His experiential learning opportunities included work in biology labs at Northeastern, Princeton University and the National Institutes of Health, where he studied cancer cell migration.

“If I had not gone on co-op, I wouldn’t know half the things I know now,” says Orozco, who plans to study neurodegenerative disorders through his next co-op job at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York.

“Class is important,” he says, “but when you have to come up with your own experiments in the lab, you really appreciate the process of science. That’s when you really start to learn.”

Under the direction of biology professor Erin Cram, Orozco currently studies how roundworms sense and respond to mechanical stimuli.

Cram, who says Orozco exhibits an unusually high level of enthusiasm and curiosity in the lab, praises the student-researcher for his combination of technical skills and creativity.

“He’s always coming up with new experiments to try,” she says. “A lot of undergraduates are able to see what a professor tells them to see, but Jose really sees in a much more scientific way than most students do.”

Orozco plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. program upon graduation, when he’ll have the opportunity to pursue his goal of finding cures for disease through the study of stem cells.

“A professor told me to aspire to be someone who knows the most about a certain subject,” Orozco says, “and I think this degree combination can do that.”

To be eligible for the scholarship, a student must be a college sophomore or junior with a grade-point average of at least a B and in the upper 25th percentile of the class, according to the Goldwater Scholarship website.