Western students win pair of ultra-competitive scholarships

Two students have been awarded a pair of scholarships putting WWU in extremely rarefied company
John Thompson

Spring is “Scholarship Season” at Western, as students find out if they have been awarded the national scholarships and fellowships for which they have applied.

But this spring has been different, as two students have been awarded a pair of ultracompetitive scholarships putting WWU in extremely rarified company. Junior biology major and member of the Honors Program Darby Finnegan received Western’s first Barry Goldwater Scholarship since 2007 and junior Environmental Science major Risa Askerooth was awarded the first Udall Scholarship in more than a decade.

Finnegan’s incredibly competitive $7,500 Goldwater scholarship is awarded to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, and is given to fewer than 10 percent of students who even qualify for the rigorous application process.

Finnegan, a native of Grangeville, Idaho, who will complete a research project this summer exploring how rising carbon dioxide levels may change the swimming mechanics of rainbow trout, said she was honored by the Goldwater award, and surprised.

“Then I was overwhelmed with gratitude,” she says, “both for the scholarship itself and for everyone who helped make it possible.”

Askerooth, a native of Haleiwa, Hawaii, was among five students from Western who were awarded a NOAA Hollings Scholarship last spring, when she also received an honorable mention for the Udall award. So she knew the $7,000 scholarship, awarded to college sophomores and juniors who show public service, leadership, and commitment to issues related to Native American nations or the environment, was within reach.

Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences Jim Helfield, who wrote a letter in support of Askerooth’s application, said he was not surprised by her success.

“It gives me great comfort to know that she is one of the people who will be working on solutions for our environmental problems in the future,” Helfield says.

Askerooth said her upcoming senior year will be a busy one, and while graduate school looms she knows her focus will remain rooted in environmental stewardship.

“I definitely want to keep working on issues related to natural resource management, such as working to preserve native or endangered species in Washington or elsewhere along the coast,” she said.

Photo by Rhys Logan '11

Darby Finnegan on the beach
Darby Finnegan