WWU junior Darby Finnegan’s passion for marine life and hard work has led her to become Western’s first Barry Goldwater Scholarship award winner since 2007.
The incredibly competitive $7,500 scholarship is awarded to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, and is awarded to fewer than 10 percent of those who even qualify to be part of the rigorous application process.
Finnegan said she was honored to be Western’s first Goldwater recipient in more than 10 years.
“At first, I felt surprised,” she said. “Then I was overwhelmed with gratitude, both for the scholarship itself and for everyone who helped make it possible. I hope that in some small way I helped make the path a little easier for the next Goldwater Scholar from WWU.”
Finnegan applied for the Goldwater in January with the help of WWU Fellowship Office Director Tom Moore, who had previously worked with her on other scholarships.
“It’s so wonderful Darby was able to receive the Goldwater,” Moore said. “The scholarship is really competitive, to even be in the running you typically need to have at least one scientific publication, and as an undergraduate that’s tough.”
A native of Grangeville, Idaho, Finnegan has always enjoyed being outside and in the water. Growing up she would visit family on the Washington coast and play on beaches and in tide pools. As she grew older the ocean continued to be a breathtaking and mysterious place for her, she said. As she continued to participate in different projects related to fish, she started becoming more interested in them.
“Fish are an incredibly diverse group,” Finnegan said. “There’s always an opportunity to learn more and more about them.”
Finnegan attended Western for the university’s Biology/ Marine Science major and the surrounding environment of Bellingham.
“I wanted to be able to do research as an undergraduate, and Western provides numerous opportunities to do that, which I’ve been really lucky to take advantage of,” she said.
Finnegan said this summer she will work on an independent research project with WWU Environmental Science Professor Leo Bodensteiner at Shannon Point Marine Center, where they will look at how the swimming mechanics of rainbow trout might change with increased carbon dioxide levels.
“I'm lucky to be surrounded be mentors and advisors who have invested time in helping me learn and reach my goals. I honestly cannot thank them enough,” she said.
After her graduation next spring, Finnegan plans to look into graduate programs working on ecophysiology, the study of the relationship between an organism’s internal functions and external environments; or biomechanics, the science of movement of a living body. Whichever path she takes, she knows her work at Western and the research she has been able to complete have put her in a place to succeed.
“My desired career path in biology often feels equal parts exciting and terrifying, and I've doubted myself at times,” she said. “But receiving the Goldwater means that my efforts have been worthwhile, and it gives me confidence that I can do well in a research career.”
For more information on how to apply for a Goldwater scholarship, contact Tom Moore in Western’s Fellowship Office at (360) 650-4074.