Bethany Wager has prioritized pursuing undergraduate research experiences throughout her time at West Virginia University. That hard work is being recognized this year, as Wager has been awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, given to students with great potential to make a significant contribution to research in their chosen field.
For Wager, that field is fisheries research. She has fond memories of going hunting and fishing with her dad growing up in Waverly and from this early connection to the outdoors, has built an impressive catalogue of research experiences at WVU and beyond.
Wager’s current research focuses on the study of brook trout populations in 25 headwater streams throughout eastern West Virginia. Working alongside Kyle Hartman, professor of wildlife and fisheries resources, Ross Andrew, research assistant professor in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, and Chris Schwinghamer, a Ph.D. student in the Hartman Lab, she is investigating possible causes of brook trout population declines throughout the region.
“They are the only native trout species in West Virginia, with important ecological and recreational value to the state. Since brook trout are so valuable to West Virginia, studying and ensuring long-term sustainability of these native populations is of significant importance," Wager said.
Wager credits Andrew and Schwinghamer’s mentorship and Hartman’s willingness to work with her as a freshman with giving her access to the experiences and opportunities that helped her build her plans for a future in research.
"Dr. Hartman and his graduate students have always been willing to guide me through all aspects of my undergraduate research. We started working together during my first semester on campus and I am so grateful he let a freshman work in his lab," Wager said.
Wager expects to build on her successes after she graduates from WVU, planning to apply for federal funding to conduct research in graduate school.
"Winning the Goldwater is a huge honor and will allow me to be a competitive applicant as I apply to graduate schools and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship program,” Wager said. “I am very excited to have received this award and be part of the history of Goldwater Scholars at WVU.”
The Goldwater Scholarship is the nation’s most prestigious award in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. It provides as much as $7,500 for tuition, fees, books, room and board. For the 2021-2022 academic year, the trustees of the Goldwater Board awarded 410 college students from across the United States.
This is not the first time Wager has been recognized for her research efforts. In 2020, Wager was awarded an Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship, which recognizes students with interests in environmental stewardship and eventual careers in public service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or another natural resource governmental agency. This scholarship provides Wager with two years of support for her studies and a summer research internship at a NOAA facility. As part of her Hollings Scholarship, Wager will work with a research fisheries biologist at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington this summer.
“Bethany's Goldwater win highlights the importance of offering undergraduates opportunities to engage in research as soon as they are ready, whether as a first-semester freshmen or during their senior year,” said Michelle Richards-Babb, Goldwater campus representative and professor of chemistry. “Undergraduate research engages students in their major, allows them to explore unanswered questions and provides them with a creative outlet to apply their knowledge. Both Bethany's drive and ambition and Dr. Kyle Hartman's continuous support facilitated Bethany's win. We are proud to support Bethany as WVU's next Goldwater Scholar.”
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