Paige Sargeant Nominated for Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

By Lael Gilbert | April 3, 2023

When Paige Sargeant heard about the opportunity to apply for a Goldwater Scholarship, her first reaction was—uhhhm, no thanks

Sure, as a major in Management and Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems, she had been envisioning college life in a lab coat since she was a kid. And even from early on in her college career, she had been engaged in cutting-edge research in the Quinney College of Natural Resources. But the process for scholarship application seemed onerous and intimidating, she said, and a heck of a lot of work. 

But, with a push from a friend and some mentoring from previously successful Goldwater scholar Cristina Chirvasa, she decided to move forward with the application, and ended up appreciating the experience, no matter the final outcome.

Granted, the hard work part turned out to be true—but not in the way Sargeant had expected. It wasn’t the paperwork, resume padding or begging for letters of recommendation that were at the heart of the experience … but the actual research, which was more intensive and engaging than she anticipated.

Sargeant works in the Ecogeomorphology and Topographic Analysis lab managed by Wally MacFarlane in the Quinney College of Natural Resources. The group uses drones to survey and map river sites—identifying floodplains, channels, woody debris, structures and more. The team had been using physical descriptions to define the relationship between those mapped variables … such as how beaver dams are associated with larger channel areas and widespread riparian vegetation, for instance. But Sargeant realized that it would be better to develop a more systematic approach to those descriptions. She takes existing data from those surveys and uses it to define a statistical relationship between variables … to uncover the numbers to explain what she was seeing.

So now she has a way to statistically describe things relative to the features around them, putting the features in better context for the team.

Thinking through the application process helped her communicate her project more efficiently to others, she said. She was able to present to USU’s Rapid Fire Research contest, which requires intense academic information to be boiled down to a four-minute, four-slide presentation … and ended up taking second place. She also learned the skill of self-promotion, she said, something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to a practical and humble personality like hers.

The whole application process also pushed Sargeant to relate her work to larger-scale issues … climate change, carbon sequestration, new developments in riverscape research, and arid ecology. That kind of thinking was really helpful for her to grasp the greater context of the work, she said.

“It was a great experience to approach a research question with the intention of presenting it to a broader audience,” she said. 

Her advice for future applicants? Dig a little deeper to find your own sources of feedback to push yourself a little bit further. 

“Not everyone has the time or attention needed to offer the right kind of feedback, to get the writing to the level it needs to reach to be competitive in these kinds of circumstances … and not everyone has the background to provide truly helpful criticism. So you have to seek out the right sort of feedback to push your work a little further. And learn you have to really process that criticism to push your work to the next level.”

Sargeant is an undergraduate research fellow and a Quinney Scholar in the S. J. and Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources.