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Goldwater Glory: Banks Earns Prestigious Scholarship

May 13, 2024
Brayden Banks

March 29, 2024, is a date that Brayden Banks is unlikely to forget anytime soon.

It was Friday morning on the final day of spring break and the junior was on campus participating in a Zoom call with research colleagues at nearby Boise State University. On the call, he learned his research project studying chemical compositions of sagebrush in western Idaho had worked. The data he had gathered showed what the group was hoping it would present.

“That Zoom call ended at 9:55,” said Banks. “Then, five minutes later, I get an e-mail from the Goldwater committee.”

Just minutes after learning his research had paid off, the chemistry and math-physics double major learned he had been awarded the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

“That was a pretty good morning,” he said with a laugh.

An estimated group of 5,000 college students nationwide applied for Goldwater consideration, considered the “preeminent undergraduate award” for those pursuing research careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. Of that pool of original applicants, only 508 – 10 percent – were selected. Banks is just the third student from The College of Idaho to receive a Goldwater in the past two decades, joining Derek Erstad (2007) and Dannen Dale Wright (2014).

“This is a prestigious award,” said Dr. Thomas Pirtle, associate professor of biology and also the College’s advisor of Goldwater candidates. “The award is based on the student’s distinction among peers in academic success and research potential in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.”

That original pool of applicants is whittled down to a much smaller group of finalists. This year, there were 1,353 finalists representing 446 colleges and universities from across the nation. The end goal, according to the Goldwater Foundation, is clear: “By providing scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, the Goldwater Foundation is helping ensure that the U.S. is producing the number of highly-qualified professionals the Nation needs in these critical fields.”

Banks has been working in research since his freshman year on campus. He’s been working with Dr. Carolyn Dadabay on the biochemistry of sagebrush, something that is common around his hometown of Melba, Idaho. Specifically, he’s investigating how the chemistry of the plant works internally with the sage grouse, a small plains-area animal that generally weighs around five pounds. Sage grouse feed on sagebrush which can be instructive for researchers like Banks who are trying to learn more about the chemical compounds and interactions of the plant, including the potential for one very big benefit.

“If something from the sagebrush can shut down even the sage grouse enzymes, that means it is very good at shutting down cells,” Banks explained. “If we can isolate that compound from the sagebrush, it’s very good at shutting down cells to the point we believe it could shut down cancer cells.”

The work Banks has done with Dr. Dadabay was central to his Goldwater application. He has presented data on his research at four different conferences and recently showcased it at the College’s Student Research Conference. After getting married in June, he’ll spend two months this summer in Taiwan doing research after being recommended for an internship in Taipei City by Dr. Caleb Tormey ’04 of the chemistry department. It’s been a whirlwind of activity and good news for Banks, who can now add “Goldwater Scholar” to an impressive resume that also includes Heritage and McCain Scholar distinctions at the College.

“It’s an undergraduate scholarship, but it bridges the gap between undergraduate and graduate (school),” Banks said of his Goldwater award. “Even though the funding is just for my final year here at the College, it has opened me up to a community of all the Goldwater Scholars.”

The College of Idaho has a 133-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including eight Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit