University News

WIU Senior Named Winner of Barry Goldwater Scholarship

May 13, 2019

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MACOMB, IL - Western Illinois University senior Mariah Dicksen, a biology major from Lockport (IL), has been named a winner in the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. Dicksen is also a student in WIU's Centennial Honors College, is a WIU Presidential Scholar and is a member of The Marching Leathernecks. She is the first female WIU student to win the Goldwater Scholarship.

Dicksen is one of only 14 college students in Illinois named a recipient of this prestigious national scholarship, and one of only four students from Illinois public higher education institutions. From an estimated pool of over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, 1,223 students from 443 institutions were nominated to compete for the 2019 Goldwater Scholarship. Approximately 495 students were selected as 2019 Goldwater Scholars.

"Mariah is the perfect example of the outstanding students we have at Western Illinois University, and of the stellar academic opportunities provided to our students," noted WIU President Jack Thomas. "We congratulate Mariah on this remarkable achievement, and we wish her continued success."

Dicksen said she made the decision to study biology at Western after she visited campus.

"I felt at other universities I visited as an incoming freshman treated me as a number. But when I came to Western, I felt like a valued person. That's something really important to take into account when you're choosing a university. I really feel like Western appreciates its students, Dicksen said.

"I fell in love with Western the moment I visited campus, and since arriving at WIU in Fall 2016, I have diligently worked to succeed," Dicksen added. "I am a Leatherneck through and through, and my experiences here have truly been the foundation for my successes and my future. I have developed invaluable skills that I will carry with me throughout my journey."

WIU students are chosen to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship Program by the University's faculty members. Only four students per institution can be nominated each year. WIU English Professor Bill Knox, who serves as the institution's official Goldwater representative, assists nominees with the application process.

"Winning the Goldwater Scholarship is about bringing pride to WIU and those who believe in me. I have received so much support in the years leading up to my college experience from my family, Lockport Township High School and the congregation of Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church," she added. "That support was matched at WIU with Dr. Hardy and the Centennial Honors College, Dr. Knox, President Thomas, Dr. Schlag, the WIU Foundation Board and the Department of Biological Sciences. The scholarship is also an incredible source of validation for myself and my research. It shows that I have potential in my field and that I can be successful. I would also like to extend an additional thank you to the mentors who have pushed me to be better and continue my research including Dr. Sue Hum-Musser, Dr. Catherine Miller-Hunt, Dr. Johan den Boon, Dr. Paul Ahlquist, Dr. Norma Duke and Mr. William Kane. I hope that I have made them proud."

Dicksen is the third WIU student -- and the first biology major -- to receive the Goldwater. WIU has had three Goldwater Honorable Mentions for the past three years running, which is a remarkable accomplishment in itself, according to Rick Hardy, dean of the Centennial Honors College.

At Western, Dicksen, who has minors in chemistry and French, has completed undergraduate research both on campus, with WIU faculty through the Honors College, and off campus through summer research programs. She has served as captain of The Marching Leathernecks Color Guard since Fall 2017, as vice president of the WIU Water Polo Club since Fall 2016, is treasurer and co-founder of the WIU Tennis Club and served as the sisterhood chair for Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. Dicksen is a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and the Panhellenic Council. She is also a member of the WIU Pep Band, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Sigma Alpha Lambda National Honor Society, President's Roundtable for Students, Golden Key International Honour Society, Order of Omega Honor Society, American Society of Microbiology and Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honor Society.

"I consider Mariah Dicksen the top student in the Centennial Honors College. As dean of the Honor College, it is my job to identify and recruit the top high school students. Mariah was my absolute 'number one' recruit in 2016. At that time, her class rank at Lockport High School was number one out of 869 students, and she had scored a near perfect ACT," Hardy said. "She was the unanimous selection for Western's President's Scholarship, which is given to just three students each year. If all this isn't enough, what also makes Mariah stand out is her scientific research, which she has conducted since high school, and she has earned rave reviews from professional scientists for her collegiate research. She is a natural leader, and in short, she is an outstanding student. Mariah is the real deal."

Dicksen's many honors and achievements include Congress of Future Medical Leaders, National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists Award of Excellence. She was her high school's representative to the Argonne Laboratory's Women in Science Conference, was an Illinois State Scholar and more.

"This is a great honor for the Department of Biological Sciences and for the Centennial Honors College, both of which provide excellent educational experiences for our outstanding students like Mariah," noted College of Arts and Sciences Dean Susan Martinelli-Fernandez.

After graduation from Western, Dicksen plans to obtain a Ph.D. in the fields related to cellular and molecular biology, with a research focus on issues related to virology.

"Mariah came to my office to share this great news in person," said Ranessa Cooper, chair of WIU Biological Sciences. "She is certainly a deserving recipient, and I am so happy for her."

According to the program's website, the Goldwater Scholarship was established by the U.S. Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate. The purpose of the foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue research careers in these fields (see

For more information, contact Hardy at (309) 298-2228 or via email at

Learn more about Western's Centennial Honors College at and about Western's biological sciences program at

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