Hope College cross country and track and field runner Jacob VanderRoest has received a highly competitive scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.
The junior from South Haven, who graduated from Saugatuck High School is a chemistry major.
A total of 396 scholarships were awarded by the Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, in partnership with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs, to undergraduate sophomores and juniors across the United States.
The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from among 1,343 natural science, engineering and mathematics students who were nominated by 461 academic institutions out of an estimated pool of more than 5,000 students.
“It felt quite incredible,” VanderRoest said. “I started the application in early October and completed it in late January, so I’ve been working on it for multiple months and required a lot of collaboration with many different professors at Hope College.
“A lot of work went into it, so it was great to see that all of it paid off. Very satisfying and very fulfilling as well.”
The scholarships are for one or two years, depending on the recipient’s year in school, and cover the cost of tuition, mandatory fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. Numerous Hope students have received scholarships through the years, including several across the past decade.
VanderRoest’s career goal is to pursue a doctorate in green chemistry and conduct chemical research aimed towards sustainability.
“I’d like to go into using chemistry to promote more sustainable applications,” VanderRoest said. “For example, in one of my chemistry classes right now, I’m doing a paper on sustainable plastics and different ways you can recycle them so you recycle them more efficiently. Some sustainable application of chemistry is what I’d like to go into.”
In addition to his academic endeavors, VanderRoest balances that with being a member of the Hope cross country and track and field programs. He takes classes in the morning and early afternoon, practices with his team in the evenings and then it’s back into the lab to either work on experiments or homework.
“I find cross country and track is an excellent break from all of the studies,” VanderRoest said. “It certainly makes me a better student because it give me time to socialize with others, put the books away and go do something productive that is mentally helpful and physically helpful as well.
“I would not have had as much success in college if it weren’t for cross country and track because it’s just so integral of breaking up all of the study.”
During his freshman and sophomore years, VanderRoest conducted research in the laboratory of Dr. Jonathan Peterson, who is the Lavern ’39 and Betty DePree ’41 Van Kley Professor of Geology and Environmental Science. The project analyzed the presence of heavy metals in global drinking water sources and examined particle settling via spectroscopic methods.
“We partnered with the Sawyer Company, which makes water filters,” VanderRoest said. “They distributed water filters to various countries around the world, such as Fiji and the Solomon Islands. They gave us filters back and we analyzed what heavy metals were found in the drinking water areas.
“I’m very interested in environmental science and sustainability, so his lab was looking at water quality, especially on a global scale, so that interested me in the sense that we can analyze this water to try to see what contaminants are in people’s drinking water so we can increase the amount of potable water that is available to people.”
Since the summer following his sophomore year, he has been working in the laboratory of Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, professor of chemistry. The team has been investigating rhodium-catalyzed carbon-carbon bond activation with the goal of new reaction development.
“So what we do is we react different organic molecules with metal catalysts to try to break carbon-carbon bonds, which are the fundamental framework of all organic compounds,” VanderRoest said. “We’re trying to see, ‘How can we break those bonds apart?’ and that helps you make new pathways for synthesizing other molecules if you can break those carbon-carbon bonds.
“Unlike most students, I really like taking organic chemistry, which his lab is all focused on organic chemistry, so I switched into his lab so I could dive deeper into that topic, which I found very intriguing.”
In 2018, VanderRoest presented his research conducted with Peterson during the annual national meeting of the Geological Society of America. In 2019, he presented his research conducted with Johnson during the Midstates Undergraduate Research Symposium at the University of Chicago, the Undergraduate Research Appreciation and Networking Event at the University of Michigan, and the 46th National Organic Chemistry Symposium at Indiana University.
In addition to participating in research, he is an intern for the Hope Advocates for Sustainability organization, through which he collaborated with Hope Dining Services to promote more environmentally friendly, plant-based diets.
“Sustainability and environmental protection has become much more important to me, so with working with the dining services, we’re working to promote more plant-based diets on campus,” VanderRoest said. “Plant-based diets compared to eating meat and diary, plant-based diets require far less resources, far less water to produce and they also emit less greenhouse gasses during that production, so it’s a much more sustainable diet from an environmental perspective.”
VanderRoest is a teaching assistant for organic chemistry labs and also works in the organic chemistry stockroom. He is also an avid hiker and backpacker, and attempts to listen to at least one new music album daily. He is a 2017 graduate of Saugatuck High School.
The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on November 14, 1986. The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.
The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields. Since its first award in 1989, the foundation has bestowed 9,047 scholarships totaling more than $71 million.