ISU student’s international experience and undergraduate research set the stage for Goldwater Scholarship

AMES, Iowa – A resume that includes international experience and involvement with undergraduate research laid the foundation for Iowa State University student Emma Alstott to receive a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship this semester.

Alstott, a global resource systems and horticulture major from Fort Dodge, received word that she’d been selected for the scholarship last week while she was studying in Greece. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate scholarship in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering in the United States. The scholarships are awarded by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation to encourage outstanding undergraduate students to pursue careers in STEM research.

The foundation announced 438 new scholarships in 2024, selecting recipients from a pool of 1,353 outstanding undergraduates nominated by 446 institutions.

Alstott credited her international experience and participation in research while studying at Iowa State as keys that helped set her apart from the pack. Her first international experience came in high school, when she spent two weeks in Kosovo in a city that had formalized a sister-city relationship with Fort Dodge.

“After experiencing what it was like in another country and seeing so many people from a different part of the world, I knew I wanted to have an international focus as well as an agricultural focus,” Alstott said.

Alstott dove headfirst into research during her first semester at Iowa State with the ISU EARTH Program, which has offered students opportunities for education, outreach and research on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands since 2010. Alstott conducted a literature review that helped create a guide on the ecological importance of 25 plant species native to national parks in the Virgin Islands. Later, she began conducting research on bacterial threats to fruits such as apples, pears, berries and grapes.

She joined 4-H in fourth grade and got her first experience with farm management on her neighbor’s farm and in her home garden in high school. She found she enjoyed problem solving and strategic thinking in agricultural settings.

“Since these were hobby farms, we didn’t have huge resources,” she said. “That meant that I had a lot of time to figure issues out myself. I gained such an interest in pathogens and disease prevention.”

Alstott has spent the current semester studying at the American Farm School in Greece. The school is a private institution in Thessaloniki that focuses on precision agriculture and sustainable farming methods to serve rural populations in Greece and the Balkans. Studying abroad meant that she had to spend a lot of time on the phone with her friends and family the day she learned she’d been selected for the Goldwater Scholarship.

“It was very surreal telling everyone that I’d gotten the scholarship,” she said. “It’s such a big validation of the amount of work I’ve put into my research experience at Iowa State.”

Alstott is on track to finish her undergraduate work in spring 2026. After that, she hopes to earn a master’s and Ph.D. in plant pathology combatting pathogens that threaten fruits and vegetables.

About the scholarship

The scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. One-year scholarships are available to juniors, and two-year scholarships are available to sophomores. Students who wish to apply must complete an application process, and a selection committee determines the university’s endorsed candidates. Iowa State’s Goldwater Scholarship Campus Committee included John Milstead, coordinator of nationally competitive awards; Kent Kerby, assistant dean in the ISU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Frank Peters, director of the ISU Study Abroad Center; Eric Underbakke, associate professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology; and Svitlana Zbarska, campus-wide undergraduate research program coordinator.

Students interested in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship should contact Milstead at To learn more about undergraduate research opportunities, contact Zbarska at