University of Vermont

UVM Students and Alumni Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

NSF awardees
Five current UVM students have been recognized in the 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship competition, including three winners and two honorable mentions. From top left: Northrop, Alger, Miller, Holterman and Juice.

UVM graduate students Katie Ann Miller, Stephanie Juice, and Leigh Ann Holterman have received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Award. This prestigious fellowship is awarded to graduate students who demonstrate outstanding intellectual merit and who have the potential to have a broad and significant impact in their respective fields.

As early-career graduate students and NSF Fellows, Miller, Juice, and Holterman will receive a three-year annual stipend of $32,000, a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, as well as additional opportunities for international research and professional development. This year the NSF received 14,000 applications for the 2014 competition and made 2,000 fellowship award offers.

A doctoral student in biology, Miller’s research interests broadly focus on physiological ecology and evolution. She is developing an expertise in how the primary elements that make up living organisms (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.) are used for different physiological processes, and how these elemental requirements impact behavior, species interactions and overall food web dynamics. Under the guidance of Sara Helms Cahan, she is studying the influence of climate on the elemental composition of the ant Aphaenogaster ruidis, the effects of diet and temperature on elemental composition and protein synthesis rates in ants, and the effects of climate change on nutrient cycling in temperate forest ecosystems.

“Katie came to UVM with a strong interest in the role that nutrition plays in ecology and considerable prior research experience as an undergraduate looking at how ant colonies cope with poor-quality resources,” Helms Cahan said. “Her expertise in this area brings a valuable new perspective to the lab that complements our ongoing work on genetics, behavior and ecology of social insects in a rapidly changing environment. We are really happy to have her and excited about this wonderful opportunity for her to focus on her research accomplishments.”

Stephanie Juice is a current doctoral student in natural resources. Under the guidance of Carol Adair, Juice is studying consequences of climate change on forests in the northeastern U.S. In her work, Juice focuses on how climate change affects ecosystem services such as carbon storage and the ability of forests to store and purify water by taking up and retaining nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Such work is critical to understanding how climate change affects forests, which in turn can affect soil fertility, water quality and human health.

“These fellowships are extremely competitive, so Stephanie's award is a great achievement. That we can attract such an outstanding student also speaks well of the RSENR graduate program - I am very excited to be working with Stephanie on this project,” said Dr. Adair. “Stephanie has been in Rubenstein's Ph.D. program for less than a year, but she's already become a valued member of my lab and our climate change research team. NSF's support means that she will be free to develop her interests and investigate the links between forest services and climate change.”

Leigh Ann Holterman is a current doctoral student in psychology and is building her expertise in developmental psychology. Holterman’s work is focused on understanding the social and physiological factors that contribute to different outcomes in the peer relationships of school-age children. She is currently working with Dianna Murray-Close on how this population deals with physical reactions to stressful interpersonal situations as well as the outcome of those situations and the impact on peer relationships. Such work, Holterman says, can help develop intervention and prevention programs that teach children how to use prosocial behavior in place of harmful behavior in peer relationships.

“Leigh Ann has the rare combination of superb intellectual abilities, a well-developed work ethic and innovative thinking that will allow her to make a lasting impact in developmental psychology,” said Murray-Close. “Moreover, Leigh Ann is committed to translating research into practice, and her ultimate goal is to work with schools and youth programs (e.g., camps) to promote positive youth development, particularly with respect to communication and conflict resolution. The field is in desperate need for work in this area, and I believe that Leigh Ann has the capacity to develop a program of research that provides a critical foundation for this prevention and intervention work. Leigh Ann is highly deserving of this prestigious honor!”

UVM graduate students Samantha Alger and Amanda Northrop received Honorable Mention recognition in this year’s NSF-GRFP competition. Alger is a current doctoral student in UVM’s biology department. Under the guidance of Joseph Schall and Alison Brody, Alger is currently studying the prevalence, effects and transmission of RNA viruses among native bumblebees in Vermont. Northrop graduated from UVM in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and was encouraged by her undergraduate mentor, Helms Cahan, to continue her studies in graduate school. Now a doctoral student in the biology department, Northrop works with Nicholas Gotelli and Bryan Ballif; her current research focuses on predicting and preventing regime shifts (or state changes) in aquatic ecosystems. Such work, she says, can help scientists understand, predict and prevent accelerated eutrophication and toxic algal blooms in larger bodies of water (such as lakes or ponds).

In addition to Miller, Juice, Holterman, Northrop, and Alger, several UVM alumni also received recognition in the 2014 NSF Fellowship Competition. Erin Menzies ’10 received an NSF-GRFP Fellowship for her current work as a master’s student in Cornell University’s environmental engineering department. Other UVM alumni received honorable mention recognition in the 2014 competition. Those students are David Bernstein ’13 (a current doctoral student in the biomedical engineering department at Boston University), Kristen Peach ’11 (a current doctoral student in the ecology department at the University of California at Santa Barbara), Evelyn Boardman ’13 (a current doctoral student in the ecology department at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), and Michael Barbour ’12 (a current doctoral student in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington).