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Grad Student's $140K Award Goes to Spam Folder

National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship Charlie Nicholson University of Vermont Gund Institute For Ecological Economics Rubinstein School of Environment and Natural Resources bee pollination
Charlie Nicholson (left) is one of three UVM students to receive prestigious National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships this week. The grants total more than $410K in new research funding. (Photo: Taylor Ricketts Lab)

UVM grad student Charlie Nicholson may want to check the settings on his email’s spam filter.

The Massachusetts native received one of the top U.S. prizes available to grad students yesterday. Only one problem: his award notification went straight into his spam folder.

Luckily, winning a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship – a prestigious prize valued at nearly $140K over three years – is a big enough deal that news travels fast.

“I started getting cryptic texts from friends,” says Nicholson, a PhD student in UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources. “At first, I had no clue what they were talking about.”

“Then a friend who didn’t know my middle name texted: ‘If your full name is Charles Casey Nicholson, you just won an NSF,’” the 26-year-old says with a laugh. “So I checked my email again, and there it was in my spam, with several get-rich-quick schemes.”

Nicholson, who works with Prof. Taylor Ricketts, will use the award to advance his research on how bees and other organisms can improve agricultural productivity and sustainability. He is working with blueberry farmers to understand how land conservation can support native bees while boosting crop yields.

In total, three UVM students received fellowships in NSF’s announcement on March 31. Other recipients include Samantha Alger of the College of Arts and Sciences and Matthew Brand of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.

Alger, a doctoral student of biology under the guidance of Prof. Alison Brody, will also use the award to further knowledge about bees, specifically the prevalence, effects and transmission of viruses among native bumblebees. She is collaborating with the Vermont Beekeeper's Association and the state bee inspector on the National Honey Bee Survey, an ongoing effort to collect data on bee disease to better inform research and management decisions. This summer will mark the first year of Vermont's involvement with the national survey.

Brand, a senior environmental engineering major who will stay at UVM for the accelerated master's program, is investigating bridge failure. While much research has been done on the best way to design new bridges from succumbing to erosion of rock and sediment around the bridge's piers, little exists to find an affortable solution for existing bridges at risk. Brand's research, advised by engineering Profs. Mandar Dewoolkar and Donna Rizzo, aims to find a less expensive, safer and quicker retrofit for vulnerable bridges compared to current methods.

UVM alumnus Jonathan Gonzalez, a doctoral student at Cornell, is also a recipient this year.

The UVM fellowships represent more than $410,000 in new research funding for UVM and Vermont. In total, 2,000 recipients were chosen from 16,500 candidates across the U.S.

Read more about this story in USA Today, Fox News, Fox TV, AOL and the Burlington Free Press. Learn more about the National Science Foundation.