University of Vermont

University Communications

Grad Student, Alumni Win Top Research Prize

Aaron Schwartz
UVM PhD student Aaron Schwartz, of the Rubenstein School and Gund Institute, studies how time spent in nature impacts human health.

UVM graduate student Aaron Schwartz got word last Tuesday that he’d been awarded a coveted National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

One of 2,000 offered to nearly 17,000 applicants across the U.S., Schwartz’s $138,000 award covers stipend, tuition, and fees to support his graduate work for three years. His full academic ride comes with professional development opportunities and computing resources.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program supports outstanding graduate students conducting research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

A first-year PhD student in UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, Schwartz will use his award to explore large data sets, from long-term health surveys and social media, to study how nature impacts human health and well-being.

As children and adults spend increasing amounts of time indoors, Schwartz hopes to answer such questions as: “How much time do we need to spend in nature for mental health benefits? Are benefits from a walk in an urban park equal to benefits from spending time in the wilderness?”

Working with Gund Professor Taylor Ricketts and Christopher Danforth, Flint Professor of Mathematical, Natural, and Technical Sciences in UVM’s Complex Systems Center, Schwartz’s research will inform how city planners, schools, hospitals, and other institutions design programs that promote engagement with the environment.

“I came to UVM to pursue interdisciplinary research with the support and resources of the Rubenstein School, the Gund Institute, and the Complex Systems Center,” says Schwartz, 28, a native of Melville, New York. “I am grateful that the NSF is recognizing the potential impact I hope to generate collaborating with my fantastic colleagues across these groups."

Schwartz follows in the wake of three UVM students who won 2015 NSF fellowships: Rubenstein School student and Gund graduate fellow Charlie Nicholson; Samantha Alger of the College of Arts and Sciences; and Matthew Brand of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.

Two recent alumni have also won fellowships this year: Rebecca Watson, a UVM Class of 2014 chemistry major and current University of Michigan graduate student, and Sylvia Kinosian, a Class of 2015 forestry major, who will attend Utah State University for a doctorate in plant biology.

At Utah State, Kinosian plans to continue her research on evolutionary biology and genetics of ferns, work she began as an undergrad in the lab of David Barrington, UVM professor of plant biology. Barrington was one of the first people with whom she shared the news about her award. "It felt really good," she says, "to be able to tell the people that had helped and supported me through the application process that our hard work had paid off!"

Learn more about the National Science Foundation.