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Six Aggies Honored in NSF Grad Research Fellow Search

Thursday, Apr. 12, 2012

Maike Holthuijzen

Maike Holthuijzen, ecology

Kelly Sivy

Kelly Sivy, wildlife biology and conservation

Aimee Tallian

Aimee Tallian, ecology

Brock Wiberg

Brock Wiberg, aerospace engineering

Four Utah State University Aggies received 2012 Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation and two more received honorable mentions in a renowned competition that rewards academic excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

USU’s 2012 NSF Graduate Research Fellows are Maike Holthuijzen and Aimee Tallian, both master’s students in ecology in USU’s Department of Wildland Resources and Ecology Center; undergraduate senior Brock Wiberg, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major who will soon begin graduate studies at the University of Illinois-Champaign; and 2009 USU conservation and restoration ecology graduate Kelly Sivy, who is pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

Receiving honorable mentions are Lexine Long, a master’s student in ecology and bioregional planning in USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences, Department of Environment and Society and Ecology Center, as well as 2009 USU honors graduate Tamara Jeppson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and physics. While at USU, Jeppson was named a 2008 Goldwater Scholar. She is currently pursuing graduate study in geophysics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are the nation’s most prestigious graduate awards in science and engineering,” said USU President Stan Albrecht. “The fact that six Aggies are among this year’s honorees is a solid testament to the outstanding quality of our university’s academic and research programs, as well as the high caliber of our students and faculty.”

NSF GRFP recipients receive a three-year annual stipend of $30,000, along with a cost-of-education allowance of at least $10,500 for tuition and fees, financial support for international travel and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. or foreign institution of graduate education they choose. 

Maike Holthuijzen, ecology

Boise, Ida. native Maike Holthuijzen will pursue study of the Great Basin ecosystem as a master’s student in USU’s Department of Wildland Resources. With her faculty mentor Kari Veblen, a rangelands ecologist, Hothuijzen will investigate the spatial association of perennial grasses and sagebrush over two of the basin’s environmental gradients.

“I am particularly interested in the plant-plant interaction facilitation,” says the recent graduate of the University of Idaho. “This is a process in which one plant – in this case, sagebrush – facilitates the growth of a beneficiary plant, the perennial grass.”

In addition to plant interactions, Holthuijzen says she’s interested in restoration ecology of semi-arid ecosystems.

Kelly Sivy, wildlife biology and conservation

The 2009 valedictorian of USU’s College of Natural Resources, Kelly Sivy actively pursued a number of ecological research projects during her undergraduate career. The former Quinney Scholar recently completed field study of mountain lion prey selection in Nevada and is now heading north to pursue doctoral studies in wildlife biology and conservation at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

“I’m preparing to research wolf and coyote interactions near Denali National Park to evaluate whether state wolf control is influencing the range expansion of coyotes in Alaska,” says the Cache Valley, Utah native. “I’ll also be quantifying other factors that could determine the nature and strength of wolf and coyote interactions.”

Sivy adds she “misses the College of Natural Resources very much.

“I’m grateful for the experiences I had at USU, including the opportunity to travel on a study tour of Ethiopia,” she says.

Amy Tallian, ecology

Since completing a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Montana State University in 2009 (with a solid 4.0 GPA), Amy Tallian has been involved in a variety of research projects around the globe.

A biological technician at Yellowstone National Park, Tallian has tracked and collared bears and bison for management and research. She also served as a National Park Service resource advisor at Florida’s Gulf Breeze National Seashore, where she oversaw oil clean-up efforts following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Overseas, Tallian served as a volunteer for the South African College of Tourism’s Tracker Academy.

“In addition to tracking Africa’s ‘Big 5’ species, I assisted with lectures and presentations to students,” she says.

Tallian enters USU as a master’s student this fall. She’ll work with Wildland Resources faculty mentor Dan MacNulty, with whom she previously volunteered as an undergrad on a behavioral study of wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

Brock Wiberg, aerospace engineering

Following graduation from USU this spring, Aggie engineer Brock Wiberg plans to pursue master’s studies in aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But before he heads east, the Coalville, Utah native has a number of exciting endeavors to complete.

On April 21, Wiberg competes with USU’s Chimaera Rocket Team in the NASA University Student Launch Initiative competition in Toney, Ala. The College of Engineering valedictorian serves as Aerospace Systems Lead on the team; he’s overseen development of the energy management system that will control the rocket’s peak altitude to within one percent of one mile.

This summer, Wiberg travels to Sandia National Lab in Albuquerque, N. Mex., where he’s been invited to participate in the lab’s prestigious Critical Skills Master’s Program. Following completion of his master’s degree at Illinois, Wiberg will return to Sandia full-time to work in the lab’s Nuclear Weapons Surveillance Group.

“At Illinois, I’ll be working in Dr. Mike Bragg’s lab on a NASA-funded project investigating ice accretions on large-scale, 3D swept wings of military aircraft,” he says. 

Wiberg says he’s grateful for the academic opportunities he’s experienced at USU, but cites an additional significant benefit.

“I also met my wife, Jashley, here at USU,” he says.

This year’s honorees join 27 Aggies who have received fellowships and 27 USU students who have received honorable mentions since 1999.

Related Links

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

USU College of Natural Resources

USU Ecology Center

USU College of Engineering

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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