College of Science Student Awards - 2021
The College of Science at Utah State University is full of driven researchers, educators, and mentors. Each year the college recognizes several members who have gone above and beyond the norm to continue to make the college a place of increased merit and quality.
A native of Pleasant Grove, Utah, Nicole “Nikki” Anderson, a Human Biology major with minors in Chemistry and Japanese, is the College of Science’s 2021 Valedictorian. Her faculty escort at commencement ceremonies will be Dr. Justin Julander.
As a 2015 graduate from Pleasant Grove High School, Anderson entered Utah State as a recipient of USU’s Presidential Scholarship and is the recipient of multiple A Pin awards, as well as placements on the Dean’s List. She was selected as a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success, and was named an Undergraduate Research Scholar.
Throughout her undergraduate career, Anderson has pursued research at USU’s Institute for Antiviral Research (IAVR). Her work has resulted in several publications on the Chikungunya and Zika viruses and presentations at research symposiums. Anderson also has a full-time, leadership role in the IAVR, where she manages and participates in research to find solutions to the current worldwide SARS-CoV2 pandemic. “The work we do is urgent, exciting and impactful,” Anderson says. “Research at USU has been an experience I will never forget.”
From the time she was 11, Anderson has studied Taekwondo, and will soon test for her 4th-degree black belt. She’s also earned a National Championship in Sparring, a type of kickboxing. Anderson has taught women’s self-defense classes in Japan and the United States. “Martial arts is more than breaking boards and self-defense,” she says. “It has taught me confidence and respect, and has generated a desire to never give up.”
At USU, Anderson has served as president of the American Medical Student Association and the LDSSA Returned Missionary Committee, and has worked for two semesters as an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow in Human Physiology. She’s also coordinated the Red Cross Blood Drive, Culture Night, Medical Experience Fairs, Doc of the Month events, and Mental Health First Aid Training. Her goal in leadership roles, is “to consistently inspire others, by creating an atmosphere of compassion, high achievement and growth.”
Outside of class and extracurricular activities, Anderson enjoys attending USU sporting events, traveling, hiking and fishing with her husband and discovering the beauty of national parks.
Anderson’s volunteer service in a local hospital’s emergency department, at Utah’s Camp Hobé Cancer Camp and as a medical volunteer in Tijuana, México, along with her employment as a home health aide, ignited a passion for health care. She has been accepted to several medical schools and plans to begin medical studies this fall in preparation for a career in emergency medicine. "USU's dedicated faculty, the culture of unity and Aggie friendship have prepared me immensely for my career in medicine,” she says.
Scholar of the Year
Miles Robertson is a senior, graduating Spring 2021, with degrees in Mathematics/Statistics and Biology, and minors in Computer Science and Anticipatory Intelligence.
Robertson’s undergraduate research experience reaches from machine learning to ecological modeling to protein structure solving. He is soon to publish his first paper as a first-author in the journal Hydrobiologia, with his faculty mentor, Dr. Edd Hammill of USU Department of Watershed Sciences.
Beginning in Fall 2021, Robertson will pursue a PhD at Florida State University. He hopes to apply frequently-overlooked applications of computer science and mathematics to biology, by modeling disease spread in multi-host populations.
Joshua Barney is a computer science major, with a minor in mathematics. A native of Herriman, Utah, Barney graduated from Herriman High School in 2015. He earned an associate’s degree in science from Utah’s Snow College in 2019, and was awarded a Presidential Transfer Scholarship to USU.
Barney served as a computer science tutor at Snow College and has continued assisting fellow students as a tutor at Utah State. During his undergraduate career, he has tutored students for seven semesters.
Barney earned a 4.0 GPA at Utah State and plans to pursue graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), beginning in Fall 2021.
Sierra Fox is a mathematics and statistics composite teaching major. A native of Kaysville, Utah, Fox graduated from Davis High School in 2017. She was awarded a USU Presidential Scholarship.
Fox is a two-time USU A-Pin recipient and was awarded the Sharon Lee Gardner Ellis Memorial Scholarship from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
A peer advisor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Fox was named Student Employee of the Year at Utah State.
Fox is currently conducting student teaching at Utah’s Farmington High School. Following graduation, she plans to teach mathematics at the high school level and to pursue a master’s degree.
Michael Herron is a biology major, with an emphasis in human biology, and a chemistry minor. A native of Reno, Nevada, Herron was Valedictorian of Truckee Meadows Community College High School, from which he graduated in 2016.
Herron was awarded a USU Presidential Scholarship and a Wells Fargo Student Impact Scholarship.
A participant in USU’s Honors Program, Herron served on the Honors Student Advisory Board. He also served as president, vice president and professional relations director of the USUSA Pre-Med Club.
A recipient of a USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities grant, Herron conducted research on the effects of estrogen and arousal on latent inhibition in mice.
Herron served as a teaching aide in USU’s Anatomy and Dissection Laboratories, and was named Undergraduate Teaching Fellow of the Year in 2020. He is employed as an anesthesia technician at Logan Regional Hospital.
Following graduation, Herron will return to Reno to enter the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine.
Gerald Benjamin Jones
Gerald Benjamin Jones is a Mathematics major, with a minor in Computer Science. A native of Roseville, California, the 2016 Woodcreek High School graduate is the recipient of multiple academic accolades, including a College of Science Scholarship and the Neville C. and Annie P. Hunsaker Mathematics Scholarship.
Jones is also a two-time recipient of the Van R. Johnson Sutter Scholars Program Scholarship.
Jones was awarded a USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities grant to pursue an interdisciplinary research project between the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the Department of Biological Engineering, which involved mathematically modeling algae biofilm for wastewater treatment.
Jones will pursue a master’s degree in industrial mathematics at USU and plans to pursue a doctoral degree in applied mathematics.
Alex Lyons, who grew up Eugene, Oregon and Cache Valley, Utah, is a biochemistry major, with minors in psychology and biology. A recipient of a Presidential Scholarship and a Track and Field Scholarship, the 2015 graduate of Sky View High School received the Irving Condie-Frost Award for Organic Chemistry and was awarded a USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities grant.
During his freshman and sophomore years, Lyons was a member of USU’s Cross Country and Track and Field Teams. He was twice named a Whitesides Scholar-Athlete.
Lyons conducted research on CRISPR with Biochemistry faculty mentor Ryan Jackson and presented his research at the Hansen Life Sciences Retreat, as well as the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.
He was elected College of Science Senator during the 2019-2020 academic year, during which he led creation of the college’s Student Mentorship Program. He also served as chair and vice president on the student-led Science Council and sat on the Student Fee Board. Lyons also served as a College of Science Ambassador.
Lyons served as an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow for four different chemistry courses and was a Peer Academic Advisor for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
An aspiring physician, Lyons volunteered at Logan Regional Hospital. He plans to attend medical school and focus on neurosurgery.
Thomas O’Reilly is a computer science major, with minors in Japanese and mathematics. The American Fork, Utah native graduated from American Fork High School in 2015 and was awarded a USU Presidential Scholarship.
Active in research, O’Reilly investigated websockets with Computer Science faculty mentor Erik Falor.
During his undergraduate career, O’Reilly has received a number of honors, including the Campbell Scientific Endowed Scholarship and the College of Science Scholarship. He was named a Bridging Scholar and a Gilman Scholar, and was named the Department of Computer Science’s Outstanding Pre-Professional Student.
Following graduation, O’Reilly will pursue a career as a software engineer with Utah’s Lucid Software.
Tate Shepherd is a biology major, with an emphasis in human biology, and a chemistry minor. A Farmington, Utah native, Shepherd graduated from Davis High School in 2016. He was awarded a USU Presidential Scholarship.
A USU A-Pin recipient during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years, Shepherd graduates with a 4.0 GPA and has earned his bachelor’s degree in three years.
Shepherd was awarded a USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities grant, which funded his research in Biochemistry faculty member Joanie Hevel’s lab. Shepherd studied a substrate of the PRMT1 enzyme, which plays a role in human cardiovascular health.
A volunteer with Intermountain Homecare and Hospice, Shepherd co-founded a non-profit organization that teaches bystander-level first aid to the general public. He also serves as an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow in organic chemistry and as a Writing Fellow for statistics and history classes.
Shepherd plans to attend medical school and hopes to specialize in emergency medicine.
An A-Pin recipient, Utah State’s oldest academic award, Smith has worked as a software developer for Utah’s Local Technical Assistance Program. In this capacity, he developed and maintained an application to manage data and create maintenance reports for roads in throughout the state.
Smith is also a Web developer for the Utah Climate Center where, in addition to maintaining the center’s website, he developed an application to help Utah orchard growers prepare for frost and prevent damage to their trees.
Following graduation, Smith plans to pursue a career in software development.
Zion Steiner is a computer science major, with minors in statistics and economics. A native of West Jordan, Utah, Steiner graduated from Copper Hills High School in 2017. He was awarded a USU Presidential Scholarship and was a Utah Regents’ Scholar.
A two-time USU A-Pin recipient, Steiner was named the Department of Computer Science’s Outstanding Junior and received the USU College of Engineering’s Engineering Initiative Scholarship.
Steiner was a member of the winning project team, CS 3450 Intro to Software Engineering, in Fall 2019. The team’s project involved designing a website to manage a live auction event, and was used to manage the Spring 2020 Fundraising Dinner benefiting Cache Valley, Utah’s Thomas Edison Charter School North Campus.
President of the USUSA Algo Trading Club from 2019-2021, Steiner participated in summer software engineering internships at Amazon Web Services in 2019 and 2020.
Following graduation, Steiner is moving to Seattle to accept a software engineer position with Amazon Web Services, and plans to pursue graduate studies in computer science.
Pocatello, Idaho native Jessica Tolman graduated from Century High School in 2018 and was awarded a USU Dean’s Scholarship.
A student of mathematics, geology and entrepreneurship, Tolman is graduating with a 4.0 GPA and is a FIJI Diamond Girl.
Tolman has accepted a position with an ecological restoration company in the Pacific Northwest and is pursuing a master’s degree in geology.
Jenny R. Whiteley
Jenny R. Whiteley, a physics major with a political science minor, is a renaissance person. A violinist in a violin, flute, harp trio, her repertoire ranges from Shostakovich to Nat King Cole. She designs clothing, making her own patterns and sewing the creations, she illustrates video poetry books and, to support her education, runs her own gardening and cleaning business.
“With the exception of second and third grades, I was homeschooled,” says the North Logan, Utah native. “This opportunity instilled in me self-motivation and perseverance, while preserving my creativity, enthusiasm and confidence.”
Whiteley says the experience also taught her she could learn anything, with enough effort and time, and also fostered excellent time and project management skills.
At Utah State, Whiteley has pursued a number of research projects, including complexity simplication of cellular automata, development of a NASA spacecraft materials database and analysis of geodesics for a homogenous solution of the Einstein Field Equation.
A 2020 Goldwater Scholar, Whiteley is the recipient of a number of other awards, including USU Physics’ O. Harry Otteson Award, a Peak Summer Research Fellowship, a James E. Brown Scholarship and a College of Science Scholarship.
Following graduation from USU, she plans to pursue graduate studies in physics.
Legacy of Utah State
Since her freshman year at Utah State, Melissa Rasmussen, a dual computer science and physics major, has served as the Vice President of Outreach for the USU Student Chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery –Women. With her passion for outreach and STEM education, Rasmussen has been a compelling force in the Department of Computer Science’s outreach presence in the community, through a perpetual booth at Science Unwrapped, as well as with a presence at elementary school STEM fairs and as a guest speaker for a middle school computer science club.
Serving consistently, Rasmussen strives to excite children and teenagers about STEM at USU with board games and hands-on activities. She states she tries to create the experience she would have wanted at a young age. Her dedication to the club and the department benefits both the university and the Cache Valley community.
Rasmussen has championed the university-sponsored girls high school physics camp, PhysX, as well as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers’ outreach camp for kids. She volunteers to help with USU Physics Day at Lagoon for high school and middle school students, as well the Department of Physics’ USU Observatory Community Astronomy Nights. Rasmussen served as a Freshman Representative for the Society of Women Engineers and helped with a booth at Science Unwrapped for both SWE and the Society of Physics Students.
In addition to STEM outreach, Rasmussen volunteers for USU’s Student Nutrition Access Center, serving students in need of food.
An outstanding student who tackles a challenging workload, Rasmussen has consistently attained placement on the Dean’s List and has maintained a 4.0 GPA.
An an Undergraduate Research Fellow, Rasmussen has contributed to six different research projects in a variety of fields, including biophysics, physics education, theoretical gravitational physics, computer science education and computational astrophysics. She has represented USU and her college at many different conferences, locally and nationally, and hopes to continue demonstrating her commitment and supporting the university’s legacy through the dissemination of her research.
Following graduation from USU, Rasmussen plans to pursue graduate studies.
Master Student Researcher of the Year
Chemistry master’s student Sean Lyons enjoys exploring the outdoors through running, hiking and skiing. These interests led him from his home state of New York to the mountains of Utah. Ultimately, he entered USU, where he was able to combine his passions for chemistry and the outdoors, by beginning his environmental chemistry research.
Lyons’ research focuses on developing a model to predict the fate of pesticides following their application to agricultural fields, with a focus on the photochemistry of these chemicals on leaves. This work will hopefully protect the environment and sensitive organisms, such as important pollinators like bees, by resulting in decreased, more effective usage of pesticides by farmers.
Prior to USU, Lyons received degrees in chemistry and adolescent education from the State University of New York (SUNY) Oswego, where he first became passionate about environmental issues.
Following graduation from Oswego, Lyons taught high school chemistry in central New York state. He hopes to find a career as a chemistry instructor at the community college/undergraduate level, so he can continue working with students and the content he loves.
Doctoral Researcher of the Year
A senior PhD candidate at Utah State, Spencer Hudson earned a bachelor’s degree at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, where he studied the physiological effects of bird feeding on wild passerines.
Hudson continues to focus on the impacts of anthropogenic disturbances on wildlife health for his dissertation. In particular, he is examining the demographic, physiological and genetic consequences of urbanization for reptiles.
Hudson has received multiple awards through both internal and external funding sources for his work, which has led to several peer-reviewed papers, presentations at professional meetings and a departmental seminar as a visiting researcher.
hile pursuing his studies, Hudson provided a wide array of opportunities for student education, research experience and outreach at the university and secondary education level. For the remainder of his time as a PhD candidate and career biologist, he plans to continue taking integrative approaches to answer ecological questions for the scientific community.
Graduate Student Teacher of the Year
Will Tidwell is a Mathematical Sciences doctoral candidate, with an interdisciplinary specialization of mathematics and education, at Utah State University (USU).
At USU, Tidwell has taught Trigonometry, College Preparation Mathematics, Algebraic Thinking and Number Sense for Elementary Teachers, as well as Calculus II. He has been the primary instructor for his courses for 10 semesters and has served as a member of the Mathematics and Statistics Graduate Professional Development Committee.
Tidwell’s current research, conducted with faculty advisor Brynja Kohler, is in mathematical modeling education, where he works to elucidate the mathematical modeling preparation of teachers. His research investigates how teachers learn mathematical modeling, incorporate social justice and community issues into the classroom, and the effects that sociocritical mathematical modeling tasks have on students.
Following completion of his doctoral degree, Tidwell plans to pursue a career in academia, where he can continue to improve his teaching, while investigating mathematics education.
Prior to attending USU, Tidwell earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2017.
Undergraduate Researcher of the Year
Noah Braeger is a senior majoring in Mathematics and Physics and served as Science Senator during the 2020-2021 academic year.
Braeger was introduced to undergraduate research during the Spring 2019 semester, when he joined Dr. Andreas Malmendier’s research team. His initial work focused on using mirror symmetry, a concept from string theory, to prove a number-theoretic result about K3 surfaces, special mathematical spaces.
To fund his research, Braeger applied for and received a College of Science Undergraduate Research Minigrant and a USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) grant. His contributions to the project led to a publication, two regional conference presentations and a colloquium talk at the University of Utah.
Braeger continued working with Dr. Malmendier and constructed explicit geometric isogenies between three types of K3 surfaces. This second project resulted in a paper that will soon be submitted to an academic journal and presented at the Joint Mathematics Meetings.
Braeger currently works as a recitation leader for Calculus II and a teaching assistant for Differential Geometry. Following graduation from USU, he will spend the summer participating in the National Security Agency Director’s Summer Program and hopes to enter a Ph.D. program in Fall 2021.
Braeger gives special thanks to his faculty mentors, Dr. Andreas Malmendier, Dr. David Peak, Dr. David Brown and Dr. Michael Schultz for their continued support throughout his research.
Undergraduate Teaching Fellow of the Year
Porter Ellis is a chemistry major with a philosophy minor. The Farr West, Utah native graduated from Fremont High School in 2018.
Ellis served as a supplemental instructor for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s organic chemistry series, as well as an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow for Organic Chemistry I, Principles of Biochemistry I and Principles of Biochemistry II.
Ellis is a two-time recipient of USU’s A-Pin academic honor. He is the recipient of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s Irving Condie Frost Award in Organic Chemistry, the department’s top undergraduate organic chemistry award.
Ellis also received the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s Harris O. and Eleanor Y. Van Orden Award in Biochemistry, the department’s top, undergraduate biochemistry honor.
Interested in the overlap of biological and chemical sciences, Ellis says he is particularly interested in ways these fields inform questions of human health. He plans to pursue a career that combines these interests.