Two graduates earn NSF fellowships

Two recent graduates of Appalachian State University have received the prestigious 2012 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) to pursue Ph.D. work in their fields.

They are biology student Alex Bentz who earned two degrees from Appalachian, her bachelor’s degree in 2010 and her master’s degree in 2012; and environmental science student Joshua Rice, who completed his bachelor’s degree in 2011.

The GRFP provides three years of support, including a $30,000 annual stipend, a cost-of-education allowance and international research and professional development opportunities.

Alex Bentz

With her NSF fellowship, Bentz will attend Auburn University where she will continue her research into the effects of social aggression on the behavior and physiology of tree swallow offspring, and whether epigenetic mechanisms are responsible for the effects observed. She received Auburn’s Cellular and Molecular Biosciences fellowship and will enter the Ph.D. program in Auburn’s Department of Biological Sciences this fall.

She has been working this summer with Audubon North Carolina to determine the best habitat to increase breeding of the golden-winged warbler, which is considered a species of concern because of its declining populations.

Starting as an undergraduate, Bentz conducted research alongside Appalachian behavioral ecologist Dr. Lynn Siefferman, who is known for her research into the function and evolution of plumage coloration in the eastern bluebird.

“I met Lynn my junior year and started working with her,” Bentz said. “The research I started as an undergraduate and continued as a graduate student, and the support of Lynn and Dr. Sue Edwards helped me get accepted into the NSF fellowship program.”

Josh Rice

Rice’s fellowship will allow him to pursue his Ph.D. in N.C. State University’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, where he is currently finishing his master’s degree. He will begin the Ph.D. program in summer 2013.

“Another great aspect of the fellowship is that it will support a brand new project of my own design,” Rice said. As a doctoral student, he plans to develop a new method to estimate the annual rate of carbon sequestration (the amount of carbon trees store) in forested areas and use that method to investigate the relationship between carbon sequestration rates, climate and ecohydrologic variables.

During his master’s program, Rice has researched the impact of different types of land use on subsurface water run-off. As part of that, he has worked on a hydrology project with the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory near Franklin.

Rice said his environmental science degree from Appalachian prepared him well for post-graduate research because of the program’s interdisciplinary approach. He also credited the opportunities he had to conduct scientific research alongside Appalachian professor Dr. Bill Anderson who investigates groundwater-surface-water interactions.

About the fellowship

The National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions.