Research Excellence: Eight Aggies Honored in NSF Grad Research Fellow Search

Eight Utah State University scholars are honorees of the prestigious 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship search. The Aggies, whose awards are collectively valued at about $828,000, are among nearly 2,000 students selected from more than 13,000 applicants nationwide.

USU’s 2020 NSF Graduate Research Fellows are graduating seniors Jared Bryan ’20 (Geology and Physics) and Bryce Frederickson ’20 (Mathematics), along with recent USU graduates Margaret Hallerud ‘18 (Wildlife Ecology and Management) and Andrea Halling ‘16 (Physics and Biology), as well as USU graduate students Ema Armstrong (Geology) and Jack Elliott ’19 (Engineering Education).

Recent USU graduates Thomas Hill ‘18 (Mathematics) and Marlen Rice ’15 (Biology) received honorable mention.

Frederickson, Hallerud and Hill are graduates of USU’s Honors program.

“NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are the nation’s most prestigious graduate awards in science and engineering,” says USU President Noelle Cockett. “We applaud the accomplishments of these young researchers. Their NSF recognition is a testament to the outstanding quality of USU’s academic and research programs, as well as the high caliber of our students and faculty.”

The fellowship program provides up to three years of support for each awardee’s graduate education, including a $34,000 annual stipend, along with a yearly $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees, as well as the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. or foreign institution of graduate education they choose. 

Ema Armstrong (Fellow), Geology, Utah State University

A native of Fullerton, California, Armstrong earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from Oregon State University, where she participated in research to reconstruct the 1700 Tsunami Flow to improve hazard maps detailing the Oregon coast. At Utah State, the avid trail runner, mountain biker and triathlete is pursuing a master’s degree in geology with faculty mentors Alexis Ault and Kelly Bradbury. “My research focuses on identifying evidence of heat along a fault in southern California using thermochronology,” Armstrong says. “This method will help us understand how earthquakes initiate, propagate and terminate.”

Jared Bryan ‘20 (Fellow), Earth and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bryan, who is the College of Science’s 2020 Scholar of the Year, graduates from USU this spring with a bachelor’s degree in physics and geology, with a minor in mathematics. The Las Vegas, Nevada native, who entered USU on a Dean’s Scholarship, is bound for MIT, where he’ll pursue a doctoral degree in earth and planetary sciences. “My research will focus on using seismic and geodetic data to characterize different modes of fault zone deformation, including earthquakes and aseismic slip,” Bryan says.

Jack Elliott ‘19 (Fellow), Engineering Education, Utah State University

Jack Elliott is a doctoral student in USU’s Department of Engineering Education. Originally from Pocatello, Idaho, the U.S. Army veteran completed an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at USU, before starting a concurrent program to earn a master’s in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in engineering education. Elliott says the funding will cover the costs of his education and allow him to focus on personal research interests. Advised by Assistant Professor Angela Minichiello, Elliott will conduct a unique study about how engineering students interact with their peers to form study networks throughout their college education.

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Bryce Frederickson ‘20 (Fellow), Mathematics, Emory University

A 2019 Goldwater Scholar, Honor’s student and Undergraduate Research Fellow, Frederickson graduates this spring from USU with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, with a minor in computer science. The Orem, Utah native, who enters a doctoral program in mathematics at Atlanta’s Emory University this fall, studies combinatorics, a branch of mathematics that analyzes patterns in discrete objects. “My research focuses on spectral graph theory,” Frederickson says. “A graph is a discrete representation of a system of pairwise relationships between objects, like which airports have direct flights to other airports. I explore how ‘chaotic’ or ‘unpredictable’ a system is.”

Margaret “Maggie” Hallerud ’18 (Fellow), Landscape Ecology, Destination to be determined

An Honors student and USU Cross Country Team standout, Hallerud earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology and management, with minors in statistics and GIS. Named the Quinney College of Natural Resources’ 2017 Peak Prize Undergraduate Researcher of the Year, the Chicago-area native initiated the USU Cougar Project, a camera-trap research project. Hallerud, who served as president of USU’s Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society, currently works as a technician with the USU Wetland Ecology Lab and USU’s Ecogeomorphology and Topographic Analysis Lab. She plans to pursue graduate study in landscape ecology and large-scale conservation.

Andrea Halling ’16 (Fellow), Astrobiology, University of Colorado Boulder

Halling graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in physics and biology composite teaching, with a minor in chemistry. The Hyde Park, Utah native was active in undergraduate research, USU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter and served as a College of Science Ambassador, a Biology supplemental instructor and lab teaching assistant for Physics. Following USU graduation, Halling taught high school physics for two years. Co-advised in the Evolutionary Biology and Geology Departments, she is pursuing a doctorate in astrobiology at the University of Colorado Boulder. “I study the origin of multicellular life,” Halling says.

Thomas Hill ’18, MS’20 (Honorable Mention), Mathematics, Destination to be determined

A Woods Cross, Utah native, Hill earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from USU in 2018 and graduates this spring from Utah State with a master’s degree in mathematics. The Honors student was named a Goldwater Scholar in 2017. Devoted to teaching, Hill taught calculus recitations as an undergrad and tutored Aggies in courses ranging from pre-algebra to linear algebra and differential equations. With faculty mentor Ian Anderson, Hill is creating an interactive database of integrable systems and their properties within Maple, a computer algebra system. He plans to pursue a doctoral degree in pure mathematics.

Marlen Rice ‘15 (Honorable Mention), Molecular, Cellular and Evolutionary Biology, University of Utah

Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology from USU in 2015, and is currently working toward a doctoral degree in molecular, cellular and evolutionary biology from the University of Utah. During his undergrad years, Rice pursued research with faculty mentor Jeanette Norton focused on sequencing the genome for Nitrosospira brienses strain C-128, an ammonia-oxidizing bacterium from agricultural soil. At the U, Rice is connecting the ecological functions of larval developmental traits in zebrafish to their underlying genes. “I’m investigating if the larval pigmentation pattern found in young zebrafish aids them in ultraviolet radiation protection and/or provides camouflage to escape predators,” he says.

This year’s USU honorees join 63 Aggies who have received fellowships and 56 USU students or alumni who have received honorable mentions since 1999.

According to the NSF website, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program helps to 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 United States institutions.

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