St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf senior, three alumni awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

St. Olaf College senior Corey Ruder stands in front of a magnolia tree.The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded St. Olaf College student Corey Ruder ’16 a three-year Graduate Research Fellowship that will support her work in aquatic biogeochemistry at Washington State University Vancouver.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowships support the most promising graduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Fellows are expected to become experts in their field who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.

Past recipients of the award include numerous Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin, and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.

Ruder, an environmental studies major at St. Olaf, is one of 2,000 students selected to receive the 2016 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship from more than 17,000 applicants.

She will enroll in the environmental and natural resource sciences Ph.D. program at WSU Vancouver this fall, studying the interactions between physical mixing of water and nitrogen processing in lakes and reservoirs, with special emphasis on the factors regulating the production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. She plans to take the following year to conduct research in Japan before returning to WSU Vancouver to finish her doctoral work.

As a Beckman Scholar at St. Olaf, Ruder independently designed an 18-month research project assessing the utility of Chironomidae (Diptera) as indicators of nitrogen loading in lakes under the guidance of Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Charles Umbanhowar Jr.

She also studied abroad in Australia for a semester with Associate Professor of Biology Steve Freedberg, where she was involved in several smaller research projects, and has spent two Interims in Japan — one with Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak and the other with Associate Professor of Chemistry Paul Jackson ’92. As part of the Directed Undergraduate Research (DUR) Interim course led by Jackson, Ruder designed and completed a project that examines cesium transport through forest soils.

She is currently in another DUR course led by Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies John Schade, where she is continuing a project investigating nitrous oxide production in lake sediments that she began the previous semester when she was a teaching assistant in Schade’s biogeochemistry course.

Ruder will also be traveling with Schade to Siberia this summer as part of the Polaris Project, which investigates the impacts of global climate change in the Arctic ecosystem.

In addition to her research projects, Ruder received the Finstad Entrepreneurial Grant from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career during her first year on campus and co-founded the Ole Thrift Shop LLC with Lyla Amini ’14 and Sudip Bhandari ’14.

The student-run small business combats campus waste by collecting donations of clothes, books, and miscellaneous belongings in the spring, then selling the secondhand items during the first week of the following school year. Ruder’s team has grown in size to 11 students, who are now in the process of transitioning the business to nonprofit status and establishing a grant to fund environmentally minded student projects with the revenue that is generated.

Three recent St. Olaf graduates — Stephanie Smith ’14, Rebecca Gobel Menssen ’14, and Kelsey Grinde ’14 — also received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships this year.

Grinde, a math major at St. Olaf, is pursuing a doctorate in biostatistics at the University of Washington in Seattle. She will use the fellowship to support her dissertation work, which involves studying statistical inference in high-dimensional settings (i.e., “big data”) with a particular focus on genetics data and issues related to multiple testing. She also plans to become more involved with teaching and mentoring opportunities in the Seattle area.

Menssen, who majored in economics, mathematics, and physics at St. Olaf, is pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering sciences and applied mathematics at Northwestern University. “My project focuses on understanding the dynamics of chromatin during early development through modeling and testing with experimental data,” she says. “I am working on a model to understand the basic motion of chromatin during development, and then I will work to tie in physical properties and stresses on cells, as well as gene activity levels to build a more comprehensive model of chromatin dynamics.”

Smith, who majored in economics, mathematics, and psychology at St. Olaf, is pursuing a doctorate in decision psychology at Ohio State University. “I’m planning to use my NSF fellowship to study the attentional and neural foundations of the decisions we make for other people,” Smith says. “I hope to uncover the processes involved in surrogate decision-making and identify how these strategies differ from the ones we use when we make decisions for ourselves.”