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

Colin Scheibner ’17 will use a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation to support his doctoral work in physics at the University of Chicago.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded St. Olaf College student Colin Scheibner ’17 a three-year Graduate Research Fellowship that will support his doctoral work in physics at the University of Chicago.

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.

Scheibner, a physics and mathematics major at St. Olaf, is one of 2,000 students selected to receive the 2017 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship from more than 17,000 applicants. He will enroll in the physics Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago this fall.

During his time at St. Olaf, Scheibner was a part of a research team at the University of Michigan that analyzed images collected by the Dark Energy Camera, a powerful digital camera on a four-meter telescope in Cerro Tololo, Chile. As part of this project, Scheibner helped develop a web-based tool for examining distant objects in the images collected by the camera, which was originally commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy. With his tool, Scheibner identified the earliest known observation of a new planet, officially known as 2014 UZ224 and nicknamed DeeDee, short for “distant dwarf.”

Scheibner also analyzed ultrafast electron images as a member of the University of Minnesota Materials Research Science and Engineering Center Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. In addition, he was named a Rossing Physics Scholar for 2016–17 — an award given each year to outstanding physics students selected from across the nation.

Megan Behnke ’16

Four recent St. Olaf graduates — Megan Behnke ’16, Jennifer Crawford ’16, Alexandra Harris ’14, and Sophia Magro ’16 — also received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships this year.

Behnke, a chemistry major at St. Olaf, is pursuing a doctorate in chemical oceanography from Florida State University. She will use the fellowship to support her research with Rob Spencer of the Arctic Great Rivers Observatory on Arctic river biogeochemistry of vulnerable high latitude carbon stocks in Russia and Alaska.

She will also be working for the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry this summer in Northeastern Siberia, and while there will have the opportunity to run incubation experiments for her dissertation.

Behnke’s long-term goal is to return to Alaska to study climate change and aquatic carbon chemistry at a research institute, and to work with local Alaskan communities to further science education and to understand what information and assistance communities would like to be receiving from climate change researchers.

Jennifer Crawford ’16

Crawford, who majored in chemistry and mathematics at St. Olaf, is pursuing a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Utah.

“My research involves developing new methods for the synthesis of molecules and using multivariate correlations to gain insight into how these types of reactions work and structure-function relationships in catalytic systems,” she says.

“The NSF funding supports me during my graduate work and gives me freedom to pursue avenues of research that interest me. It also provides access to more opportunities as I continue my education as a chemist,” Crawford adds.

Harris, who majored in psychology at St. Olaf, is pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Georgia. Her research is centered on using quantitative methods to provide concrete solutions to abstract business challenges, focusing largely on psychometrics, individual differences (e.g., personality and intelligence), and selection assessments.

Alexandra Harris ’14

“My NSF research proposal is a good example of my commitment to sound methodology for sound answers. By reevaluating and updating the methodology used in prior studies, I am reviving a relatively overlooked area of research: the joint relationship of personality and intelligence on job performance,” she says.

“The fellowship will allow me to explore this area, as well as pursue even more ambitious topics such as the measurement of personality in teams to better understand team performance,” Harris adds.

Magro, who majored in music and psychology with a concentration in educational studies at St. Olaf, is pursuing a doctorate in clinical and child psychology at the University of Minnesota.

Sophia Magro ’16

Since September 2016, she has been living in Kiel, Germany, on a Fulbright fellowship that supports her research on how communication between native German teachers and Syrian refugee students is related to the development of students’ self-control.

She is currently in the final months of her Fulbright fellowship, and is completing a research article detailing this project and preparing to submit it for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Her research has been accepted for presentation at the Association for Research in Personality Biennial Conference, which will take place in Sacramento this June.