Global Change Student Research Grant Competition

Supporting UAF student research focusing on the arctic and subarctic


Student profiles

This page contains profiles of some of the awardees and their projects. Additional articles by and about past student awardees can be found in back issues of the Global Glimpses newsletter. You can also find lists of awardees and research projects by year (2001–2017).

Chris Waigl

May 2015

Chris Waigl

2014 awardee Christine Waigl earned a physics degree in her native Germany and lived in Paris and then London for 15 years before arriving in Alaska in 2011. Having worked in a variety of jobs, including teaching, web site production, and software development, Chris found herself looking for new challenges and “wanting to get back closer to my scientific roots.” She was hired as a research professional at UAF, started taking classes, and by fall 2012 was a full-time PhD student in Geophysics.

Alaska has been a good fit for Chris. “I quite fell in love with the circumpolar North. It’s such a complex and interesting region, still relatively wild. What I particularly like is that you can’t live here without noticing that you live on a planet, part of the solar system. The seasons and meteorology strongly influence what you’ll have to deal with each day, and you can’t always predict what you’ll need.” She enjoys living in Fairbanks because it’s easy to meet people from many walks of life, origins, and lifestyles. “This was one of the main things I missed while living in London, where it is common to stay in groups that are relatively homogeneous, have similar social aspirations, work in similar jobs… I don't like that kind of artificial bubble life.”

Chris feels strongly that we all have a responsibility to increase our understanding of how the world works and what our role in it is. “As scientists, there’s an ethical duty to reflect on our area of research and inquiry, including teaching and outreach, by taking a step back and looking at how it fits into the bigger picture of what we as humans do in our society.”

In her own research, Chris looks at the boreal landscape and the way it interacts with fire. “Many aspects of this system are changing—permafrost, vegetation, how humans use the land, temperatures and climate, and more specifically, how often and how severely this system is undergoing fire—and all these changes are intertwined and feed back into each other. So finding out about the dynamics of change is a complicated and nit-picky endeavor and means that we look very carefully at one variable at a time, always trying to improve the quality of our data and analysis.”

This careful work in turn feeds into and improves the accuracy of forecasts that can help people make better-informed decisions about managing forests, for example, or to identify where to build further infrastructure, and perhaps even how to design it to live most harmoniously with the environment.

Besides a passion for her research, Chris says she’s always had a strong interest in language and linguistics. She enjoys bicycling and gardening, and has recently taken up knitting and spinning, “which is a nice, relaxing way of doing something that’s both useful and creative.”

While Chris enjoys travel and the pleasure of discovering new places, ultimately she wants to stay in the North, where she hopes to “continue doing research and get deeper into teaching and sharing scientific understanding with the next generation and the wider world.”

Chris’s project on “Boreal forest fire severity and area assessment using mid- and thermal infrared remote sensing and field observations” was funded by the Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research (CIFAR) through the 2014 Global Change Student Research Grant Competition.

Photo courtesy of Chris Waigl.

Kyle Dilliplaine

February 2015

Kyle Dilliplaine

For 2014 CGC awardee Kyle Dilliplaine, working on a master’s degree at UAF is the continuation of a childhood dream. Growing up north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kyle was drawn to nature and science from an early age. Summers invariably found him exploring the nearby woods, and evenings were often spent watching science documentaries on TV—“I could never get enough of marine-focused exploration, especially deep sea.”

In high school he was part of the biology club, and when the time came to choose a college path, Kyle’s interest in marine ecosystems combined with a love of SCUBA diving made the choice of marine biology an easy one. Kyle earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW). “This coastal university has an incredible marine science focused program and I was quickly immersed in specialized courses with a breadth of topics.”

Although marine biology conjures up images of marine mammals, sea turtles, or fishes in most peoples’ minds, Kyle is more interested in the humble yet mighty invertebrates, which account for the vast majority of animal diversity on earth. This focus, combined with an interest in the Arctic and the impacts of global warming, heavily influenced his search for a graduate advisor. “Luckily, I was able to convince two of the most well-known sea ice/invertebrate biologists [Rolf Gradinger and Bodil Bluhm] to support my pursuit of a master’s degree.”

While graduate school keeps him plenty busy, Kyle likes to be as active as possible in his spare time. He’s temporarily set aside SCUBA diving for more Alaskan pursuits—on winter weekends he can be found snowboarding on local ski slopes, and in the summer exploring the Interior’s many hiking trails. Besides enjoying the great outdoors, Kyle’s also a guitarist in a local death metal band, and likes to homebrew.

Kyle says he enjoys working on a research topic that is unfamiliar to most people. “Few people realize that sea ice has a porous microstructure and that certain organisms are capable of inhabiting this extreme environment or that some are even ice endemic. Many of these organisms have never been identified beyond their coarse taxonomic name (phylum/order level).”

The project he is involved with has a special focus on two flatworm taxa “which are notoriously difficult to identify or enumerate due to their fragile nature.” Kyle explains that his task is to follow the evolution of the sea ice community over a spring season, identify the fauna to the lowest taxonomic level possible, and investigate the sediments during the ice free summer to check for presence of these organisms. “This will allow a first look at where the organisms may need to take residence if the ice disappears.”

Kyle is drawn to this work by the raw need for data about the lesser-explored sea ice community and its relative importance to the overall health of the shelf community in the Arctic. “What exactly would be the impact if these marginal ice zones stopped having ice annually, or if an oil spill were to contaminate the underside of the ice? These are the sorts of relations that I enjoy exploring and are fundamental to our understanding of what the future holds for the North Slope’s foodweb.”

But there are other payoffs too: “The field work is incredibly satisfying. Nothing is quite as spectacular as the Arctic sunrises and sunsets over frozen northern seas.”

Kyle’s Global Change Student Research Grant project, “Sea ice meiofauna in an ice free Arctic summer; who is present and where will they go?,” was funded by the Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research (CIFAR).

Photo of Kyle by Marc Oggier.

Kimber DeGrandpre

October 2014

Kimber DeGrandpre

With an active love of the outdoors complemented by an adventurous spirit, 2014 CGC awardee and California native Kimber (Tweet) DeGrandpre seems perfectly at home in Alaska. Kimber grew up on the coast in Monterey, where her dad introduced her to SCUBA diving at an early age. At ten she broke the girls’ state record for high jump and went on to win gold at the USA National Junior Olympics, where she also excelled in the triathlon and shot put. In high school she was a standout soccer goalie and played on the varsity team all four years.

After graduation, Kimber’s love of diving lured her to Eckerd College in Florida to study marine archaeology. However, she was so intrigued by the rocks on the ocean floor that she changed focus, and ended up getting a B.S. in geology from Portland State University. Her enthusiasm for diving hasn’t waned, though—Kimber has logged over 300 dives in four countries, worked as an assistant SCUBA instructor, and been involved in many search and rescue operations.

To help pay off student loans after college, Kimber took a job as an exploration geologist on Admiralty Island near Juneau, followed by a stint as a geologist working on drill rigs at a gold mine outside of Nome. However, a broken leg sidelined her from the rigs and she ended up doing labwork in Fairbanks, where a tour of UAF convinced her to apply to graduate school. Kimber’s background in oceanographic and geophysical studies along with her experience in western Alaska made her an ideal candidate for an M.S. project on sea level change in western Alaska, a project supported in part by the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys as input for an upcoming coastal hazard map.

“My thesis directly concerns the people of Western Alaska, as most of the population lives on the coast or river banks. With an increase in relative sea level change villages are experiencing erosion, flooding, and increased storm surges. My work will aid in the planning and reaction stages to help keep people and communities safe.” Kimber explains that relative sea level change is the vertical motion of the ocean coupled with the vertical motion of the land, or tectonic plate.

“The sea level on average is rising everywhere. In places like southeast Alaska it is not a big threat because the land is rising at a much faster rate as the glaciers melt and the plate becomes lighter and ‘pops up.’ In other locations, like western Alaska, with the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta, similar to places like the Mississippi Delta, the land motion is ‘downward’ so as the sea level rises and the tectonic plate sinks the relative sea level change is almost double the sea level rise. The tectonic plate can sink for a variety of reasons but we are exploring what effect the piling up of sediment from the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers could have on sinking the coast.”

When not working on her M.S. project, Kimber is almost certain to be found enjoying the great outdoors. As “basic hobbies” she counts SCUBA, sailing, surfing, swimming, rafting, horseback riding, skiing, hiking, backpacking, and dirt biking. She recently took up mountaineering and has summited many peaks in the Pacific Northwest, and hopes to tackle Denali after finishing her master’s.

As for the future, Kimber is leaning toward continuing on for a Ph.D. “But beyond that I know better than to plan. I will see where life takes me—a job with a private company, or the government, or remaining in academia. It is hard to say for now. Traveling and doing research will always be a part of my life; I want sail across the Pacific, and climb as many mountains, dive as many bodies of water, and backpack as many countries as possible.”

Kimber’s Global Change Student Research Grant project, “Relative sea level change in western Alaska as constructed from repeat tide gauge and GPS measurements,” was funded by the Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research (CIFAR).

Photo courtesy of Kimber DeGrandpre.

Justin Olnes

July 2014

Justin Olnes

Justin Olnes, a master’s student in the Department of Biology and Wildlife, is one of CGC’s 2014 awardees—selected for funding through this year’s Global Change Student Research Grant Competition for his project “Vulnerability of white spruce to climate change and herbivory by snowshoe hares: a retrospective analysis.” Although relatively new to UAF, with his passion for wilderness and frontier communities, and a penchant for adventure, Justin is finding himself right at home in Interior Alaska.

Growing up in Idaho, Justin came to love the Rocky Mountain West and its natural landscapes, and when it came time for college he headed to Willamette University in Oregon to study biology. While at Willamette, Justin became aware of the complex ecological and management issues that surround livestock grazing in the wilderness areas of the West—an introduction that kindled a strong interest in plant ecology and plant–herbivore interactions. To more fully explore these topics, Justin transferred to the University of Idaho, where he received a B.S. in Rangeland Ecology and Management in 2013.

Searching for graduate schools, Justin knew he wanted a place with a strong program in ecology that was also located near areas of big wilderness. “Naturally, the U of A system was on my list,” he says. Justin mentioned this interest off-handedly during a casual conversation with a University of Idaho professor, who immediately recommended Justin contact his old friend, UAF professor Knut Kielland. “One phone call with Knut was enough to convince me that UAF would be a great fit!”

Although Justin was headed to UAF with an established interest in plant–animal interactions, he admits that when Knut first suggested a project looking at snowshoe hare herbivory on white spruce, it didn’t immediately catch his interest. But he says “that was before I came to know the whole story.”

Justin explains that the snowshoe hare fluctuates widely in population abundance over a roughly ten-year cycle, and that during a high point in the cycle the hares can have dramatic effects on boreal vegetation, including white spruce. White spruce reproduce in single events called “masting” that may only occur every few years. If this coincides with a peak in the snowshoe hare cycle, browsing by hares may eliminate or stunt the new seedlings, which can affect when and where white spruce is able to establish and whether it will become the dominant species in the forest canopy. For his master’s project, Justin is collecting data on white spruce age structure to see what can be learned about this particular plant–herbivore interaction in the past.

As to how this work fits into the bigger ecological and global change picture, Justin says “Understanding the complex web of interactions that make up an ecosystem like the boreal forest is increasingly important in light of global change. We need to know how these systems will respond to changes in climate, human needs or globalization, in order to make informed decisions about our future. I see my project in this context, as contributing one more piece to the puzzle.”

And Justin’s own future? A career in natural resource management is a definite possibility, but he is also open to pursuing a Ph.D. and staying in research. Regardless of which path he ultimately takes, Justin and his new wife Savanna are looking forward to “a simple life, full of adventure.”

Photo of Justin by Savanna Chesworth.

Lauren Bell

May 2014

Lauren Bell

Second-year master’s student and 2013 Global Change Student Research Grant awardee Lauren Bell happily spent her first 18 years in Homer, Alaska, growing up on and around the ocean and mountains. But when it came time for college, Lauren knew that it was in the best interest of her personal growth to attend school outside of Alaska, so in 2007 she headed off to the San Francisco Bay Area to begin her college career at Stanford. Quickly drawn towards the ocean, Lauren spent the majority of her undergraduate years at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, in Monterey, California, which she found to be “the perfect place to craft my bachelor’s degree in marine biology.”

After graduating in 2011, Lauren spent her first summer back in the Homer area, diving and volunteering, and during that time became aware of UAF professor Katrin Iken and the work that she was doing on marine food webs in the Arctic. Though Lauren spent that winter backpacking through South America, she and Katrin stayed in contact, and once Katrin invited Lauren to join her lab, “I quickly took her up on her offer, applying for the master’s program in marine biology from Internet cafés across Patagonia.”

Lauren’s undergraduate thesis at Stanford was focused on the behavioral ecology of the Humboldt squid. Though she enjoyed the subject, Lauren was always seeking to expand what she was learning about the one species to the implications for the broader marine community. “It was the holistic view that intrigued me most—thus, when I was offered the chance to study marine food webs, I felt that this was an incredible opportunity to approach marine science from a wider, perhaps more interdisciplinary perspective.” Beyond the fact that the Arctic had always held a certain mystique for her, Lauren says she quickly recognized how marine research in these high latitudes is critical at this time of rapid global change. “I had no doubt that Arctic marine science was where I needed to next focus my energy and further education.” She began her graduate work at UAF in fall of 2012 and hasn’t looked back.

During the last few years Lauren has also become increasingly interested in communication, finding delight from engaging the public with the narrative that accompanies scientific inquiry. Thus, following completion of her master’s degree, Lauren intends to begin a new exploration in what it means to be both a science communicator and facilitator. Her career ambition is to maintain a balance between research and education that is to the maximum benefit of the community that she is a member of.

In her spare time, Lauren says “I love playing in the mountains, seeking powder during winter backcountry ski tours and exploring the alpine in the summer.” And as seems to be the case with many marine scientists, the sea is more than just a source of intellectual curiosity: “I grab every excuse to find my way back to the ocean – I am euphoric when beneath the surface scuba diving, and find my meditation through sea kayaking. It's always those deep, crisp breaths of salt-filled air that truly rejuvenate my mind.”

Check out the short video Lauren has put together about her master’s degree adventure:

Lauren’s Global Change Student Research Grant project, “Lower trophic level food web structure on the Beaufort Sea slope,” was funded by the Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research (CIFAR).

Photo of Lauren by Julia Dissen.

Nicole Swenson

February 2014

Nicole Swenson

Nicole Swenson, a recent UAF master’s degree recipient and 2011 CGC grant awardee, grew up loving Alaska and its outdoor playground. Born in Missoula, Montana, Nicole moved to Anchorage with her family when she was 4 years old, and her childhood was spent exploring the forests and beaches of southcentral Alaska. She returned to Missoula to attend the University of Montana (UM), earning an undergraduate degree in biology (with an emphasis in ecology) and a minor in wilderness studies, supporting herself during the summers back in Alaska as a wildlife technician for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Bristol Bay.

After completing her bachelor’s degree, in September 2009 Nicole began a position with the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP) at UAF under Drs. Dan Mann and Scott Rupp. At SNAP she worked on various ecological projects involving climate change in Alaska and led a summer of fieldwork on the Yukon and Tanana rivers.

After a year with SNAP, Nicole began developing her own research in sustainable food systems and agriculture in Alaska, a topic she had become deeply interested in both personally and academically. While at UM, she had taken classes on the ecological processes of organic farming, and this hands-on experience sparked a passionate interest in farming. From then on Nicole was involved in as many farming and local food activities as she could be; she interned at UM’s farm for two years, helped start a student garden at the university, interned with a burgeoning community food co-op, and gardened with her family in Fairbanks. Her subsequent involvement with climate change research at SNAP naturally led her to wonder about the implications of climate change on agriculture in Alaska.

And thus a master’s project was born: “Modeling changes in the length of the agricultural growing season in Interior Alaska,” which Nicole summarizes this way:

“The amplification of climate change and dependence upon imported foods at high latitudes makes Alaskans especially vulnerable to both global and local changes. Although many climate impacts present challenges, rising air temperatures could provide economic opportunities for Alaskan agriculturalists by extending the length of growing seasons. My master’s research explored the relationship between air temperature, soil temperature and growing season length in agricultural management systems in Interior Alaska to better understand how climate scenarios can be used to identify future agricultural opportunities. Air and soil temperature data were collected under four different crop systems and used in combination with historical observations to inform a model that projects usable growing degree-days in Interior Alaska to the end of the century. Increases of usable degree-days were projected to increase from 33-70% by 2100. In terms of calendar days, the model showed that by the end of the century, farmers may see an increase of 19-28 days between planting and harvest. These projections suggest that there may be increased success of currently marginally successful crops (e.g., canola, corn, and sunflowers). This estimated growing season extension also has implications for current local agricultural practices; with the potential for increased productivity and a longer profitable portion of the year. Such opportunities could lead to increased food security, but future planning will require culturally appropriate planning and institutional support.”

Halfway through her master’s degree, Nicole uncovered another piece of her career puzzle after she was awarded funding from the National Science Foundation GK-12 program, which partners STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduate students with local K-12 teachers and classrooms. Nicole worked with students in grades K-8 to help them understand the process and fun of science through hands-on experiments and lessons. She found interacting with the students and the public to be so rewarding and stimulating that instead of a career purely in research, she is now aiming for something with a strong outreach focus.

With master’s degree in hand, Nicole is now back in Alaska following another trip to Missoula--this time for her wedding to fiancé Carson Baughman last fall. She looks forward to investigating potential outreach career paths while enjoying time with her family, her husband, and dog, Autumn.

Photo of Nicole by Carson Baughman.

Tim Bartholomaus

November 2013

Tim Bartholomaus

CGC grant recipient Tim Bartholomaus entered college planning to study physics but geology caught his attention, and by the time he was working on a Master’s degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, glaciers were at the center of his studies. (Not surprisingly, perhaps, given that Tim was born in Brooklyn—which happens to rest atop an ancient glacial deposit!) This focus continued when he came to UAF in 2009 to pursue a Ph.D.

The following year, Tim submitted a proposal (Physical oceanography and tidewater glacier dynamics at Yahtse Glacier, Alaska) to the Global Change Student Research Grant Competition, where it was selected for support with funding from the Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research (CIFAR). We are pleased to note that a paper incorporating this work was published in mid-October 2013 in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, with Tim as lead author and Chris Larsen (Tim’s advisor and himself a former CGC awardee) and Shad O’Neel (a USGS glaciologist and yet another CGC awardee!) as co-authors.

Also in mid-October Tim successfully defended his dissertation and is on track to receive his Ph.D. in December. Then he’ll head south to Texas for a postdoctoral position at the University of Texas at Austin, where he’ll be part of a multidisciplinary five-university team investigating three adjacent tidewater glaciers in Greenland that each exhibit very different behaviors. He has already made one trip to Greenland this summer, during which he used the skills learned here at UAF to help set up the monitoring equipment for the project.

Not surprisingly, Tim is an avid outdoorsman and especially enjoys mountaineering and alpine climbing. The move to Texas will be a big change but fortunately he also loves cities and all they have to offer—and is very much looking forward to exploring Austin, its food, culture, and the vibrant music and arts scene. As a runner he will miss the UAF campus trails, though!

Tim is grateful for the time he has spent at UAF, where he’s been able to work with and learn from experts in the many different disciplines that apply to his research. He feels extremely fortunate to have been part of the glaciology group at UAF, who he describes as among the best in the world yet friendly and supportive.

While he doesn’t have any specific ideas about where he’ll end up after Austin, Tim and his wife Sophie both love Fairbanks and would be delighted if their path ultimately leads them back here.

We at CGC wish them all the best, wherever the road may take them!

Check out Tim's web page to learn more about his research. His October 2013 paper is the subject of a news article on the CIFAR site.

Greg Deemer

August 2013

Greg Deemer

Meet Greg Deemer, one of our 2013 Global Change Student Research Grant awardees! Born and raised in the southern climes of Atlanta, GA, and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Greg is now a Master’s student in Atmospheric Sciences at UAF under the guidance of Dr. Uma Bhatt. He is fascinated by the ever-changing nature of meteorology — “I’m guaranteed never to see the same thing twice!” Greg’s current interest is sea ice, which he finds compelling because of the inherent challenges for observation and prediction, and its importance for industry and local communities in Alaska.

Funding from the Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research (CIFAR), a partner in the Global Change Student Research Grant Competition, will support Greg’s work in the coastal communities of Wales and Shishmaref in the Bering Strait region, where he is distributing hand-held weather meters and digital cameras to local hunters and sea-ice experts for the purpose of collecting information on atmospheric and sea-ice conditions at the local scale. These observations are incorporated in weekly installments of the Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO), a program designed to serve as a subsistence hunting resource and a pilot program for short-term, community-scale sea ice prediction in the region. The observations may also play a role in sea-ice forecast model validation.

In addition to his graduate studies and research, Greg finds time to experience the great Alaskan outdoors by biking, skiing, and backpacking with friends. He’s also a huge fan of bluegrass music, and enjoys reading—especially science fiction, graphic novels, and biographies.