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National Science Foundation Awards Fellowships to Two Willamette Alumni

Two Willamette alumni, Monica Rother ’05 and Jennifer Bufford ’08, have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, which provide thousands of dollars annually for up to three years to students with extraordinary promise in the sciences, mathematics or engineering.

Rother, who majored in environmental science at Willamette, is pursuing a master’s degree in geography at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Bufford is working toward a PhD in botany at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She majored in biology at Willamette and in 2007 received a prestigious national Goldwater Scholarship for science students.

Rother is currently using dendrochronology (tree-ring science) to study how climate historically served to drive fire across an area in northwestern New Mexico. She hopes to use her findings to make inferences regarding fire behavior in the face of future climate change.

“My current research is motivated by interactions with Dr. Karen Arabas at Willamette,” Rother says. “Although I did not have the opportunity to collaborate with her directly on her research, a course I took from her and Dr. Joe Bowersox provided me the opportunity to travel across the state of Oregon and study varying aspects of forest fire ecology and management.”

While at Willamette, Rother was co-president of the Environmental Community Outreach Society. She was also a Webber Scholar, a Willamette program that allowed her to design and implement lesson plans aimed at encouraging girls to pursue science careers.

“My Willamette education positioned me as a strong applicant for the NSF fellowship,” she says. “The small class sizes gave me the opportunity to form close personal relationships with my professors and fellow classmates. I also feel that writing my senior thesis was crucial in my academic development. The close-knit nature of the Willamette community gave me the structure and support I needed to develop my current research interests and skills.”

Bufford’s research compares invasive and non-invasive plants in Hawaii to determine why some introduced species have not become invasive. She plans to study different stages of plants’ growth and development, focusing especially on seed and seedling stages.

She began researching plants while at Willamette with biology Professor Gary Tallman, although their work together involved cellular biology. “I’ve found that conducting research with Professor Tallman taught me much about the scientific process and writing, and gave me insight into plants, the way they function and why they are so important,” she says.

Bufford was president of the Bio Undergraduates Club, and she taught after-school science lessons to elementary school students through the Outdoor Pursuits club. She also tutored Native American high school students at Chemawa Indian School and was an international peer advisor in the Willamette Office of International Education.

She says the knowledge she gained at Willamette about scientific writing, designing and conducting experiments, and thinking critically about research questions was invaluable to her current work. “Through my work at Willamette I was able to participate in the scientific process, which in turn directed my career path and has helped make both graduate school and the fellowship possible,” Bufford says. “I am grateful for my Willamette education, which has placed me in good stead, and especially for the professors who made my experience so rich.”