(Photo by Shane Opatz)
A career exploration project in the sixth grade sparked Trevor Nelson’s interest in geology, and since becoming “hooked” after one class his first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he’s never looked back.
Now a UW-Eau Claire senior, it appears the geology major from Hammond is well suited for his chosen field — to say the least.
Nelson recently was named a recipient of a 2020 Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious U.S. national scholarships awarded to individuals “who show exceptional promise of becoming this nation’s next generation of natural sciences, mathematics and engineering research leaders,” according to the Goldwater program website.
Nelson is the ninth Blugold to be named a Goldwater Scholar over the past 13 years. The scholarship includes an award of up to $7,500 a year to help cover a recipient’s college tuition, fees, room and board.
Contributing to Nelson’s selection for the Goldwater Scholarship was his experience doing faculty-student research as a UW-Eau Claire undergraduate. He has worked on research with both Dr. Robert Lodge, assistant professor of geology, and Dr. Phillip Ihinger, professor and chair of the geology department.
“The biggest takeaway from my research with Drs. Ihinger and Lodge are that you must continue to read literature on related subjects in order to piece together your own hypotheses,” Nelson says. “Realizing that you are sometimes adding to a bigger picture is inspiring when you put your own twist on your project.”
Lodge and Nelson participated in five weeks of field work and continue ongoing analyses as collaborators in Metal Earth, a $104 million international research program led by Laurentian University. The project is reshaping knowledge of the geology and mineral potential of the Archean cratons in Ontario, Canada.
“Trevor’s abilities as a field geologist — a fundamental part of being a successful geoscience researcher — are unparalleled amongst his peers and predecessors,” Lodge wrote in a letter recommending Nelson for the Goldwater honor. “I believe that Trevor is one of the most promising student researchers that I have interacted with — ever. His intelligence, research abilities, enthusiasm for learning and eagerness to work are inspirational to students and professionals alike and will ensure he’ll prosper beyond his time here at UW-Eau Claire.”
Despite being an undergraduate, Nelson “seems to have a natural insight into what makes his research important to the geoscience field,” Lodge wrote. “What is remarkable is that we are only getting started on our research together and we will generate additional datasets with his samples. He will learn geoscience concepts that extend well beyond his undergraduate education, and he has the intellect to get it done.”
Nelson attributes his selection for the Goldwater Scholarship to the support he has received from Lodge and others at UW-Eau Claire.
“The backing by my professors, Dr. Phil Ihinger and Dr. Robert Lodge, my Goldwater Scholarship mentor, Dr. Karen Havholm, and the entire geology faculty helped me through the entire process,” Nelson says. “Everyone connected to me has made a positive impact and created an amazing once-in-a-lifetime undergraduate experience. I am truly thankful for all of my connections through UW-Eau Claire and could not have received this scholarship without all of the continued support.”
Havholm, UW-Eau Claire’s recently retired assistant vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, was the university’s campus representative for the Goldwater Scholarship Program when Nelson applied for the honor.
In guiding Nelson through the Goldwater process, “I learned that there is much more to Trevor than good grades,” Havholm says. “He has a strong work ethic, is not deterred by even major setbacks, responds positively to critique of his work, and is extremely organized as he balances full participation in a varsity sport with his academics. That allows him to take advantage of learning opportunities, such as the two research projects he has worked on. It was a pleasure to work with him and I am thrilled with his Goldwater success.”
Nelson agrees that his multiple involvements at UW-Eau Claire, including being a member of the Blugold football team as well as collaborating on research with his professors, have helped him learn to keep things in balance.
“Being part of the UW-Eau Claire football team has been one of the largest aspects of my life while attending UW-Eau Claire,” Nelson says. “It complements my academics and makes me even more focused on what my priorities are and how I schedule my everyday life.”
Staying focused includes keeping in mind some particular advice from head football coach Wesley Beschorner, to “be where your feet are,” Nelson says. “That small phrase reminds me to focus on everything I have — all of my academics, athletics, family and friends.”
Nelson is determining whether to attend graduate school or join the workforce immediately following his graduation from UW-Eau Claire, but his eventual career goal is to work in the metallic mining industry with a focus on improving mining processes.
“What intrigues me about metallic mining is that it is the basis of nearly everything in our lives nowadays,” Nelson says. “Metal is the basis of our phones, cars and just about anything you can think of.”