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Research scholarships help Blugolds explore new possibilities

| LeBrenda Street

As a senior in high school Sarah Sortedahl of Spring Valley signed up to take an individual science tour of the UW-Eau Claire campus. It was during this visit that the seeds were planted for a successful college research career. Sortedahl was able to sit in on an “Introduction to Materials Science” lecture given by Dr. Elizabeth Glogowski, assistant professor of materials science, as well as meet with Dr. Matthew Jewell, assistant professor of materials science, to talk about the materials science program.

“After this tour I understood how much UW-Eau Claire emphasized undergraduate research and I decided to attend UWEC,” Sortedahl said. “When I arrived on campus Dr. Jewell asked me to join his research team working on superconducting wires. I have been working with Dr. Jewell now for just under three years, and I am happy I accepted his offer because participating in student-faculty research has opened many doors.”

Sortedahl’s most recent opportunity was the James R. and Vicki Lord Larson Fellowship she was awarded this spring.

The Larson Fellowship is the newest scholarship available to students participating in research. Other awards include the Kell Container Corp. Scholarship and the national Goldwater Scholarship. The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) hosts an annual ceremony to honor the award winners and their faculty mentors.

James R. and Vicki Lord Larson Undergraduate Research Fellowship

This new award was created and endowed by Dr. Vicki Lord Larson. It also honors her late husband, James Larson, who passed away in 2004. The new fellowship consists of a $2,500 scholarship that is supplemented by a student stipend and project expense funds. The faculty mentor also receives a summer research stipend during the project period.

Larson began her career in academia at UW-Eau Claire, serving as a faculty member in the department of communication sciences and disorders and in administrative positions on campus from 1973-1991. She returned to UW-Eau Claire to serve as the university’s interim chancellor in 2005-06. The Larson Fellowship is awarded through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation to an undergraduate student who is outstanding in research. Lord Larson was able to attend the award ceremony and assisted in the presentation of the award.

Sortedahl, a double major in materials science and geology, continues to work with Jewell examining in detail how superconducting wires used in super magnets fail under stress. Superconducting magnets are commonly used in MRI machines. As Sortedahl’s mentor, Jewell’s role is to give her the tools she needs to be successful, allowing her to do the work and solve the problems that will inevitably crop up during the project.

Heather Hintz of Madison received the honorable mention recognition. She will pursue a new phase of her work with Dr. Bart Dahl, associate professor of chemistry. Hintz, with Dahl’s mentoring, will study the synthesis and analysis of chemical compounds that may act as molecular switches.

Kell Container Corp. Scholarship

The Kell Container Corp. Scholarship, like the Larson Fellowship, is based on a student research proposal, with winners receiving a $2,500 scholarship, a research stipend and project expense funds. The faculty mentor also receives a summer stipend during the project period.

This year’s Kell Scholar is Michael McDonnell of Spring Valley, a physics major whose mentor is Dr. Stephen Drucker, professor of chemistry. McDonnell’s project involves using computational techniques in chemistry as powerful tools to predict the structure and reactivity of molecules.

“By investigating molecular structure computationally, we can better predict how and under what circumstances a molecule will react,” McDonnell said. “This information is useful because it can provide chemists with a means to create new compounds and materials without having to resort to trial and error.”

The honorable mention award went to Elizabeth Laskowski of Osseo. She will be work with Glogowski on the development of a polymer that can remove plastic microbeads from the environment. 

Goldwater Scholarship nominees

The Goldwater Scholarship is a prestigious national scholarship designed to promote scholars planning a career in science, math or engineering research. Being selected by STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) faculty to be the campus nominees is a prestigious honor. Each year UW-Eau Claire is allowed to nominate four students.

This year’s nominees were Charles Lindberg of Frederic; Laskowski, Sortedahl and McDonnell. McDonnell was awarded honorable mention in the national competition. Goldwater Scholarship recipients are chosen based on student nominees’ essays relating to their research projects.

McDonnell’s advice for students who are putting together research proposals is straightforward.

“Understand your audience,” McDonnell says. “Depending on the grant, your proposal may or may not be read by people within your research field. As such, it can often be to your advantage to avoid the use of jargon and avoid overemphasizing the small details of your project. Instead, focus on the big picture of the importance of your research and how you’re going to accomplish your goals.”

Students often choose UW-Eau Claire for its commitment to undergraduate research. Along with scholarships, ORSP offers several programs that provide grant support and opportunities for faculty and students to engage in collaborative research. From student-faculty research collaboration to summer research experiences, UW-Eau Claire is enabling students to develop their research skills and discover new possibilities.

Photo caption: Stephen Drucker, professor of chemistry, and Michael McDonnell collaborate on research. McDonnell received the Kell Container Corp. Scholarship.