UM Students Continue Research with National Science Foundation Grants

April 24, 2017

MISSOULA – Two biology students and a geography student from the University of Montana have won National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships for their research.

Brianna Rick, from Burnsville, Minnesota, is a first-year graduate student in geography working on her master’s degree as part of the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring project with geography Professor Anna Klene. Rick will use the award toward earning her doctorate after finishing the program in spring 2018 and furthering research on vegetation/permafrost interactions in northern Alaska.

Emily Kopania, from El Dorado Hills, California, will use the award to fund her education as a doctoral student in the Organismal Biology, Ecology and Evolution program.

She works in UM’s Good Lab, studying empirical genetics and genome evolution. Her interests center on understanding how new species are formed through evolution, and in particular how the evolution of male reproduction results in sterility for species of mice, how it influences fertility and how new species evolve from it.

Hila Tzipora Chase, from New York City and Israel, is also a first-year doctorate student in OBEE and works in the Tobalske flight lab in UM’s College of Humanities and Sciences. She is interested in studying trabecular bones and how the anatomy of diverse birds, such as ducks and chickens, relates to their ecology. She then uses the information to interpret fossil bones. Chase worked for a year at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, researching human bones.

“We are excited for these outstanding UM students to have received such national distinction,” said Charles Janson, associate dean and professor in the Division of Biological Sciences. “At a practical level, the support from NSF allows these exceptional young students to really focus on developing their research. Their ideas and energy promote the quality of academic programs for all our students.”

NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are based on an individual’s potential to contribute to STEM fields within the United States. The annual stipend for 2017-18 is $34,000. Awardees receive three years of support. The NSF awards around 2,000 individuals annually at institutions across the United States.  

“This is not only a prestigious fellowship, but also an excellent opportunity for our students to have stable support as they move through their graduate programs,” said David Shively, Department of Geography chair. “We are so pleased that Bri, Emily and Hila have received such recognition and support.”

Founded in 1952, the NSF’s GRFP is the country’s oldest fellowship program to support graduate students in STEM fields. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Google’s founder and the co-author of “Freakonomics.”

For more information on the GRFP, visit


Contact: Doug Emlen, program director, UM Organismal Biology, Evolution and Ecology program, 406-243-2535,; Anna Klene, professor, UM Department of Geography, 406-243-4302,