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UW Ecology Student Receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

July 5, 2018
man holding gps antenna
Samuel Case, a second-year Ph.D. student at UW, is the recent recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. He will investigate the role of introduced game birds as seed dispersers in Hawaiian forests. Here, he uses GPS/UHF telemetry to track game birds in the Waianae Range of Oahu. (Samuel Case Photo)

You could say that Samuel Case’s education has gone to the birds. The University of Wyoming Ph.D. student received a feather in his cap, recently earning a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship.

Case, currently a second-year Ph.D. student in UW’s Program in Ecology, will use his fellowship to investigate the role of introduced game birds as seed dispersers in Hawaiian forests.

“I'm exploring the impacts of these birds on Hawaiian forests by examining their diet; effects of gut passage on seed germination; and movement ecology,” explains Case, who is from Eden Prairie, Minn.

Game birds were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands for recreational hunting, and two well-established species, the Kalij Pheasant and Erckel's Francolin, have the potential to offer conservation benefits for native plants by dispersing seeds and substituting roles of extinct frugivorous birds, he says. Alternatively, these birds might accelerate invasion processes by dispersing seeds of non-native plants more frequently than native ones.

“This fellowship has provided me with the support necessary to pursue my lifelong passion for science and conservation,” says Case, who began his current research in 2017. “For that, it is invaluable.”

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is one of the nation’s most highly competitive awards for graduate studies. It offers, among other things, three years of support (within a five-year period) with an annual $34,000 stipend; a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance; international research and professional development opportunities; and the freedom to conduct research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education that recipients choose. For the 2018 competition, NSF received more than 12,000 applications and made 2,000 award offers.

“I’m so grateful for this support -- not only to advance my education, but also to grow professionally as an NSF fellow,” Case says.

Because the fellowship is taking place during his doctoral research at UW, the fellowship funding is currently in reserve. Case says he will conduct his fellowship research from June 2019 through May 2022.

Case adds he feels fortunate to be in UW’s Program in Ecology, crediting “our amazing faculty and graduate student community.”

“My adviser, Dr. Corey Tarwater, has been a phenomenal mentor and a huge source of inspiration for me,” he says.

Tarwater is an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Zoology and Physiology.

About the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a vital part of NSF efforts to foster and promote excellence in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics by recognizing talent broadly from across the nation and U.S. territories. The awards are provided to individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements. The group is diverse, including 1,156 women; 461 individuals from underrepresented minority groups; 75 persons with disabilities; 27 veterans; and 780 senior undergraduates. The new fellows come from 433 baccalaureate institutions.

Former NSF fellows include numerous individuals who have made transformative breakthroughs in science and engineering; have become leaders in their chosen careers; and been honored as Nobel laureates.

Launched in 1952 shortly after Congress established NSF, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program represents the nation's oldest continuous investment in the U.S. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce.

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