UND Today

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13 a lucky number for bright UND scholars

Unprecedented number of students advance or win top awards in single semester

Eternal Flame
UND archival image.

UND scholars have been dealt a winning hand this spring.

In an extraordinary showing, Academic Support & Fellowship Opportunities Coordinator Yee Han Chu says students across STEM fields, languages and communication have earned an unprecedented number of prestigious national and international scholarships.

“There has to be something in the water — in a good way,” Chu said. “Our students have had an amazingly productive and prosperous semester. We usually celebrate eight big wins over the course of a year, but this time, we have 13 in just one semester.

“So, wow! I really feel like I’m staring at the dawn of something amazing to come from each one of them. It’s a breathtaking sight.”

Topping off the list of award winners is Fulbright finalist Jacob Moll, a graduate teaching assistant in UND’s Geography & Geographic Information Science Department. The Fulbright grant, administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, will allow Moll to work as an English teaching assistant in North Macedonia.

As an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America and also the recipient of his department’s Lee and Marlene Okeson Geography Fellowship, Moll is particularly well-suited for his second role as a cultural ambassador for America.

“Jacob is very humble about his achievements, but he already earned his membership in an elite group,” Chu said. “Only four percent of Scouts ever reach the highest rank of Eagle Scout, but he achieved it by demonstrating great leadership and industriousness.”

For his Eagle Scout project, he put in 700 hours over a single summer to raise money and construct a hillside stairway leading down to a riverside trail, Chu said. He oversaw the whole project and also led a troop, planned meetings and campouts and mentored younger Scouts.

“I have no doubt, Moll is going to bring those same leadership and teaching skills to his Fulbright experience,” Chu said.

That thought was seconded by UND Environmental Studies Director and Professor Gregory Vandeberg of the Department of Geography & Geographic Information Science.

Vandeberg, who served as Moll’s thesis advisor for his master’s degree, had this to say: “Jacob has been fantastic to work with and has the skills and determination to be a great teacher as part of the Fulbright program in North Macedonia.”

Two more students — a recent UND graduate and a UND freshman — also advanced in separate highly competitive Fulbright cultural exchange programs.

  • Payton Cole, who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Fine Arts as well as a Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate, was a semifinalist for the English Teaching Assistant Program in the Czech Republic.
  • Mataya Erickson, a freshman Honors student majoring in Elementary Education, interviewed for a chance to win a place in the Fulbright United Kingdom Summer Institute. The summer institutes are three- and four-week programs for U.S. undergraduates who have little to no travel experience outside North America. Winners get a chance to explore the culture, heritage and history of the United Kingdom while experiencing higher education at a U.K. university.

Though neither Cole nor Erickson were final winners, Chu said the fact that they advanced as far as they did is a proud achievement in and of itself. She said the U.K. Fulbright Commission last year received more than 830 applications from 48 states for just 30 spots across six participating U.K. institutions. That’s an acceptance rate near just 4 percent.

The scientists step up

Three UND students were recognized by the National Science Foundation this spring. Vincent Ledvina and Michaela L. Neal both earned Graduate Research Fellowships, while a third student, Sydney Menne, had to turn down the same award.

Menne, a senior majoring in Physics and Mathematics, was also a 2023 Marshall Scholar and 2023 Matthew Isakowitz Fellow. Chu explained that she had to decline her award because she’ll already be studying in the U.K. this fall through her Marshall Scholarship.

The last time a UND student was awarded the distinguished NSF-GRFP was in 2019, Chu said. Further, no more than two UND students previously had received the award in a single year, she added.

“For UND to receive three NSF-GRFP awards in one year is absolutely unprecedented,” Chu said. “It’s a triumph! And I want to spotlight the great work Dr. Alena Kubatova is doing to promote the NSF-GRFP. Her course that’s helping students apply for this award helps make the process more transparent and accessible.

“I feel incredible gratitude each day for not only the students I serve in pursuit of these wonderful opportunities but also for the chance to work with amazing faculty who care so deeply about student success.”

Ledvina graduated from UND in 2022 with a degree in Physics and minors in Mathematics, Space Studies and Astrophysics. He’s now a first-year graduate student at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where he’s pursuing his doctorate in Space Physics.

While at UND, he worked as a STEM ambassador for the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium. He also helped found the North Dakota Dual Aurora Camera project and served as the president of the Northern Sky Astronomical Society.

Neal is a graduate student in UND’s Geological Engineering program. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Mathematics in 2022.

Chu said the five-year fellowship provides three years of financial support, inclusive of an annual stipend of $37,000. Overall, the purpose of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is to “ensure the quality, vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States.”

In particular, it seeks to broaden participation in science and engineering by traditionally underrepresented groups such as women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities.

Making UND proud

As Chu shared the news of UND’s wealth of honored spring scholars, still more winners and finalists were being announced. Among them are:

  • Ariel Brunner, a sophomore majoring in Norwegian and minoring in International Studies. She is a Project GO winner. Administered by the Department of Defense through the Defense Language National Security Education Office, Project GO is a nationwide program open to all qualified ROTC students. Recipients of the award are offered fully funded opportunities in critical language education, overseas study and cross-cultural experiences that prepare them to be future military leaders. Brunner will participate in the University of Montana’s Hybrid China PGO program from May 21 to July 29. She’ll then study overseas at the National Taiwan University.
  • Bebas Dhungana, a sophomore majoring in Economics and Computer Science, was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State — with funding administered by the American Councils for International Education. The CLS program is an immersive summer program that allows American students to learn languages considered essential to the country’s engagement with the world. Fewer than 10 percent of applicants are awarded the scholarship that’s designed to promote rapid language gains and essential intercultural fluency in regions critical to U.S. security and economic prosperity. Dhungana will study from June 13 to Aug. 9 at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Jaipur, India.
  • Sydney Smith, a senior majoring in Communications and minoring in Graphic Design, received a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. The scholarship program offers students with limited financial means to study or intern abroad, providing them with skills critical to U.S. national security and economic prosperity. Smith will study at the American Institute for Foreign Study Global Education Center in Florence, Italy.
  • Ethan McGregor, a Political Science senior with plans to work in Eastern European security, is an alternate for the 2023 Critical Language Scholarship-Spark for studies in beginning Russian. The program administered by the U.S. Department of State provides opportunities for American undergrads to study Arabic, Chinese or Russian at the beginning level. Designed to leverage best practices in online language learning, CLS-Spark gives students the opportunity to study critical languages virtually when they otherwise may not have access to studying the languages on their own campuses.
  • Parker Johnson, a junior majoring in Physics (with an emphasis on Astrophysics and Computational Physics and minors in Computer Science and Mathematics), was named a Stony Brook University Research Experiences for Undergraduates recipient. As a participant in the 10-week program, Johnson will work with Mike Zingale on a computational astrophysical hydrodynamics project. Chu said Stony Brook received more than 180 applications but accepted only 10 students to participate. Johnson will receive a stipend of $6,000 to support his research, plus a $500 allowance for travel. Participants also will take in weekly seminars and workshops to learn about a variety of topics related to research skills and graduate school. Johnson will stay an additional week to immerse himself in the fundamentals of plasma theory and experimentation — an area of physics rarely encountered in an undergraduate program.
  • Kordell Tan, a doctoral student in Biomedical Engineering at UND’s College of Engineering & Mines, was named the winner of the American College of Clinical Engineering Student Paper Competition. The contest recognizes students in a clinical engineering or related doctoral program whose work “contributes significantly to the body of knowledge in the field.” Tan’s paper, “Development of a Vein Detecting Imaging System,” will be published on the ACCE site. Tan’s paper was developed through the assistance of Bo Liang in the course Advanced Topics in Electrical Engineering.
  • Patricia “Trece” Hopp, a senior completing a degree in Atmospheric Sciences, has been named an American Meteorological Society Graduate Fellow. The AMS awards recognize outstanding students who are about to begin graduate study in atmospheric sciences or related disciplines. Hopp will receive a $24,000 stipend for her initial year of graduate study, plus partial travel support to attend the AMS annual meeting. AMS also offers its fellows special tours of various agencies in Washington, D.C., as well as ongoing academic and career support. Hopp plans to study at the University of Michigan School of Environment & Sustainability, with a focus on environmental policy and planning.