NSF Awards Graduate Research Fellowship to Wooster’s Helen Siegel

Recent alumna will use funding towards advanced degree at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

May 25, 2017   /  

WOOSTER, Ohio – The National Science Foundation selected Helen Siegel of The College of Wooster as a recipient of one of the highly-sought awards from its Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).

siegel nsf award
Helen Siegel (right), pictured here talking with associate professor of geology Shelley Judge, is headed to Yale, where she’ll pursue a master’s of science degree. Her postgrad work is being fully funded via a graduate research fellowship from the NSF.

Siegel, from Amherst, N.Y., recently completed her studies as a geology major at Wooster, graduating summa cum laude via a perfect 4.00 GPA, and will now utilize the GRFP financial support towards a master’s degree at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Science, starting this August. GRFP provides a $34,000 annual stipend, plus a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance, for three years within a five-year fellowship period.

“NSF graduate fellowships are awarded to both undergraduates and to graduate students, so Helen was competing against graduate students who had a year of additional coursework and research,” explained Shelley Judge, associate professor of geology at Wooster and Siegel’s Independent Study (I.S.) advisor. “This is what makes her achievement so exciting. She was able to secure funding as she begins her graduate education … (it’s) a springboard for her studies in hydrology at Yale.”

Siegel’s research proposal for the fellowship involved hydrologic modeling (how water moves through rock), and the creation of a groundwater model that will ultimately help stakeholders, such as farmers, understand how much water they can pump at a given time.

Siegel, whose father, Donald Siegel ‘80, is also a Wooster alumni, credited earning the fellowship to the significant opportunities Wooster helped her take advantage of. “I got to do research at Wooster a lot younger than you would necessarily start at other institutions. I got to do it my sophomore year, so I’ve had three years of very big research papers, research projects that I’ve been able to bring to conferences and present,” she said.

Siegel’s previous experience includes summer research at a pair of widely-respected institutions – Biosphere 2, a 40-acre campus for controlled scientific studies that is owned by the University of Arizona, and then Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a national lab that conducts scientific research for the U.S. Department of Energy and is managed by the University of California.

The skills that Siegel learned during those stints helped translate into an award-winning I.S. at Wooster, “Projection of Groundwater Pumping Sustainability; Volta Wildlife Refuge, Merced County, California.” In brief, she evaluated groundwater pumping sustainability models using climate change projections at seasonal wetlands in California, where about one-fourth of the nation’s produce is grown. Siegel presented her I.S. at three national conferences.

Siegel, who spoke on behalf of her senior classmates at Commencement, capped her time at Wooster with a number of prestigious awards, most notably the College’s Jonas O. Notestein Prize as the student(s) with the highest academic standing in the class. She also garnered Phi Beta Kappa honors as a junior and won the Robert W. McDowell Prize in Geology.

Judge fully expects Siegel to excel at Yale and beyond. “Helen is a gem. I look forward to the day when she and I will meet at professional meetings, and she will have her Ph.D. As an educator, I have not had a student so independent and so unafraid to tackle research problems. I am excited for what the future holds for her because she has great promise and potential in the geological sciences and will be a great ambassador for outreach and education in the STEM fields,” remarked Judge.

According to the NSF, the GRFP is a critical program that helps develop a globally engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation’s leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.