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Ole earns prestigious NSF fellowship

By Kari VanDerVeen
June 6, 2012

When Rachel Wieme '12 heads to Washington State University this fall to pursue a doctorate in soil science, she'll do so with the support of a prestigious fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Wieme was accepted into an NSF program called NSPIRE (Nitrogren Systems: Policy-Oriented Integrated Research and Education) at Washington State University. NSPIRE is a doctoral program for students from a variety of disciplines who want to focus their research on the nitrogen cycle, and it includes an emphasis on how to communicate scientific findings with public policy makers.

In addition to classes and thesis research, the NSPIRE program — which is part of the NSF's broader Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) initiative — also includes a three-month internship with a policy-making agency or organization. Wieme will be a member of Washington State University's Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, and her research will look broadly at agroecology.

"I will likely be researching nutrient cycling and management under alternative agricultural practices," she says.

Wieme, a biology and Spanish major at St. Olaf, became interested in agricultural systems and related research while on a study-abroad program in Costa Rica in the spring of 2011. As part of the program, she spent two months collecting data and testing organic herbicides on a cocoa (chocolate) farm.

Last summer Wieme was one of several St. Olaf students who teamed up with local farmer Dave Legvold to study the effects of varying nitrogen fertilizer levels on plant and soil properties and yield in his no-till corn fields. She continued that work into the fall as part of an independent research class with Professor of Biology Kathy Shea, and used her project and its results to advocate for more on-farm research programs in Minnesota to help improve agricultural practices.

Wieme also performed research on the St. Olaf Natural Lands through the Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and served as one of the student naturalists this year. "All of these things have been a great introduction for what I will continue to learn and experience with the NSPIRE program at WSU," she says.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or