Michigan Tech student wins grant to study bee decline

HOUGHTON — Bees are dying, and Cindy Fiser wants to know why. Now the federal Environmental Protection Agency is helping her look for answers.

Fiser, a fourth-year applied ecology and environmental sciences major in Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, has been named a winner of the EPA’s Greater Research Opportunities Undergraduate Fellowship. The award provides financial support as well as a summer internship with the EPA at one of three locations.

In Fiser’s case, Colorado will be her home for the next 12 weeks. There, she will get to lead her own research project, a study of bees, focusing on alternative treatments to pesticides and herbicides, such as native predators and grass buffers around areas of agriculture.

“Pesticides and herbicides may harm the environment by potentially contaminating native pollinators or predators and their habitat on site, as well as the surrounding rivers and streams,” Fiser said. She is hoping alternative treatment approaches will help bring back the diminishing bee population.

For the past three years, Fiser has worked with Michigan Tech doctoral student Colin Phifer as a research field assistant. She traveled with Phifer to Wisconsin and Brazil. Phifer also studies bees, more specifically how “land use change associated with bioenergy feedstocks impacts both birds and native bees.”  This work prepared Fiser for her EPA research project.

Graduate Student Mentor

It was Phifer who suggested she apply for the EPA fellowship.

“I’m very proud of her,” he said. “I brought the EPA fellowship to her attention and then mentored her in how to begin the application process. But Cindy did all the work: she worked very hard to draft, edit and revise a winning application. Cindy is bright and extremely focused. She’s almost self-taught on insect identification, and she is well prepared for her own project. She has the skills to develop research questions and testable hypotheses, to design a project to test those ideas and to complete the research. I expect her to excel in her EPA position and beyond. I will soon be working for her.”

Fiser spent a semester in Alberta Village near L’anse. The Integrated Field Practicum or “Fall Camp” brings students from various environmental disciplines together to work collecting data and writing a group final research paper. The experience allows students to learn from each other, providing an understanding of other fields of study.

“Cindy is one of those rare undergraduates who possess a level of maturity, confidence and capacity for responsibility and leadership, that one sees only every few years in my position,” said David Flaspohler, professor of forest resources and environmental sciences and Fiser’s advisor. “She is a future leader in ecological and environmental science.”

Environmental Problems, Research Solutions

“I want to get out there and do something,” Fiser said. “This is the first time I get to go to the public with information on the environmental problems we face and find a potential solution. I  am excited to head my own project, and hopefully the results will make a positive change.”

Fiser said she is especially grateful for the hands-on education she has received from Flaspohler and from Kathleen Halvorsen, professor of natural resource policy, and Christopher Webster, professor of forest resources and environmental science, as well as Phifer. She worked for the past two summers with Halvorsen, who is director of the Partnerships in International Research and Education program. She said that experience has provided her with a wealth of useful tools that she can now apply to her research project with the EPA.

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