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3 WKU students awarded U.S. EPA Greater Research Opportunity Fellowships

Three WKU students have been awarded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Greater Research Opportunity Fellowships.

Dana Biechele-Speziale of Grayson, Cayla Megan Baughn of Westmoreland, Tennessee, and Alexandra Marie Hezik of Campbellsville will receive up to $50,000 for the last two years of undergraduate study and a summer internship at an EPA research facility.

Dana Biechele-Speziale

Dana Biechele-Speziale

Dana Biechele-Speziale is majoring in Chemistry and Chinese and a student in the Honors College at WKU and the Chinese Flagship Program. She is the daughter of Jennifer Biechele and Sherri Speziale.

“Reading the words ‘We are pleased to inform you’ in the preview of my award notification email made me want to jump up and down with excitement,” Biechele-Speziale said. “Being an EPA Fellow is an honor, and I can’t begin to describe how important this award is for my future in academia and professional aspirations.”

Dr. Ali Er, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at WKU, has been working with Biechele-Speziale on research such as hydrogen generation from coal using pulsed laser irradiation. Hydrogen is considered a clean energy source and important alternative to fossil fuels, he said.

“In this work, Dana is going to help us produce hydrogen from different ranks of coal directly obtained from Kentucky mines by irradiating coal powder using intense nanosecond laser beams,” he said. “She is a very bright student and truly deserved this award.”

cayla baughn

Cayla Baughn

Cayla Megan Baughn is majoring in Geography/Environmental Studies and Religious Studies and a student in the Honors College at WKU. She is the daughter of Kim and Jeremy Baughn.

Baughn’s interest is in environmental science. She has participated in the Iceland Climate Change Challenge Faculty-Led Study Abroad program.

Baughn said the award “will allow me to follow my dream of using the skills I am building to benefit others and ‘change the world’ by cultivating my knowledge of human-environment interactions and learn how to transform them into healthy and mutually-beneficial interactions for the sake of mankind.”

Dr. Leslie North, Assistant Professor of Geography and Geology, said Baughn is a passionate and curious student and researcher. “This fellowship will help her continue to grow that passion and curiosity toward environmental science and will contribute to our scientific understanding of water resource dynamics,” she said.

Alex Hezik

Alex Hezik

Alexandra Hezik is majoring in Sustainable Agriculture (self-designed) and is a student in the Honors College at WKU and the Chinese Flagship program. She is the daughter of Bernard and Judy Hezik.

Hezik has been active in the area of sustainability as a Project Grow Fellow, WKU Student Government Association Sustainability Subcommittee member, WKU Climate Action Plan Committee Student Representative, 2014 Toppers at Sea participant and participant in the 2015 Climate Change Challenge trip to Iceland. Her goal is to earn a master’s degree in either Agroecology or Sustainable Agriculture and work in international food security. She also received the 2015 WKU President’s Award for Sustainability.

“Receiving this fellowship will allow me to further pursue work in sustainable and urban agriculture not just in the U.S., but also in China and Taiwan, for the next year and a half,” she said.

Martin Stone, Leichhardt Professor of Horticulture at WKU, said Hezik’s redesign of the front landscape at the Office of Sustainability “is changing the hearts and minds of the WKU community.” All of the plants in the landscape can be used for a food and/or medicinal purpose.

“She has researched plants that are both adapted for our climate and will provide benefit to humans or wildlife or both and used them to completely replace the turf and traditional landscape,” Dr. Stone said. “One of the most remarkable initiatives is that the makeover to an edible landscape is being accomplished without the use of traditional chemicals.  In such a highly visible location, she has attracted much attention to her idea.  She is an astute observer of nature and people and this project is a wonderful use of her talents.”

The students worked with WKU’s Office of Scholar Development to prepare their applications.

“Because of OSD, I have become a better writer and received three nationally-competitive scholarships during my time at WKU,” Hezik said.

Baughn said the OSD staff “helped me maneuver through the complexities of the national scholarship application process. The patience of the OSD, particularly of Dr. Audra Jennings, has encouraged me to not give up even when the grants, and writing them, can be extremely frustrating.”

Biechele-Speziale said OSD helped her realize her potential. “They pushed me to a whole new level, and, through that experience, I realized exactly what I was capable of in the presence of hard work and determination.”

About the Office of Scholar Development: OSD is committed to helping students on all campuses and in all majors and degree programs develop the vision, experience and skills to be independent, engaged scholars. OSD welcomes the opportunity to work with students interested in the U.S. EPA Greater Research Opportunity Fellowship or similar opportunities. Call to schedule an appointment with OSD at (270) 745-5043.

Contact: Audra Jennings, (270) 745-5043

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