Since 2017, SEGS has supported an annual Student Research/Field Work Grant Opportunity to help develop our next generation of geoscientific researchers and professionals in the southeast. For 2022, we were pleased to receive 14 graduate applications and 2 undergraduate applications. The Awards Committee was impressed with each proposal and commends all applicants for their research efforts. In fact, SEGS leadership had originally allocated funding for 1 graduate award and 1 undergraduate award, but after reviewing applications, voted to increase the number of awards as high as finances reasonably allowed. For 2022 we’ve decided to fund 5 graduate and 2 undergraduate awards of varying amounts totaling $8,000! To ensure the fairest possible awarding procedure, a panel of volunteer committee members used a quantitative scoring approach, leveraging experts from multiple disciplines across public, private, and academic sectors.

Seven panelists individually reviewed and scored each proposal on a 20-point scale, considering a range of factors including: strength of presentation, applicability of research, expression of award funds use, reference letters, and GPA. To account for differences amongst panelists (that is, some panelists scored lower, others higher), and to allow for fair comparison, the scores were normalized into z-scores (number of standard deviations from the mean, based on the panelist’s own score population).

Additionally, panelists with relationships to applicants recused themselves from scoring those applications. Each proposal was then assigned an overall score based on the median of the seven standardized scores, with the undergraduate and graduate proposals ranked separately. There was surprising consistency among the top scorers for each panelist. Finally, the results were discussed at a teleconference, with panelists opting to follow the standardized ranking to select proposals for awards, resulting in the following winners.


Top Tier Graduate Student Awards – $2,000 each

Chaloemporn “Chloe” Ponprasit is a master’s student at the University of Alabama spearheading an ambitious project to calibrate the first statewide groundwater flow and transport model for the Alabama. Her advisor, Dr. Yong Zhang, noted that the work will provide significant advances in understanding Alabama groundwater resources. Chloe’s passion for hydrologic modelling was sparked by the 2018 rescue of the youth soccer team from the Tham Laung Cave, for which she later developed a model and map working as a geologist for the Thailand Department of Groundwater Resources.

Yonesha “Yannie” Donaldson is a doctoral student at the University of Georgia employing geophysical methods to explore the development and geometry of inland freshwater lenses in New Mexico and Florida. The work will improve understanding of these lenses as water supply resources, which may be particularly useful in water-scarce areas, as well as aid models for managed aquifer recharge. Her advisor, Dr. Adam Milewski, praised her work as “novel with a high degree of scientific merit.” In addition to her research, Yannie is active in additional research projects and volunteering at events to assist other students.

Second Tier Graduate Student Awards – $1,000 each

Leanne Stepchinski is a doctoral student at the University of South Florida developing a numerical model of an archetypical watershed wetland network. Her advisor, Dr. Mark Rains, explained that Leanne’s conceptual and technical approach has overcome a major barrier that has previously limited scientific understanding how groups of wetlands function together. The model demonstrates how modifications to wetland watershed placement and connectivity influence downgradient waters, with implications for restoration and management. Leanne is also active in teaching and various research and student groups.

Tyelyn Brigino is a master’s student at the University of South Florida studying groundwater’s contribution to streamflow in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula Lowlands. As groundwater use continues to increase in the region, the work will help conservation of salmonids that rely on the streams. Her advisor, Dr. Mark Rains, noted that Tyelyn’s work has produced especially interesting findings on the wintertime importance of groundwater and the relative and time-varying contributions of seeps and springs to streamflow. Tyelyn also serves as a stable isotope laboratory technician and teaching assistant.

Third Tier Graduate Student Award – $600

Michael Field is a doctoral student at the University of Florida developing open-source code to model the bathymetry and uncertainty thereof of a glacier in the West Antactric Ice Sheet. Models of ice sheet stability, which underly sea level rise projections, are sensitive to this bathymetry data, which are measured indirectly and therefore poorly constrained. His advisor, Dr. Emma “Mickey” MacKie, lauded his creativity and expertise in machine learning methods, which he has leveraged as co-author of a forthcoming geostatistical paper and in mentoring undergraduate researchers.

First Tier Underaduate Student Award – $1,000

Noah Yawn is an undergraduate student at Auburn University seeking to connect the geochemistry of the Ketona Glades in Alabama to its unique and highly diverse flora. The work will produce the first detailed geochemical characterization of the Ketona Dolomite and overlying soils, to be compared against nearby units which support less biological diversity, furthering awareness and conservation efforts. His advisor, Dr. Marilyn Vogel, commended his exceptional knowledge of southeastern botany. Noah collaborated on a virtual field trip for the Southeastern Section of the Geological Society of America, which can be viewed on YouTube.

Second Tier Undergraduate Student Award – $400

Melaney Lara is an undergraduate student at Florida International University studying sources of freshwater to Biscayne Bay adjacent to a coastal wetland rehydration project using sampling, isotope analysis, and mixing models. Melaney has already completed a summertime analysis, which indicates rainwater as the dominant freshwater source, and now seeks to conduct a wintertime analysis, when canal or groundwater might prevail. Her advisor, Dr. René M. Price, noted that Melaney has “outstanding commitment and enthusiasm for her research.” Melaney presented preliminary results at the 2022 Geological Society of America meeting.

Please join us in congratulating these excellent student researchers! Winners will provide updates on their research via newsletter, field trip, presentation, or other means to SEGS membership next year. Stay tuned for these updates, as well as next year’s application, in 2023!