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Elon student & alum receive NSF graduate fellowships

Amanda Bienz '12 and Chelsie Wagner '09 will each receive $30,000 annual stipends for three years while pursuing their doctorates.


A current Elon University senior and a graduate from the Class of 2009 received top fellowships this spring from the National Science Foundation in support of their upcoming graduate studies.

The fellowships will provide senior Amanda Bienz and Chelsie Wagner ‘09 each with $30,000 annual stipends for three years, plus the cost of tuition, which can be used at any U.S. graduate institution. Their awards were among 2,000 such grants distributed by the NSF.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowships recognize and support outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who are pursuing research-based master’s level and doctoral degrees. Geoffrey Lynn ’07 and Larissa Ferretti '09 are the only other Elon University students or alumni to have received the fellowship.

Amanda Bienz ‘12:

A mathematics and computer science double major from Angola, Ind., Bienz knew in the fourth grade she wanted a career involving computers, and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship will assist her as she begins a doctoral program in scientific computing this fall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Amanda Bienz '12

Bienz will work with large-scale computers for complex modeling, which builds upon her initial experience with scientific computing through undergraduate research of “magic polygons.” She twice participated in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program through the NSF, and during her Elon studies, she created a mobile application to assist children with learning disabilities and a GPS program, “Bread Crumbs,” that allows users to backtrack along routes.

“I like the problem-solving aspect to (programming),” Bienz said. “I’m very left-brained. And I’ve always liked math and was going to minor in it, but I came in with some credits and found out I only needed to take a few more classes for a major.”

Joel Hollingsworth, chair of the Department of Computing Sciences, praised Bienz’s work ethic and said she represents a growing trend of highly talented women in a field traditionally dominated by men. “This shows we produce students who are able to go out and win these awards,” he said. “Amanda is creating a trail for other students who can now follow her and do similar types of things.”

Bienz, a graduate of Angola High School in Indiana, is the daughter of Mark and Jean Bienz.

Chelsie Wagner ‘09:

A former Honors Fellow and biology major with an interest in ocean science, Wagner will apply this fall to doctoral programs for marine ecology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Hawaii. She is currently finishing a master’s program at Florida State University.

Chelsie Wagner '09

“It’s a game changer,” Wagner said. “I was really thinking that we’ll see what life is like with a master’s degree but this fellowship has provided me with the means of pursuing the life of a research professor, and it’s enabling me to apply to more competitive schools than I might have originally.”

Wagner first thought as a college freshman that she would pursue a career in medicine. Shortly after arriving at the university in 2005, she developed a passion for ecology, and a semester program in the Turks and Caicos Islands during her junior year steered her toward marine science.

The avid scuba diver and snorkeler has co-authored research papers about grouper fisheries. She is currently researching the effects of low-oxygen zones in the Gulf of Mexico on animals such as dolphins, turtles, sharks and rays.

“Ecology in general is interesting, just understanding how different organisms impact each other, especially as humans alter the sea by adding invasive species and/or changing the temperature,” she said. “If we understand how organisms interact with each other before we affect them, or as we affect them, we can predict how communities will look in the future.”

Wagner’s Honors thesis adviser remembers her ability to collect and analyze data as an undergraduate that rivals the scholarship of many graduate students. “Chelsie always had a smile on her face and was one of the most conscientious researchers I’ve worked with,” said Professor Michael Kingston in the Department of Biology. “It’s fabulous that she got the NSF fellowship. That’s really huge.”

Wagner is about to marry Travis Counsell, an Elon alum from the Class of 2011. She is a native of Phoenixville, Pa. The graduate of Phoenixville Area High School is the daughter of Bill Wagner of Phoenixville and Marti Wagner of Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Eric Townsend,
5/11/2012 4:07 PM