Global Change Fellowship

With support from the Virginia Tech Graduate School, the Interfaces of Global Change IGEP awards four 12-month Ph.D. assistantships every academic year, intended to support students who have demonstrated commitment to and engagement within the IGC program, and who will benefit from the funding in a way that will enhance the interdisciplinary and global-change aspects of their research. To be eligible to apply for this assistantship, students should have been enrolled in the IGC IGEP for at least 12 months, have not previously received an IGC fellowship award, and be in good academic standing with their mentor(s), home department, and the Virginia Tech Graduate School.


The 2021-22 IGC IGEP fellowship application deadline is 5 PM EST April 15, 2021.

To apply for a Global Change Fellowship:

Global Change Fellowship 2021 RFP [.PDF]

Global Change Fellowship 2021 RFP [.DOC]

Applications will be evaluated by a committee of faculty using an admissions rubric that evaluates the student’s professional credentials, the student’s level of engagement in the IGC IGEP, pertinence of the student’s research to global change, the interdisciplinary nature of the work, and the student’s plan for using the one-year fellowship.

Please pay close attention to the application requirements described below. Incorrectly formatted or incomplete applications will not be considered by the admissions committee.

Application Review Criteria for Fellowship Awards:

  • Applicant’s professional credentials
  • Applicant’s level of engagement in the IGC IGEP and contributions to inclusion and diversity
  • Pertinence of student’s research to global change
  • The interdisciplinary nature of the work
  • Applicant’s plan for using the one year fellowship

Applicants should submit the following materials in PDF format, addressed to the IGC Admissions Review Committee, to Jess Zielske, IGC Program Coordinator via email at jcoker@vt.edu:

1.   The one-page Cover Sheet

2.   A CV that includes your graduate GPA

3.   An application letter, not to exceed 2 pages (12 point font), that is divided into 3 sections that address these topics:

    • IGC IGEP Engagement: How has the IGC IGEP advanced your professional development to date, and how have you contributed to the program? How have you contributed to fostering and inclusive and diverse IGC IGEP community?
    • Research & Policy/Science Communication Statement: What kind of interdisciplinary research are you conducting and how does it relate to global change? How are you employing your IGC IGEP training related to the science-policy interface and/or science communication in your work?
    • Plans for Fellowship Use: How will you use the one-year fellowship to advance your professional development?

4.   A letter of support from the applicant’s graduate mentor, not to exceed 1 page, that explains:

    • The applicant’s progress towards their Ph.D. and notable accomplishments
    • The applicant’s contributions to the IGC IGEP and/or other service-related activities
    • How the applicant’s training will benefit from the one-year fellowship

      The faculty letter of support should be sent as a PDF file directly to the GCC Program Coordinator, Jess Zielske.

The student’s application (Items 1-3 above) should be submitted as a single pdf file by e-mail to GCC Program Coordinator, Jess Zielske; E-mail address: jcoker@vt.edu. Label files as LAST NAME_GlobalChangeFellowshipApplication2021.

2021 GLOBAL CHANGE FELLOWS:

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Chloe Moore

PHD CANDIDATE, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

Chloe is interested in disentangling the processes underlying patterns of biodiversity and identifying why species occur where they do to improve biodiversity conservation efforts. Conservation is often aimed at protecting habitat that encompasses a high number of co-occurring species, or high species richness. To capture a more accurate and wholistic understanding of organismal variation, she is comparing the spatial distribution of anuran (frog and toad) species richness, life history diversity, and phylogenetic diversity both independently and in relation to each other across the US. Chloe is also working to characterize the environmental drivers of multifaceted biodiversity patterns to further tease apart underlying processes creating an area’s diversity, and will compare identified patterns across facets with US protected areas to assess how well biodiversity, beyond species richness, is conserved. Examining these three facets incorporates concepts and methods from evolutionary biology, community ecology, biogeography, and traits-based ecology, and will improve understanding of why anurans occur where they do and can help inform more comprehensive and multidimensional conservation.

Advised by Dr. Meryl Mims

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Luciana Pereira

PHD STUDENT, FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION

Luciana’s research integrates ecology, genetics and conservation to examine exploitation and habitat degradation of Amazonian fish species.  She is studying the migration of two Amazonian species ofcatfish, Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum and P. tigrinum. These catfishes are threatened by widespread illegal fishing and construction of hydropower dams that block their migratory movements, but are under-studied species. Luciana is investigating two questions: What is the migration ecology of P. tigrinum and P. fasciatum, and do they present homing behavior?  Her findings will be shared with stakeholders to inform the migration patterns and critical habitats used by the catfish with aims to influence laws that prevent overfishing and guide site construction of dams, thus aiding to develop science-based policies to sustainably manage and conserve these catfish.

Advised by Drs. Leandro Castello and Eric Hallerman

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Sara Teemer Richards

PHD STUDENT, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

Working at the nexus of disease ecology, behavioral ecology and microbiology, Sara’s research investigates the role of the host microbiome and its influence of disease transmission at the population level. Despite the recently demonstrated importance of behavior in driving disease spread, we still know little about what behaviors matter for infectious disease spread in non-human animals and how those change with environmental factors. Sara’s work uses a UV-detected, fluorescent powder contact tracing method to reveal links between environmental factors (such as ambient air temperature), behavior, and contact rates in a wildlife host system subject to outbreaks of a deadly infectious disease – House finches and seasonal outbreaks of mycoplasmal conjunctivitis caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum. Understanding the nuances of these effects on even one disease can give insight to many more, especially when considered in the context of a rapidly changing world.

Advised by Dr. Dana Hawley

Meredith Semel

PHD STUDENT, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

Meredith’s research investigates the influence of environmental and anthropogenic factors on lemur social behavior, movement, stress physiology, and conservation planning with a focus on the critically endangered golden-crowned sifaka, Propithecus tattersalli. Working with collaborators, she has already achieved extensive data collection, educational outreach activities and wildlife management influence in communities of Madagascar. The Global Change Fellowship will support Meredith’s ambition to take on three new projects: 1) Working with a post-doc collaborator at Duke University to investigate the gut microbiome of the golden-crowned sifaka, to better understand lemur habitat variation; 2) Working with collaborators at James Madison University and Virginia Tech to design specialty housing for the GPS collars she developed that will aid in remotely studying lemur behavior and tracking; and 3) continuing local outreach efforts in Madagascar, working with a team of Malagasy students, local guides and educators, and community members to provide training and support of educational and agro-forestry activities for the local communities.

Advised by Dr. Ignacio Moore

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Stephen DeVilbiss

PHD CANDIDATE, SCHOOL OF PLANT AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES

Stephen’s dissertation research addresses the impacts of freshwater salinization on bacterial water quality and ecology. Increased salt runoff in freshwater systems is caused by numerous global change issues including agriculture, resource extraction, urbanization, and climate change. While salinization impairs freshwater ecosystems, the activities causing it are vital to human wellbeing; thus, it is not feasible to eliminate the production and use of salts in the environment. Given the wicked nature of this issue, it is critical to identify target salinity ranges that preserve ecosystem services and inform smarter salt management strategies that consider water quality, ecosystem services, and societal needs.

Advised by Drs. Brian Badgley and Meredith Steele

Noah McNeill

PHD CANDIDATE, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

Noah studies the foraging behavior of brown-headed nuthatches, and the situational drivers that cause them to join large and diverse multi-species flocks during the non-breeding season. His study site is the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejune (MCBL), which is required via the Department of Defense to conserve biodiversity on federal property. By working with MCBL wildlife management to incorporate non-breeding season factor’s into the base’s management plan, he hopes to create an interdisciplinary framework for analyzing and managing bird habitat that can be utilized by other federal properties across the pine savanna region of the southeast.

Advised by Dr. Jeffrey Walters

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Amanda Pennino

PHD STUDENT, FOREST RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION

Amanda’s work is focused on soil-water interactions in northeast hardwood forests, looking at how soil water chemistry changes across time, with depth, and along hillslopes. Her research site is located at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF), located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Through the use of multiple sampling techniques, Amanda is exploring what climatic and local environmental controls might influence shifts in soil water chemistry, particularly around precipitation events. She hopes that her work will contribute to long-term data records at HBEF, a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network site, where her data will complement ongoing studies of mineral weathering rates, recovery of forests to acid deposition, and upslope controls on stream water chemistry.

Advised by Drs. Brian Strahm and Kevin McGuire

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Isaac VanDiest

PHD STUDENT, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

Isaac is interested in understanding how community dynamics impact an individual’s physiology and fitness. His research specifically focuses on how urbanization alters arthropod communities and may therefore compromise songbird physiology and fitness. Urbanization is expanding world-wide and understanding its consequences for wildlife and ecosystem function requires thinking and working across levels of biological organization. Isaac selected his dissertation topic because he believes strong conservation plans require thinking about effects of environmental change from the perspectives of physiology, behavioral ecology, organismal biology, community ecology, and ecosystem processes.

Advised by Dr. Kendra Sewall

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Brenen Wynd

PHD STUDENT, GEOSCIENCES

Brenen’s research bridges the gaps between the extant and the extinct by using microevolutionary methods applied to macroevolutionary timescales, particularly during periods of extensive global change. He currently aims to reconstruct the evolutionary diet of 41 species of living and long dead species of lemurs, to reveal not only the evolutionary history of lemur diet, but also patterns of extinction and how surviving lemurs have adapted to human-driven changes to the landscape. Although in decline, lemurs are a charismatic species and relatively well-known to the general public. This he aims to expand public interest in both lemurs and evolution by building outreach tools to share with the public how morphology influences ecology and how these together influence extinction.

Advised by Dr. Sterling Nesbitt