Arden Wells is a senior geoscience major in the School of Natural Sciences and Math at UT Dallas. A recent awardee of the 2016 National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP), Arden places among some of the nation’s top student researchers.

It is one of the country’s oldest fellowship programs that enables students in STEM fields to continue pursuing their research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.  Over the course of three years, fellows benefit from an annual stipend of $34,000 with an additional $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition, including  international research opportunities, and the freedom to conduct their research at any U.S. institution of their choosing.

What does being awarded this fellowship mean for you and your studies?

Just applying to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) was a huge step in my development as a geoscientist. The application consists of a personal statement and a two-page research proposal. Developing a research question and writing a proposal from scratch was extremely challenging for me, but it was an important transition from an undergraduate researcher into a more independent, graduate-level researcher. I had to ask myself, “If I could study anything, what would it be? Where would it be?” I wrote my proposal about observing and modeling groundwater geochemistry changes as water levels drop or fluctuate in regions of North Texas and California.

Receiving the award means that my research will not need to be tied to a specific grant, so I may have more opportunities to tailor my dissertation to my specific interests. While I may choose to pursue a project very similar to my NSF GRFP proposal, I also have the flexibility to write my dissertation on another topic.

What about geosciences interests you most?

I became interested in geosciences because I liked science and was passionate about making clean water accessible and sustainable. Over the past four years, I’ve come to recognize that geosciences research provides the foundation to address global issues like fresh water and food availability, climate change, natural disasters, and energy availability.

I’ve also realized something else about geosciences—it’s really fun. I just returned from a field trip for my Paleobiology class where we spent the day digging up giant ammonites and oyster shells. For Field Geology I, we got to camp in New Mexico and Colorado for three weeks and map the local geology. I love how hands-on my classes and research have been.

What’s next?

I will be pursuing my Ph.D. at Stanford University in their Earth Systems Science department and I will be researching in the hydro group with Dr. Steven Gorelick. The lab’s focuses are water resources in less-developed regions and ecohydrology.