FLC Associate Professor of Biology Julie Korb in the field with her students.
FLC Associate Professor of Biology Julie Korb in the field with her students.

Sara Bombaci
Sara Bombaci

FORT COLLINS - Earning a degree from the Fort Lewis College Biology program is a challenge, but the opportunities it opens up for a student is worth the hard work. Just ask FLC alumna Sara Bombaci.

Sara, currently a graduate student at Colorado State University, was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in November. The award will give her $30,000 plus tuition to conduct her research.

“I am developing a research project to investigate how songbirds and small mammals respond and contribute to large scale habitat restoration in the Piceance Basin in northwest Colorado,” Sara explains.

This particular area of Colorado has been the site of oil and natural gas extraction for decades, activities that have impacted the land. There are efforts underway to restore some of the lost habitat for the area wildlife, but those efforts are targeted mainly at larger animals, such as the mule deer. Sara’s looking out for the little guys.

“It is unknown how the non-target wildlife community will respond to these restoration efforts,” she says, “and I aim to investigate a portion of that by studying the songbird and small mammal community.”

A National Science Foundation Fellowship is a special honor for any student, but to earn one so early in an academic career, like Sara has, is exceptional.

“It is rare for a student with a bachelor's degree to get this award, “says FLC Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Julie Korb, “which is an extremely prestigious accomplishment and speaks highly of the [FLC] Biology Department and Fort Lewis College and how we are preparing our students for success after FLC.”

Sara is also quick to point out how much her time at Fort Lewis helped her get to where she is today.

“My experience at FLC played an integral role in my success,” she says. “In particular, my experience working on my undergraduate thesis project was exceptionally beneficial. Working on this project not only helped me to understand the entire academic research process, from developing a proposal and collecting/analyzing data to writing up a manuscript, but it also gave me a wonderful opportunity to connect with FLC Biology Department faculty in a more personal way.”

The undergraduate thesis project is a personal research project that FLC science students complete before they graduate. The project involves creating, conducting and presenting unique research of the student’s choosing. It’s a great way to help students prepare for the rigorous research they’ll be conducting in graduate school.

But projects like the undergraduate thesis would not work if it wasn’t for the tremendous faculty at Fort Lewis mentoring their students. Sara acknowledges FLC Biology faculty Dr. Korb, Dr. Erin Lehmer, Dr. Joseph Ortega, and Dr. Cynthia Dott as being particularly influential in helping her succeed.

“I truly feel that the faculty in the FLC Biology Department made all the difference in the world with regards to my success and I owe part of my accomplishments to them,” she says. “I certainly feel that I could not have been as successful elsewhere because I would not have had as many wonderful opportunities to gain experience and work with faculty as I did at FLC.”