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Passion for mountains leads alumnus to Ph.D. studies of alpine climate change

Students work on gathering snow samples for research on nutrient availability for alpine plants throughout the growing season.

Students work on gathering snow samples for research on nutrient availability for alpine plants throughout the growing season.

The mountains have given a lot to Michael Remke. While a student at Fort Lewis College, they were where he went to refresh himself, skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. And as an Environmental Biology major, it was where he conducted the undergraduate research that has now led him to the Ph.D. program in Forest Science at Northern Arizona University – where he'll again be studying those mountains he loves.

“FLC's location means access to some of the world's best mountain playgrounds and classrooms,” says the 2012 graduate. “Being able to see so much biologic and geologic diversity accessible to a three-hour lab section enriched my education with field experience in the natural sciences. That same landscape also allowed me to pursue my passions while working on my degree.”

That now means that Remke’s next four years will also be spent in his beloved mountains, this time doing post-graduate research on the roles of soil organisms in plant migrations and how they respond to stress on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and in Arizona's San Francisco Peaks. Remke's research and tuition are fully funded through grants and a research fellowship.

“My professors at FLC ignited a passion for sharing knowledge and research,” Remke says. “Now I'm taking that to the next level so later on I can teach others.”

Remke's passion for both mountains and science led him to focus his undergraduate research at FLC on the effects of dust on snow and climate change on plants in alpine tundra. He was also able to earn a certificate in Geographic Information Systems. 

“I got experience collecting and analyzing data, and interpreting results,” he explains. “I also presented the data at the annual Ecological Society of America meeting in Portland, Oregon. These are all critical aspects of science most students are not exposed to until a masters degree.”

Remke credits the close interaction with faculty while doing field work, research, and analysis with boosting his skills and scientific understanding to a graduate-school level.

“The tight network of FLC faculty allowed me to use office hours of professors I’d never had before, and constantly expanded my knowledge and access to resources,” he says. “This network made me feel welcome as a member of a community, rather than just a student.”

One particular inspiration was Associate Professor of Biology Julie Korb. “Julie went above and beyond expectations to ensure I was gaining the most I could with my senior thesis project. She also provided me with the information I needed to apply to graduate programs, and reinforced my skill sets by challenging me to present my research at scientific conferences. Thanks to her my resume sparkles, and I had the confidence to contact professionals and professors at other institutions to make the connections I needed for my career.”

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