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UM graduate goes for Ph.D. after receiving national fellowship

Posted at 3:52 PM, May 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 10:56:03-04

MISSOULA - Saturday marked a huge milestone for University of Montana students as the Class of 2022 officially graduated from the school and took a step forward in a new direction.

While some of the graduates will leave Western Montana, one recent alum is calling Missoula home for her Ph.D. work after she nailed a national fellowship.

Grace Erba walked into her undergraduate commencement ceremony on Saturday, flipped her tassel and closed that chapter of her life.

Although a bittersweet experience, what makes it so sweet is knowing she’ll be back on the UM campus in the fall, doing what she loves.

“A really tiring process, but it's exciting to finally be completing it and also starting my next chapter of my Ph.D.,” Erba told MTN News.

Erba majored in wildlife biology and is the first UM undergraduate to receive the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

The fellowship pays Erba’s Ph.D. program in full and allows her to continue her research at an institution of her choosing.

After working in Dr. Scott Mills' lab as an undergraduate, Erba couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with him at one of the best wildlife biology programs in the nation.

“He's [Mills] really prompted me to develop as a researcher, as a scholar, and also as a person," said Erba when asked why she chose to stay at UM.

"And so having the opportunity to continue working with him was something that I couldn't pass up," Erba continued.

The application process is rigorous. Erba needed to give a personal and research statement.

So what exactly will she be studying with Mills? Montana’s color-changing snowshoe hares.

“What we'll be doing for my Ph.D. is using images from game cameras across the Northern Hemisphere to study these different species across their ranges,” Erba explained.

“We're going to be collaborating with people all over the world, so she'll be able to get exposure to lots of people, scientists from all over the world,” Mills said.

He added the accomplishment is not only for Erba, but for UM research as a whole. “The magic comes from connecting research and teaching together."

“And Grace is a perfect example of that?” asked MTN News.

“Grace is a perfect example of that," said Mills.