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Quick Looks | Vision 2019

UM Research by the Numbers

University of Montana

UM research and scholarship positively impacts our health, environment and economy. Through grants and contracts awarded to UM in fiscal year 2019, faculty members are developing a better influenza vaccine, researching and educating Montanans about our state’s precious water resources, and nurturing a vibrant bioscience workforce in Montana, among many other highlights. The strength of UM research is reflected in nearly record-high grant volume and expenditures, faculty members publishing high-quality and highly cited research findings, and student and faculty success pursuing highly competitive research fellowships.

Total number of publications by UM researchers: 801

Number of proposals submitted: 621

Total grant dollars awarded: $92 million

Total grant dollars spent: $84. 8 million

Number of articles by UM faculty published in the world’s top three general science journals in 2017–18: 28 — the highest number for any Big Sky Conference university

Number of UM students awarded Fulbrights for research or English teaching: 6

Number of 2019 Western Montana Family Medicine Residency Program graduates: 10–seven of whom plan to practice in Big Sky Country.


National Science Foundation EPSCoR funded the Consortium for Research on Environmental Water Systems (CREWS), a $20 million research and education project. Led by UM’s Ray Callaway, the project is a collaboration between UM, Montana State University, Montana Technological University, Salish Kootenai College and Little Big Horn College.

UM’s Center for Translational Medicine (principal investigator Jay Evans, see page 14 story) was awarded a $10 million contract to develop a new universal flu vaccine.


The Center for Translational Medicine (PI Jay Evans) also received a $3.3 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases to develop a vaccine targeting opioid addiction.

The Mansfield Center (PI Donald Loranger) received $1.75 million from the Institute of International Education for UM’s Defense Critical Language and Culture Program.

Ned Vasquez, Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana, $7.9 million

Jay Evans, Center for Translational Medicine, $3.8 million

Ray Callaway, Center for Integrated Research on the Environment and Montana National Science Foundation EPSCoR, $3.7 million

Deena Mansour, Mansfield Center, $3.5 million

Donald Loranger, Defense Critical Language and Culture Program, $2.7 million

Steve Running, W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, retired, 6,086

Gordon Luikart, Flathead Lake Biological Station, 2,998

Fred Allendorf, W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, 2,322

Cory Cleveland, W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, 1,963

Philip Higuera, W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, 913

UM’s Jim Elser takes a selfie with one of his Flathead Lake Biological Station classes.

In a first for UM in its 126-year history, a University researcher has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

The accolade went to Jim Elser, director of the Flathead Lake Biological Station and Bierman Professor of Ecology. The honor recognized his distinguished and continuing achievements in scientific research.

“We are so pleased that the scientific community has recognized Professor Elser as one of our country’s most important scientists,” sUM President Seth Bodnar says. “The UM family proudly celebrates this well-deserved recognition.”

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

“It is very exciting to join the ranks of the National Academy, as it is the home of so many scientific heroes of the past and present,” Elser says. “I hope that membership in the NAS can help in elevating the importance of protecting precious water resources like Flathead Lake from potential threats from nutrient pollution, invasive species and climate change.”

Elser was elected to NAS by current members of the Academy, and he joins them as they advise the nation on matters relating to science, engineering and medicine.

As a scientist, Elser is best known for his role in developing and testing the theory of ecological stoichiometry, which is the study of the balance of energy and chemical elements such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in ecological systems.

As director of the Bio Station, Elser has expanded the station’s freshwater monitoring program, increased community outreach and launched a Flathead Lake Aquatic Research and Education (FLARE) K-12 program that now engages thousands of students each year.

“I have collaborated with so many amazing scientists during my career, including some amazing graduate students and postdocs,” Elser says. “This recognition is really a reflection of my good luck in having such wonderful students and collaborators.”

His current research is focused on Flathead Lake, as well as mountain lakes of western Montana and western China. Elser also works actively in advancing the cause of phosphorus sustainability in the food system to protect water quality.


Fred Allendorf, a UM Regents Professor of Biology Emeritus, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year.

Allendorf is one of more than 200 new members who constitute the Academy’s 239th class, which is made up of some of the world’s most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers and artists, as well as civic, business and philanthropic leaders. Allendorf is just the second member of the academy ever elected from any Montana institution. Doug Emlen, a UM biology professor, was elected to the AAAS in 2016.

“I am honored to receive this recognition of my work,” Allendorf says. “I look forward to contributing to the Academy’s mission of providing practical solutions to complex challenges that we are facing.”

Allendorf is one of a handful of people who founded the field of conservation genetics. He was one of the first to apply genetics to real-world conservation problems, and he has continued to advance the application of genetics, and now genomics, to pressing conservation issues.

His research focuses on the application of population and evolutionary genetics to challenges in conservation biology. His book “Conservation and the Genetics of Populations,” co-written with UM Professor Gordon Luikart and Sally Aitken of the University of British Columbia, provides an understanding of how genetics can be used to conserve species threatened with extinction.

In 2018 Allendorf was recognized as one of the world’s most highly cited researchers by Clarivate Analytics. The journal Molecular Ecology awarded Allendorf its 2015 Molecular Ecology Prize.

Along with holding his emeritus rank at UM, Allendorf is a Professorial Research Fellow at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. He was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Aarhus in Denmark and at Nottingham University in England. He also was a Senior Fulbright Fellow at Victoria University of Wellington and has held positions at the University of California, Davis; the University of Oregon; the University of Minnesota; and the University of Western Australia.

UM’s Anna Prentiss

Dr. Anna Prentiss, an anthropology professor and archaeologist, has been named the University’s 12th Regents Professor by the Montana Board of Regents. Her new title is Regents Professor of Anthropology.

Regents Professor is the top rank awarded to faculty members in the Montana University System. Established in 1991, the title is earned by faculty members who demonstrate unusual excellence in instruction, scholarship and service, as well as distinctive impact through their work. The rank is awarded by the Board of Regents upon the recommendation of the University president.

“I’m just so very honored to be named Regents Professor — particularly given the extraordinary faculty on this campus,” Prentiss says. “I also feel incredibly fortunate to have been a faculty member for all these years in our UM Department of Anthropology among such a great group of colleagues and students.”

Prentiss earned her archaeology doctorate from Simon Fraser University in 1993. She joined the UM faculty in 1995 and became a full professor in 2009. Her research interests include hunter-gatherers, village societies, ancient technology, evolutionary theory, and the method and theory of archaeology.

Her fieldwork has taken her and the scores of UM students she has mentored around globe, from British Columbia and Alaska to Patagonia. She also recently served as a visiting scholar in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, England.

Prentiss has written and co-written six books, including 2017’s “The Last House at Bridge River,” which details a comprehensive study of a single-floor aboriginal home in British Columbia during the 19th-century Fur Trade period. She also has written 70 peer-reviewed articles, and her list of awards and accomplishments stretches her curriculum vitae to 43 pages.

“Dr. Prentiss’ well-regarded role as a consummate teacher and mentor compliments her impressive research record,” UM President Seth Bodnar wrote in nominating her for the honor. “She has mentored an impressive number of graduate students, many of whom now work at prestigious institutions themselves. Her students have co-authored many publications with her, and she has patiently mentored many students through successful grant proposal processes. Her students know her to be fully dedicated to their intellectual and professional growth.”


UM researcher John McCutcheon recently won the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government upon outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent research careers.

An associate professor in the Division of Biological Sciences, McCutcheon earned the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) nomination from the National Science Foundation, which also awarded him its Faculty Early Career Development award in 2016. The White House announced the PECASE award recipients July 2.

“I am really grateful to the NSF for nominating me,” McCutcheon says. “The award is the result of a huge team effort, where students, postdoctoral fellows and scientists have all worked together to do some fun and exciting science. I owe everything to these amazing people.”


Joanna Klink, a UM creative writing professor and author, was named a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Klink is one of 168 scholars, artists and writers selected for the honor from 3,000 applicants and one of just nine poets chosen from across the nation. Selection is based on prior achievement and exceptional promise.

“I was truly surprised,” Klink says. “And I’m grateful. The award will help me to continue writing poems at a time when that means more to me than it’s ever meant before.”

Klink is the author of four books of poetry. Her most recent, “Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy,” was published by Penguin in 2015.

Klink’s previous books include “Raptus,” “Circadian” and “They Are Sleeping,” which won the Contemporary Poetry Series in 2000 through the University of Georgia Press. Her poems have appeared in a range of journals and anthologies, including Paris Review, A Public Space, Poetry, The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poetry, and Resistance Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now.

She also has received residency fellowships from Civitella Ranieri, the Bogliasco Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, MacDowell, Yaddo and the Ucross Foundation.

Klink’s awards include the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, the Jeannette Haien Ballard Writer’s Prize, the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, which allowed her to live in Rome in 2018.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the doctoral program in humanities at Johns Hopkins, Klink was the Briggs-Copeland Poet at Harvard University and the Tin House Writer-in-Residence at Portland State University. She has taught creative writing at UM since 2000.

Klink is finishing her fifth book of poems, which is forthcoming from Penguin in 2020. Her new book includes a sequence of poems called “Night Sky,” which is based on the chambers of James Turrell’s Roden Crater.


Dr. Oliver Serang, a UM assistant professor of computer science, recently was awarded the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior faculty.

The Faculty Early Career Development Program, also known as CAREER, annually awards faculty members across the nation who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of both education and research.

Serang’s CAREER grant will total $1.05 million. He will use the funding to address unmet computer science needs in analyzing mass spectrometry data.

Specifically, his research team will work to statistically identify proteins in a biological sample, as well as reveal which biological species or bacterial and viral strains are in a sample. The team also will try to identify the makeup of basic molecular ingredients in a sample.

“We often think of DNA and genomics as the be-all and end-all for advancing biology and medicine,” Serang says. “But since you started from a single cell, essentially every cell in your body is genetically identical. The mathematical algorithms we develop are key to uncovering what differentiates a bone cell from a liver cell and to the future of diagnostic medicine, where we develop the ability to diagnose infectious diseases using only a drop of blood.”

He says this approach can be used to learn about chemical structure without any prior knowledge of what’s in the sample.

CAREER grants are prestigious awards that provide foundational support to early career faculty who have the potential to serve as role models in research and education. Such awards enable a lifetime of leadership in integrating education with research. About 375 assistant professors nationally earn CAREER grants each year.


Denise Dowling, longtime broadcast journalist, journalism professor and two-time interim dean of the UM School of Journalism, has won a prestigious national award from the Society of Professional Journalists for her radio documentary “Alex, Not Amy: Growing Up Transgender in the Rural West.”

The documentary follows the story of 10-year-old Alex O’Neill, who knew he was a boy when he was a toddler, as he changes his gender legally and socially. Listeners get to know Alex and his family as they navigate issues like which swim team Alex competes on and which bathroom he uses while he’s at school.

The story looks at the policy, history, mental health concerns and trends around transgender youth. But it’s about much more too — it’s a story about family, identity, community and belonging.

Dowling’s piece, which originally aired on Montana Public Radio, also was named a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award winner by the Radio Television Digital News Association and is now under consideration for a National Murrow Award as well. In addition, the documentary was named a finalist for an E.B. Craney Award from the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation in the Radio Non-Commercial Program of the Year category.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards recognize the best in professional journalism in categories covering print, radio, television, newsletters, art/graphics, online and research. This year’s winners were honored during a June ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Dowling says she first became interested in the challenges of being young and transgender when one of her students shared the roadblocks he met when transitioning.

“When I began reporting, I found it remarkable just how many young people and their families were facing similar paths,” she says. “Alex, his parents and siblings were incredibly gracious to allow me into their lives to document his transition. They welcomed me into some of their most private moments as I followed Alex and his journey over three years. I learned so much from them and saw firsthand how family support makes all the difference in a transgender child’s mental health.”

Portions of the official archives of Ambassador Max Sieben Baucus are now open for research at UM’s Mansfield Library Archives and Special Collections. Baucus was Montana’s longest-serving senator, holding the office from 1978 to 2014. He also served one term in the Montana House of Representatives (1973–74), two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1975–78) and nearly three years as the U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China (2014–17). Learn more at http://bit.ly/2Xyc2Dm.

UM environmental studies Associate Professor Rosalyn LaPier won two national book awards from the Western History Association last fall. She earned the John C. Ewers Book Award and the Donald Fixico Book Award for “Invisible Reality: Storytellers, Storytakers and the Supernatural World of the Blackfeet.” The Ewers award recognizes “the best published book” on the ethnohistory of North American Indians of Canada, Mexico or the U.S. The Fixico honor recognizes “innovative work in the field of American Indian and Canadian First Nations History that centers Indigenous epistemologies and perspectives.”

Slow-growing ponderosa pines may survive longer than fast-growing ones, especially as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of drought, according to new research by UM alumna Beth Roskilly and Professor Anna Sala, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their findings reveal a key difference between fast and slow growers resides in a microscopic valve-like structure between the cells that transport water in the wood, called the pit membrane. The unique shape of this valve in slow-growing trees provides greater safety against drought, but it slows down water transport, limiting the growth rate. See more at http://bit.ly/2Ip9aDR.

UM’s Center for Translational Medicine awarded $50,000 pilot research grants to Dr. Mark Grimes and Dr. Jack Nunberg after their competitive project proposal and pitches this spring. Grimes will use his award to evaluate new methods to grow craniofacial cartilage that could rebuild key structural features of the head and face. Nunberg will use his award to advance a vaccine candidate targeting a virus in rodent populations that can cause life-threatening hemorrhagic fevers in humans. Learn more at http://hs.umt.edu/ctm/.

Eight UM journalism students journeyed through western Canada this spring to report on energy and environmental issues, including a proposed oil pipeline expansion project, as part of the Montana Journalism Abroad course. Past editions of the course have taken students to South Korea, India, Germany and Japan. Learn more at http://bit.ly/2Q68eGJ.

Recent UM research explored the ways forest succession and climate variability interacted and influenced fires in Alaska’s boreal forests over the past four centuries — from 1550 to 2015. Lead author Tyler Hoecker and co-author Phil Higuera found that years of extensive fire activity usually occurred several decades after trees were established, suggesting that the development of mature forest across the study landscape was necessary to support widespread burning. They also saw that there was more fire activity in years when temperatures were higher, especially over the past 100 years. Read more at http://bit.ly/2tSzjTn.

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