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NSF Program Takes Environmental Resource Management Student to Montana
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 12/01/2023

Second-year student Sylvie Alexander, an environmental resource management major in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, spent last summer conducting research on the Flathead Indian Reservation located in western Montana.

The National Science Foundation funded Alexander’s work as part of its Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which supports research participation by undergraduate students. She worked on the reservation as part of the Sustainable Land and Water Resources experience hosted by the Salish Kootenai College.

Alexander, of Washington, D.C., and her teammates used ground-penetrating radar to locate unmarked graves in a cemetery on the reservation. She also assisted teammates with their research on shoreline erosion control on the East Bay of Flathead Lake and wetland remediation in the Mission Watershed.

“Collaborating with my partners and researching with them was incredible,” Alexander said. “The most meaningful part of the whole experience was being trusted with sacred knowledge and forming meaningful connections. Knowing that my research will be a steppingstone to get the tribes closer to their goals is gratifying.”

The Flathead Indian Reservation, located south of Glacier National Park, is home to the Bitterroot Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreilles tribes, also known as the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes.

“Sylvie’s experience provided an opportunity to gain valuable real-world knowledge and create new networks involving her research experience, while developing skills that align with her multidisciplinary environmental resource management major at Penn State,” said Tammy Shannon, academic advising coordinator for the environmental resource management program.

The tribal confederation’s Historic Preservation Department purchased a ground-penetrating radar unit to support its goals of identifying and preserving unmarked graves and other traditional and historical archeological sites. This technology frequently is used as a noninvasive way to identify subsurface anomalies. It also has archeological applications, as Alexander explored this summer.

Alexander, who applied independently to the Research Experience for Undergraduates program, said the research team worked at the Jocko Tribal Cemetery, in an area predetermined by the cemetery board.

“My research focused on two 10-meter by 18-meter grids, representing a large central area of the cemetery,” she said, noting that the team identified five potential anomalies.


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