Three Western grad students win Anchor QEA scholarships to assist with their research

by James Ellis
Office of University Communications intern

Three graduate students at from Western’s College of the Environment, Lamai Cox, Katey Queen and Virginia MacDonald, were recently announced as recipients of research scholarships from Anchor QEA, an environmental science and engineering consulting firm. 

The three students join five others selected nationally to share $20,000 in funds to facilitate their research. Anchor QEA has awarded scholarships since 1999 to graduate students pursuing advanced degrees in academic fields relevant to its mission, and says it commits at least half of those funds to students of color to address the racial disparities in STEM.  

Lamai Cox (see photo above) is a second-year graduate student pursuing her master’s degree in environmental studies with a focus in geography. Her research uses geospatial analysis to examine kelp distribution and abundance in the Salish Sea. 

“I was drawn to kelp for a few different reasons I won’t go into detail with, but the species in the Salish Sea is integral to many other economic and ecological factors,” Cox said. “Right now, my research is creating the kelp GIS layer for the Salish Sea Atlas.” 

Once her research is added to the Atlas — the work of her advisor, Aquila Flower— Cox said the final product will be a resource available to researchers, policymakers and the general public to analyze the various ecosystem services provided by the Salish Sea kelp. 

“I am a teaching assistant part-time and I have a part-time job outside of higher education, and of course expenses that every other student has,” Cox said. “So [the scholarship] allows me the financial freedom to take on fewer hours at my other job and focus on the research I need to do to pursue the career I want in geospatial analysis.” 

Katey Queen is a first-year master’s student also in the Environmental Science program, researching the role of climate change and terrestrial plant matter in shaping aquatic communities. 

Her interest in the subject began during her undergraduate research project at Mount St. Helens, where the eruption and resultant debris avalanche carved ponds into the side of the mountain, which have become fertile centers of vegetation as life slowly returns to the cleared landscape. 

Queen’s research explores the link between the successional changes in the terrestrial environment and the aquatic successional development in the ponds. She is also observing the influence of climate change on these ecosystems, since alpine environments are especially sensitive to changes in the weather. 

“I want to look into how temperature changes are going to alter the communities within these ponds, as well as the precipitation changes,” Queen said. “With climate change, we expect things to warm up, and precipitation events to change, meaning less snow and more rain, and because of that more terrestrial input. So rain washes soil and needles and leaves into these shallow ponds. What do those changes look like?” 

Queen said the scholarship will allow her to buy the supplies she needs to create the experiments she wants to design. Big-ticket items she listed include mock-ponds and warming tanks, of which she will need multiple versions. 

“All of that takes time and money and support,” she said. “It’s a huge, huge help to have this scholarship.” 

Virginia MacDonald is a first-year master’s student in the Environmental Studies program. Specializing in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, her research focuses on shared-equity ownership models and non-market housing. 

“I’m focusing on the housing market just above public housing but below market rate, looking at general affordability from the angle of community wealth-building initiatives and ways to keep ownership and wealth equity within communities so people have control over their environments,” MacDonald said.  

“Before I went to school, I was working for the Opportunity Council’s low-income weatherization program as a project coordinator,” she said. “That put me in a position to physically inspect a lot of the low-income housing in Bellingham, and observe the correlation of poor housing conditions with low income, poor indoor air quality, exposure to toxins.” 

“While the Opportunity Council program is working case-by-case to improve individual situations, I wanted to work on systemic policy towards improving low-income housing,” she said.  

MacDonald said the scholarship will apply directly towards her tuition, and allow her to better pursue her work professionally by reducing the financial burden of her loans.  

“It’s very encouraging to receive the scholarship. It’s feedback that my research is timely and relevant,” she said.  

Ed Weber, Graduate Program and Internship Coordinator of the College of the Environment, said it’s been four to five years since a student has received one of the Anchor QEA scholarships. 

“It definitely tells me that our faculty advisors and students are working hard on some interesting research that spurred Anchor QEA to support them,” Weber said. 

“Anchor QEA has an office here in Bellingham,” Weber said. “One of their principal environmental planners is a former College of the Environment graduate who works with our students on internships and job opportunities, so they’ve always been good supporters of the college and we appreciate them a lot.” 

 

Thursday, January 27, 2022 - 12:17pm