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FNR Names 2021 Students of the Year

In spite of a unique 2020-21 school year, Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources students have
persevered and continued to push forward to make an impact in the areas of aquatic sciences, forestry
and wildlife.

Each year, FNR recognizes a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior of the year in addition to several
academic merit and scholarship honorees. The Student of the Year awards are given to the most
outstanding student in each class as demonstrated by educational accomplishment, research,
community service, student organization involvement and leadership, and involvement at the
department, college, or university level.

The 2020-21 FNR Student of the Year award honorees are:

  • Freshman of the Year: Lucas Wilson
  • Sophomore of the Year: Phoebe Soldi
  • Junior of the Year: Emilie Washer
  • Senior of the Year: Rachel Brummet

Meet Lucas Wilson

  • Hometown: Batesville, Indiana
  • Major: Wildlife

A Dean’s List honoree in the fall, Wilson has quickly made his impact known in the FNR community, earning a paid undergraduate technician position as part of a study monitoring the effects of bird deterrent systems for use in aquaculture settings. He also is working on an undergraduate research project with Davis Balser to determine what causes bird-window collisions on campus and what changes can be made to reduce the risk posed by building to migrating birds. Wilson also has gotten involved through the Purdue Chapter of The Wildlife Society and his Nature of Wild Things Learning Community.

His current research is not Wilson’s first foray into the wildlife field. He also has conducted volunteer citizen science herpetological surveys for cave (Eurycea lucifuga) and streamside (Ambystoma barbourin) salamanders in Franklin County, Indiana, which revealed a previously undocumented breeding site for A. barbourin. He also has banded warblers (Parulidae sp.) at the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment alongside a team of graduate students, acted as a volunteer surveyor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Marsh Bird Monitoring Program in 2018-19, and worked as a data compiler for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count citizen science conservation effort.

“This award is very special to me because Purdue’s excellent Forestry and Natural Resources (department) has so many outstanding and deserving freshmen, so to be nominated to represent the department is a real honor,” Wilson said. “To have the research and citizen science I have been involved in so far be recognized by my department gives me confidence that those pursuits have been worthwhile, and that I can continue to build on those efforts during my next three years in FNR.”

Up next, he will be working at Brookeville Lake and Whitewater Memorial State Park/Mounds State Recreation Area assisting with naturalist and wildlife specialist responsibilities.

“Lucas has excelled in his time at Purdue and been active across campus,” professor of wildlife ecology Dr. Barny Dunning said. “It is difficult to rank freshmen in terms of accomplishments, but Lucas is easily one of the outstanding freshman students within the College of Agriculture this year. He has joined a group of ‘hard-core birders’ within the department and within my lab group and routinely travels through the state looking for rare birds. This interest has sparked what will hopefully become a long-term research project that he started in his first semester. Similar projects are ongoing in areas such as downtown Indianapolis and Chicago suggesting that Lucas’ research could be a valuable contribution to an interdisciplinary area merging landscape architecture and wildlife biology.”

Meet Phoebe Soldi

  • Hometown: Peru, Indiana
  • Majors: Wildlife, Aquatic Sciences

Soldi began her time at Purdue as an ecology, evolution, and environmental biology major in the College of Science after graduating with honors from Ivy Tech with an associate’s degree in science and liberal arts in August 2019. The three-time Dean’s List and semester honors recipient transferred into wildlife in FNR after her first year and has recently added a second major in aquatic sciences and retained her coursework in biological sciences as part of a minor. In December 2020, she received the Indiana Wildlife Federation Holt Scholarship, which is offered to students who are majoring or minoring in a field related to resource conservation or environmental education.

Soldi worked as an undergraduate teaching intern for the Biology 135 lab in the biological sciences department in the spring 2020 and as a writing consultant in the Purdue Online Writing Laboratory beginning in December 2020. As a teaching intern, she taught students about lab safety, educated them on how to handle the equipment, and helped formulate their background knowledge to better understand the purpose of the lab. As a writing consultant, she collaborates with peers to allow a better understanding of essential writing techniques.

Soldi also is an FNR Ambassador, assisting the department in hosting visitors, helping faculty and staff put on events and acting as a resource for younger students in FNR by answering questions and providing leadership. She also is a member of the Tau Beta Sigma service sorority, the All-American Marching Band (sousaphone) and concert band (tuba) as well as the Purdue student chapter of The Wildlife Society. She also participated in the Hiking Club and was a member of the Bands and Science learning community, which promoted musicianship within STEM majors.

“Personally, I feel extremely honored and proud to be considered one of the FNR department’s Outstanding Students,” Soldi said. “When coming to Purdue after being from a small town, the imposter syndrome is real and life around you seems so much bigger than you thought. There are so many incredibly gifted and talented individuals all around, and it is daunting and rewarding to get to know everyone. But getting an award like this reassures me that I am here to stay, I am where I belong, and reminds me how lucky I am to be so passionate about my future career.”

Soldi also has gained experience in research and natural resources management, working as a summer intern for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at Mississinewa Lake Reservoir both at the park gate and as part of the wildlife program, where she worked to contain invasive plant species to prevent encroachment on field habitats.

On campus, she has volunteered as a bird bander for Purdue’s migratory owl banding station, a student-led research program focused on banding Northern Saw-whet Owls. Soldi also is currently working as a member of a research team at Purdue studying aquaponics, assisting the graduate teaching assistant with the data collection of the plants and fish involved with the system.

“I think Phoebe has great potential as a researcher and as someone who wants to have a career protecting and improving the condition of the natural world,” said Dunning, associate department head for academic programs. “Phoebe has been extremely productive in her relatively short time within our program. Based on my 25 years teaching at Purdue in a program with 250 undergraduates annually, I would put Phoebe in the top 1% of our students. I think that she has a bright future and is easily one of the outstanding students within the College of Agriculture this year.”

Meet Emilie Washer

  • Hometown: Island Lake, Illinois
  • Major: Aquatic Science (Marine and Freshwater Biology Concentration)
  • Minor: Environmental Politics and Policy

Washer, who was named FNR’s Outstanding Freshman in 2019 and Outstanding Sophomore in 2020 and also earned the sophomore academic merit award in aquatic sciences in 2020, is a five-time Dean’s List honoree and part of the Purdue Honors College.

Washer also is a Purdue University Presidential Scholar Recipient and received the Claude M. Gladden Memorial Fund award and the Rex Hall Memorial Scholarship Fund award. She was a semifinalist for Purdue’s Fraser Speaking Contest in 2019 and is the FNR representative to the College of Agriculture’s Awards Committee. She also is a member of the American Fisheries Society, has been an FNR Ambassador since 2019 and is the executive board cultural chair for the Purdue Filipino Association.

“I feel very honored to receive this award and recognition, and I could not have gotten where I am today without the support from my family, friends, and the faculty and staff of FNR,” Washer said. “I have experienced and achieved so much within these last few years at Purdue. This recognition just means that my hard work and passion for my major has paid off, and I look forward to representing my major and the FNR department.”

Washer is an undergraduate research assistant in the Purdue Human Dimensions Lab under Dr. Zhao Ma, a position which has seen her play a key role in a wide variety of projects in the lab, including a systematic literature review and large-scale mail survey for the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC). She also was a teaching assistant for Agricultural Economics 204.

She gained experience working for the McHenry County Conservation District, assisting with land conservation projects, including land management on invasive species, wildlife surveys and rare plant monitoring for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Washer also was an undergraduate research assistant for Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant in 2020-21, performing an evaluation on the Cooperative Science and Monitoring System (CSMI), conducting online and phone surveys and qualitative interviews, and assisting in the development of a logic model. She also volunteered with The Nature Conservancy, assisting in a project to develop and populate catalog of state level environmental policies for the Mississippi River Basin, brainstorming ways to adapt policy development to on-farm nutrient management, and speaking with private companies about land restoration and management techniques.

Washer studied abroad in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands in the summer of 2019 to learn about wildlife, habitats and culture of the local areas. She also participated in the Fall 2020 Undergraduate Research Expo.

“Emilie actively pursues ways to challenge herself beyond the already rigorous demands of her major,” said Julie Pluimer, academic advisor and administrative manager of the FNR Office of Student Services. “Through her work, Emilie has consistently gone above and beyond the tasks assigned to her to take on additional learning opportunities. Her commitment to and investment in these projects illustrate her design to learn and challenge herself. I am so proud of the way Emilie has embraced all of these opportunities and the ways in which she has balanced extracurricular and academic responsibilities. She has accomplished more at this point in her academic career than some students achieve during four years on campus.”

Meet Rachel Brummet

  • Hometown: West Lafayette, Indiana
  • Majors: Forestry, Wildlife
  • Minor: Urban Forestry

Brummet was named as the 2019-20 recipient of the William A. Rafferty Award, which recognizes the potential of citizenship and leadership in a senior wildlife student, and also received a wildlife leader and citizen award that same year. Brummet received a presidential scholarship in the College of Agriculture (2017-21) and also received the Walter Guyer Forest Natural Resources Trustee Presidential Scholarship (2018-19), the Claude M. Gladden Memorial Fund Scholarship (2019-20), the Martell Scholarship (2020) and the Roy C. Brundage Memorial Scholarship (2020).

“Getting selected as FNR’s Outstanding Senior is a tremendous honor,” Brummet said. “While I am proud of my accomplishments throughout my undergraduate years, I know that without Purdue FNR and the FNR community that comes with this department, I would not be where I am today. Every step of the way, I have had faculty, staff, employers, mentors, coworkers, and fellow classmates to help guide me along my journey. To be named the Outstanding Senior of the Year makes me feel grateful, humbled, and honored. I am proud to represent my class because I believe that my experiences reflect the extensive opportunities offered by Purdue FNR. This title that has been bestowed upon me is truly the culmination of the Purdue FNR experience. Thank you, Purdue FNR, for the endless opportunities. I want to give a special thank you to Dr. Elizabeth Flaherty, who started me along on this path and who continues to inspire me. I am looking forward to applying the knowledge and skills that I’ve acquired as I further my career.”

Before coming to Purdue, Brummet gained experience working as a crew member in the Youth Conservation Corps with the Tongass National Forest in Ketchikan, Alaska. Every summer since then, she has gained additional experience working with the U.S. Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and a silviculture technician.

During the school year, Rachel has worked as a biological science technician for USDA APHIS Wildlife Services as a member of the Pest Bird Taskforce in downtown Indianapolis, monitoring and documenting the movements of pest birds such as American crows, European starlings and rock pigeons, and employing wildlife damage management techniques to deter birds from specific areas. She also assisted with a deer reduction project in an overpopulated city park, aided in a bovine tuberculosis surveillance project in southern Indiana and participated in a turkey vulture trapping project in downtown Indianapolis. She utilized ArcGIS and other mapping software to create maps displaying mute swan densities.

Brummet worked as a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service on the Beartooth Ranger District of the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Red Lodge, Montana, in the summer of 2018. In 2019, she was a forestry technician on the Idaho City Ranger District of the Boise National Forest in Idaho City, Idaho, and worked with the engine crew as a firefighter when she was available. In 2020, Brummet returned to Red Lodge, Montana as a wildland firefighter.

Within FNR, Brummet worked as a research lab technician in Dr. Reuben Goforth’s Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Lab, processing macroinvertebrate samples from the San Juan River in New Mexico. She also volunteered in the lab for a year prior to taking the paid position. In the falls of 2019 and 2021, Brummet worked with Dr. Songlin Fei’s Forestry Lab, collecting field data regarding fall oak phenology. In the spring of 2020 and 2021, she acted as the Collections Lab lead technician under Cortney Mycroft, creating study specimens by preserving birds and mammals for the university’s taxidermy collection.

In the fall of 2020, Brummet was a teaching assistant for dendrology under Mycroft. She also worked with Brian Beheler at Martell Forest, the Purdue Wildlife Area, Richard G. Lugar Farm and Stewart Woods performing a variety of property management duties from invasive species management to land clearance to tagging trail camera photographs. Brummet also began a position as a farm worker at Pence Walnut Plantation last fall.

This spring, Brummet has balanced her academics with positions at Pence Walnut Plantation, with the USDA APHIS Wildlife Service, as the Collections Lab lead technician and as a teaching assistant for wildlife techniques under Dr. Brandon Quinby. She also started working at Royal Center Locker Plant, a slaughterhouse in Royal Center, Indiana.

After graduation, Brummet will be continuing her career with the federal government and returning to Idaho City, Idaho, to work on the Boise National Forest, doing silviculture. She says she is looking forward to gaining more forestry experience in the field and spending the entire season in Idaho, while continuing to go on fire assignments in the area.

In addition to gaining experience in the field and through multiple training programs and certifications, Brummet has participated in FNR clubs from The Wildlife Society to The Society of American Foresters to the Forest Products Society and the Purdue Student Society of Arboriculture. She also served as a student council representative with the American Fisheries Society for two years.

“Rachel truly is an outstanding senior as evidenced by her academic work, awards and recognition, employment experience, undergraduate research and professional preparation,” said Dr. Elizabeth Flaherty, associate professor of wildlife ecology and habitat management. “While at Purdue, Rachel has taken advantage of every opportunity to become the very best future natural resource scientist and manager possible. She is, by far, the most accomplished senior I have worked with and is a leader among her classmates. I cannot think of a student that has finished their undergraduate program more prepared for their career than her.”

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