DENIN Environmental Fellows

Bridging Science and Society

The DENIN Environmental Fellows Program supports doctoral students carrying out environmentally relevant research at the University of Delaware. The goal of the program is to help prepare students whose scientific research and interests demonstrate a clear link to societal needs and benefits. We anticipate that, over time, DENIN Fellows will pursue diverse careers across academia and the public and private sectors and develop into the next generation of environmental leaders.

DENIN Fellows are selected to function as a team for two years and work together in ways that complement their primary academic programs. Fellows participate in and lead a select number of DENIN events and activities each year, including symposia and seminar series. DENIN provides opportunities for networking with domestic and international scientists and leaders, as well as for professional development in areas such as effectively communicating science. Fellows may also propose new initiatives.

Fellows are selected by a committee of internal and external reviewers. The fellowships include a $30,000 annual stipend. Fellowships are paid over a two-year period, as long as the Fellow remains in good standing academically. DENIN Fellows may not have concurrent RA or TA positions.

Meet our Current Fellows:

Hayden Boettcher earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Under the direction of Dr. Jonathan Cohen, associate professor of marine science and policy, he is working on whether microplastic exposure during larval development affects blue crab survival and return to the Delaware Bay population. His doctoral study will be the first to systematically assess the impact of microplastics at population and ecosystem scales in Delaware Bay. This information will feed into the state’s regional management decisions for the blue crab fishery.

Paula Cárdenas-Hernández earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental and Sanitary Engineering at the Universidad de La Salle, Bogotá D.C., Colombia. Her research with Dr. Pei Chiu, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is studying the processes that control the fate of explosives in soils and groundwater. Her main goal is to build a model to predict the degradation of explosives in the environment under natural and remediation conditions. Soil and groundwater contamination by explosives and related materials is a worldwide problem.

Bradie Crandall earned a Bachelor degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of South Carolina. Under the direction of his advisor, Dr. Feng Jiao, Robert Grasselli Development Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, his research focuses on taking pollutants like the carbon dioxide that’s causing climate change, and the nitrates that are polluting our drinking water in Delaware, and turning these pollutants into valuable chemicals. He aims to build an electrolyzer to convert nitrates into sustainably produced ammonia, which can be turned into fertilizer. This innovation would create a circular economy for nitrogen and greatly reduce nitrate pollution.  

Sean Fettrow earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies from Pennsylvania State University and Master of Science in Applied Geosciences from the University of Pennsylvania. With his advisor, Dr. Angelia Seyfferth, associate professor of biogeochemistry and plant-soil interactions in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, he is assessing marsh biogeochemistry seasonally, spatially, and within tidal cycles. He hopes to use this information to improve our understanding of factors that control carbon stability in marsh soils and help explain some of the variability in marshes’ carbon-holding capacity. This information will help scientists make more accurate models to predict how these ecosystems will respond to changing conditions.

Andrew Hill earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Plant Sciences and a Master of Science in Geography from Minnesota State University . He is exploring gas exchange in a salt marsh ecosystem at St. Jones Reserve near Dover with Dr. Rodrigo Vargas, professor of ecosystem ecology and environmental change in the UD Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Salt marshes are disproportionately important as storage places for carbon, in light of climate change and he is trying to improve how we can best measure and monitor these ecosystems so we can better include them in carbon cycling models and regional climate models.

Mary Hingst earned as Master of Science in Geosciences degree from The University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State University. Her research with Dr. Holly Michael, Professor, Unidel Fraser Russell Career Development Chair for the Environment. is looking at impacts of competing water-use behavior on the dynamics of the drivers, pathways, and timescales of seawater intrusion in coastal agricultural land. Her research addresses a real-world present-day issue, having groundwater supplies or fresh drinking water supplies contaminated by increasing salinization.

Max Huffman earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Hope College. His research with Dr. James Pizzuto, professor of geological sciences at UD, is to develop a model that tracks sediment movement through a watershed to a depositional basin, including the storage phase. His work addresses the lag between when sediment enters the watershed and when it exits. This is important to know in assessing the timing and effectiveness of streambank restoration strategies.  This model will give us a tool to understand how these strategies are going to play out over time” he explains, or with future changes in climate. His work could eventually be applied to larger systems such as the Chesapeake or Delaware Bay watersheds.

Christy Li earned duel degrees in Earth and Environmental Science and Math from Lehigh University.  Her research with Dr. James Pizzuto, professor of geological sciences at UD is to study  the transport and removal of mercury-absorbed fine sediment in the South River in Virginia through the development of a sediment transport model. She is attempting to determine how long it would take the river to clean out these contaminated sediments without human interference and is hoping to help convey the dangers of mercury-tainted fish to the local population. 

R. Alan Mason earned duel degrees, in Earth Sciences and Music Education from Ohio State University. His work with his advisor, Dr. Tobias Kukulka, professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy, shows that plastics tend to aggregate into tidelines—where two currents or water masses converge—and form a patchy, irregular distribution in the bay. Mason aims to develop analytical models to better understand what drives plastics movement in Delaware Bay. Understanding the movement of plastics through the bay will help us more efficiently remove them from the water, target beach cleanups, and stop plastics from reaching the bay in the first place. 

Lauren O’Connor earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Union College. With her advisors, Dr. Yu-Ping Chin and Dr. Emma J. Rosi, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies respectively, she is looking at chlorpyrifos, a pesticide, in streams and how it affects base level metabolism including insect emergence and biofilm growth rates. Stream ecosystems are especially vulnerable to pesticide pollution due to their proximity to agriculture and outfalls from wastewater treatment plants. Understanding how pesticides are altering the stream ecology can ripple into how they are affecting fish, and eventually, how they are affecting human populations.

Dannielle Pratt earned a Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Management from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Syracuse University. With her advisor, Dr. Holly Michael, director of DENIN and professor in the departments of Earth Sciences and Civil & Environmental Engineering , she is studying sea level rise along the Delmarva Peninsula. By understanding the drivers and mechanisms of hydrologic change, doctoral students like Dannielle can work to develop response strategies to prepare coastal communities for the future.

Vanessa Richards earned as Master of Science degree in Food Science and Biotechnology and a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture from Delaware State University. With her advisor, Dr. Jeffry Fuhrmann, professor of soil and environmental microbiology, she is looking at enhancing the “cooperation” or symbiosis between soybean bradyrhizobia (SB). and soybeans. Improving the symbiosis between SB and soybean would allow soybeans to be grown more efficiently with less fossil fuel–derived fertilizer. The use of fertilizer releases greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Reducing the need for chemical fertilizer would also help reduce water pollution from soybean fields.

Kyle VanHemert earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master’s Degree in history from the University of Delaware and is working toward a doctoral degree in history through UD’s Hagley Program in Capitalism, Technology, and Culture.
His research focuses on the early stages of environmental politics in the United States after World War II, specifically the White House Conference on Natural Beauty hosted by Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson in May 1965. VanHemert’s research suggests that the conference and the activities surrounding it were the pivotal development in the emergence of “the environment” as a political issue. 


Meet our Past Fellows:

Mohammad Afsar earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He worked with Professor Yan Jin in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences to understand the interactions between colloids and soil organic matter under dynamic redox conditions, which frequently exist in wetlands. His research will contribute to improved understanding of how organic matter is released and transported in these environments.

Jean Brodeur earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of South Carolina. For nearly 10 years, she was a lobbyist and policy analyst in Washington, D.C. After deciding that she wanted to help set ocean science policy priorities, she came to UD to pursue a doctoral degree focusing on ocean acidification. She worked under Dr. Wei-Jun Cai, Mary A.S. Lighthipe Chair of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. 

Rachel in lab

Rachel Burch earned a Bachelor of Science degree in  Civil & Environmental Engineering from Messiah College. She is working on using a BioHiTech digester for aerobic digestion—breakdown of food waste by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen—to produce biofuel or fertilizer. Burch’s advisors, Dr. Michael Chajes and Dr. Daniel Cha, both professors of civil and environmental engineering, have been working with BioHiTech digesters since about 2018. Figuring out all the ways that we might be able to recover resources from the technology has a very immediate and far-reaching impact.  This could make a big difference in the way we dispose of food waste.

Photo of Margaret Capooci, 2017 DENIN Fellow

Margaret Capoocl earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental science and philosophy from The University of Scranton. She is a doctoral student in the Water Science and Policy Program working with Assistant Professor Rodrigo Vargas. She is working to understand the patterns and mechanisms behind carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions from wetland soils. Since these are greenhouse gases, understanding the processes that lead to their release to the atmosphere will increase our ability to predict climate change impacts.

Core Charpentier earned her bachelor’s degree in Marine Science from Eckerd College.  She worked with Dr. Jonathan Cohen in the School of Marine Science to understand the effects of acidification on zooplankton behavior and implications to the global ocean.

Robert Ddamulira earned his bachelors degree at (MUK) Kampala, Uganda, and came to UD for his Ph.D. with literally a world of experience. He worked for 9 years for the World Wide Fund for Nature(WWF) based out of Uganda and advanced to the position of Africa energy coordinator. His research is looking at the possible relationship between oil development activities and deforestation in rural Uganda, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the most ecologically important landscapes in Africa. He worked with Dr. Lawrence Agbemabiese, Energy and Environmental Policy.

Gretchen Dykes earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. She is currently a Ph. D. student in Angelia Seyfferth’s lab in the department of Plant and Soil Science. Her work focuses on the microbial communities of rice paddies and plant uptake of arsenic—important components of the plant-soil nexus—and factors that potentially contribute to mitigation of arsenic uptake in rice plants.

Elvis Ekibade earned his bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos, Lagos, Nigeria. He is a student chemical engineering. His work consists of several projects, from the fundamental to the applied. He is looking at making adhesives from corn stover and sugar cane waste material and examining the use of different catalysts and reaction conditions on these transformation processes. He worked with Dion Vlachos, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Sean Ellis earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Economics from LaSalle University and a master’s degree in economics and applied econometrics. He worked with Dr. Kent Messer, S. Hallock du Pont Professor of Applied Economics and Statistics, researching consumers’ willingness-to-accept and willingness-to-pay for food grown with non traditional irrigation water, specifically recycled wastewater.

Jason Fischel earned his bachelor degree in environmental science at Juniata College. He worked with Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Poet Chair in Plant and Soil Sciences to study soil chemical processes and properties impacting chromium cycling in highly contaminated soils.

Matthew Fischel earned dual bachelor’s degrees in environmental soil science and natural resource management from the University of Delaware. He worked with Donald Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Soil and Environmental Chemistry, researching how sea level rise will affect arsenic mobility and sequestration in marsh soils and vegetation. These studies will guide future management of coastal wetlands in Delaware and abroad to mitigate marsh contaminant release with future climate change.


Audrey Gamble earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Master Degree in Soil Chemistry from Auburn University.  She worked with Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Poet Chair in Plant and Soil Sciences to study the speciation and reactivity of phosphorus and arsenic in Mid-Atlantic. soils

Jimmy Gelvez Murillo worked as s part of a team under Dr. Pei Chu, Professor Civil and Environmental Engineering, that sought to develop a model to predict how quickly certain chemicals found in explosives are degraded in soil. This is pretty well ironed out in a simplified, clear-cut laboratory environment, but applying that knowledge to complex natural field environments with all the variability and unpredictability that entails is the greatest challenge of this work. Understanding this degradation process in greater detail will save time and money.


Julia Guimond received her bachelor’s in Geology-Biology from Brown University. After working for the State of New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services Watershed Bureau for two years, she came to UD as a PhD student in the Earth Sciences Department. She worked with Dr. Holly Michael, Professor, Unidel Fraser Russell Career Development Chair for the Environment. She studied coastal hydrogeology and how salt marsh hydrology impacts marsh biogeochemistry and, in turn, impacts vertical fluxes of carbon to the atmosphere and lateral fluxes of carbon to tidal creeks and estuaries. She is particularly interested in developing a numerical model that can predict how sea-level rise and climate change will impact coastal salt marsh ecosystems.

Tobias Hasse earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Delaware. He worked with Dr. Jim Pizzuto, Professor Earth Sciences researching how floodplain sediment storage durations create lags between changes in upland land use and changes in downstream water quality.

Fatemah in lab

Fatemah Izaditamecompleted a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering and a Master of Science degree in civil and environmental engineering and then worked for 4 years in an engineering consulting company in her native Iran. She is working with Dr. Donald Sparks,S. Hillock du Pont Chair, Francis Alison Professor Professor, Plant and Soil Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry and Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director, Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) research group to study the cycling and transport of arsenic in heavily contaminated soils and sediments (underwater soils) affected by sea-level rise and flooding. Arsenic exists in sediment in different forms with different toxicities and propensities to move, depending on conditions. Scientists and regulators need to understand the influence of sea-level variations on the cycling, movement, and toxicity of arsenic in coastal environments to develop effective regulations and management strategies.

Mahfuzur Rahman Khan earned a bachelor’s in Geology and a master’s degree in Hydrogeology from University of Dhaka. He worked with Dr. Holly Michael, Professor, Unidel Fraser Russell Career Development Chair for the Environment to improve understanding of the implications of climate change for the groundwater systems in coastal Bangladesh.

Anders Kiledal earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Hillsdale College. His UD work focused on the bacteria in concrete and their potential as bio-indicators of a chemical reaction that causes premature concrete degradation. This work could allow for better monitoring of concrete structures, damage mitigation, and increased knowledge of a structure’s “health.” He worked with Julia Maresca, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Kyra H. Kim is a native of South Korea. During her bachelor’s degree program at the University of Texas at Austin, she was drawn to the study of water science, policy, and management. In the Department of Geological Sciences at UD, she worked with Professor Holly Michael and Professor William Ullman to understand how sandy beaches regulate the flow and quality of nutrient-rich groundwater from coastal aquifers to the oceans.

Xiangmin Liang earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Huazhong University of Science and Technology and a master’s degree from Illinois Institute of Technology. Working with Daniel Cha, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Liang’s research focused on developing composite materials that are derived entirely from microorganisms growing naturally in wastewater treatment plants. He is evaluating the potential for using filamentous microbes as reinforcement and polymer-accumulating microbes as matrix for composites. Central goals of the research are to produce sustainable materials based on biorenewable resources while reducing waste biomass production.

Eric Moore earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s in ecology and evolution from the University of Louisville. He worked with Tara Trammel, the John Bartram Associate Professor of Urban Forestry in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. His work focused on nonnative invasive plants and urbanization-related habitat disturbances, two of the most well-recognized threats to biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystems worldwide. Moore’s research included an experiment designed to reduce secondary invasion of nonnative plants, promote native species diversity, and slow nitrogen cycling rates and losses within the soil following invasive plant removals. The work will help inform forest management practices and strategies for forest restoration.

Photo of Matt Miller

Matthew Miller earned his bachelor’s degree in Environmental and Hazardous Material Management and master’s degree in Environmental Safety from the University of Findlay. He worked with Dr. Shreeram Inamdar, professor Plant and Soil Sciences, to understand the effects of climate change on fresh water resources. Specifically focusing on water/wastewater utility adaptation.

Lauren Mossesso earned her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Geology at University of Mary Washington. She is working with Amy Shober, Professor and Extension Specialist, Nutrient Management, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Her work focuses on trying to better understand how phosphorus moves through soil on the Delmarva Peninsula. The goal of her research is to develop and modify best management practices for farmers so they can save money and time by knowing whether phosphorus will be lost through the soil to adjacent drainage ditches if manure is applied to fields. This increased efficiency will also protect water quality and help farmers save money and be environmental stewards.

Spencer Moller

Spencer Moller earned his bachelors degree in Biology. After completing an undergraduate research project at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth on how electronic waste breaks down, he discovered he had similar interests on glyphosate degradation, with his advisor, Dr. Deb Jaisi, associate professor of environmental biogeochemistry,  He is now studying the degradation of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, with the goal of making its breakdown products more environmentally friendly and less persistent in the environment.

Joanne Norris

Joanne Norris earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainability Studies from Hofstra Univeristy and an MA in Climate and Society from Columbia University. She came to UD wanting to work on biodegradable chemicals with environmental applications. She found just the place in the labs of John Rabolt, Karl W. and Renate Böer Professor, and LaShanda Korley, Distinguished Professor, both in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. She is studying the polymer called PHBHx. It has piezoelectric potential, which means that it can generate a voltage if it’s manipulated mechanically. She is working on adding a coating to this chemical to optimize its passive nitrate-sensing ability. The goal is that when it comes in contact with nitrate at a concentration just below the legal limit, the sensor chemical will change shape and generate current. This would signal monitors that nitrate levels are high.

Zhixuan Qin received her bachelor’s degree in ecology from South China Agricultural University and Master’s degree in interdisciplinary ecology (water and soil science concen-tration) from University of Florida. She worked with Dr.  Amy Shober, Professor, Plant and Soil Sciences to understand nutrient management and soil biogeochemistry (mainly N and P). She is currently focusing on understanding P dynamics in high P agricultural soils and evaluating possible best management practices to mitigate the potential P losses from these soils. 

Amanda Rosier earned her bachelor’s degree in microbial ecology from the University of Montana. She worked at the Montana Department of Natural Resources Conservation’s plant nursery and then North Creek Nurseries in Pennsylvania prior to joining the plant root biology lab of Professor Harsh Bais in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Her work focused on the complex, below-ground interactions of beneficial bacteria with plant roots, particularly interactions that improve plant health. Understanding these positive interactions could lead to reduced fertilizer and pesticide use and more sustainable agriculture.

Kelsey Schumacher’s doctoral research focused on policy regarding electronic waste, or “e-waste”, one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world.
She studied with Dr. Lawrence Agbemabiese in UD’s Energy and Environmental Policy Program, now part of the Biden School of Public Policy & Administration. Her interests in resource recovery and the circular economy led to her current position with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).


Tyler Sowers earned his bachelor and master’s degrees in plant and soil sciences from North Carolina State University. He worked with Dr. Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Poet Chair of Plant and Soil Sciences researching organo-mineral associations and sequestration mechanisms impacting carbon cycling in diverse terrestrial and aquatic systems.

Alma Vasquez-Lule earned bachelor’s degree in Biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a Master’s degree in Geomatics from the Research Center of Geography and Geomatics in Mexico. She worked with Dr. Rodrigo Vargas, professor of Plant and Soil Sciences, to study how carbon is released to the atmosphere and captured by vegetation in a coastal salt marsh in St. Jones Reserve near Dover, Delaware. Vázquez-Lule specifically examined how the flow of methane and carbon dioxide into and from the salt marsh changes throughout the day and the year under the influence of the growing season, water movement, temperature change, and air pressure. 


Danhui Xin earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental engineering at Tongji University in Shanghai, China, and completed the Ph.D. at the University of Delaware in 2021, studying with Pei Chiu, Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering. Currently, Xin is postdoctoral scientist at the University of Delaware. Xin’s doctoral research focused on biochar, a carbon-rich product made by burning organic wastes. It is used for water treatment, soil remediation and soil fertility improvement. Her research laid out the chemical properties that make biochar work, by quantifying biochar’s electron storage capacity, which is a measure of biochar’s ability to mediate chemical and microbiological reactions.

Lingxiao (Alfred) Yan received his bachelor’s degree from Xiamen University in marine science and and the master’s degree from Duke University in environment management. Currently, he is the Ph.D. student in the School of Marine Science and Policy. Working with Professor Sunny Jardine, Assistant Professor and Professor George Parsons, Unidel E.I. du Pont Professor of Marine Studies, he is investigating the new methods to apply the ecosystem-based management (EBM) for the sustainability of marine environment. 


How To Apply

Applications are now being accepted for the 2022-2024 DENIN Environmental Fellowships. Application deadline: April 22, 2022.

The fellowship is open to current University of Delaware doctoral students with an environmental focus whose advisers are DENIN-affiliated faculty members. Fellows are required to provide a brief written report annually, to lead or attend certain DENIN events, and to make occasional presentations to the DENIN or EPSCoR communities. The fellowship begins in September and provides funding for two years.

An application includes a proposal narrative, resume, and names for up to three references.

Application instructions are available for download here: DENIN-Environmental-Fellows-Application-Instructions-2022

The online application page is available here.

Address questions regarding the fellowship or the application process to DENIN Associate Director Jeanette Miller by email.

Support for the DENIN Fellows

Funding for the DENIN Fellows is provided in part through private philanthropy. If you are interested in helping to support the next generation of environmental leaders, please contact Jeanette Miller.