The University of Delaware’s Hannah Clipp was one of a dozen UD students (undergraduate and graduate) and alumni to have won National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships as the prestigious competition marks its 65th year. Fourteen others received honorable mention designations.
The awards — for which more than 13,000 applicants competed this year — include three years of funding at $34,000 per year, plus $12,000 in cost-of-education allowances to the school for study leading to a master’s or doctoral degree in science and engineering. The total of these awards is almost $1.4 million — a significant boost for the students and their research.
Clipp, a Master’s level student studying bird migration, stopover ecology, and bird conservation in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, said that she had been an honorable mention the previous year and that it was an amazing feeling to receive the fellowship this year.
Working with Jeff Buler, associate professor of wildlife ecology, in Buler’s Aeroecology Lab, Clipp said that she is specifically using weather surveillance radar to look at stopover sites along the Gulf Coast, where birds rest and feed during migration.
“Without available stopover sites, birds’ migration could be disrupted and they could die. We’re looking at habitat right along the Gulf Coast, which is critical for birds that have just undergone the 18 to 24-hour nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico during spring migration, but there’s substantial coastal development and urbanization, so it’s particularly important to protect stopover sites in this region. Part of my research is identifying and mapping where stopover habitat is located and looking to see how wind and weather affect where migrants are ending up so that we can predict where most birds are passing through and protect those areas. My research provides information that will help to prioritize conservation efforts,” said Clipp.
Having first been exposed to bird research during an NSF-funded research experience for undergraduates program at Kansas State University where she investigated the effects of different management strategies on grassland songbird territory sizes, Clipp continued her research pursuits by studying waterbirds at created wetlands in West Virginia while an undergraduate at West Virginia University.
As for how she ended up at UD, Clipp said she was looking for wildlife graduate programs, saw the project she is currently working on being advertised, and reached out to meet with Buler.
“This was one of the projects that drew my attention, so I reached out to Jeff and got to visit UD. I met with him, learned about his research, and then decided that it was a good fit,” said Clipp.
Buler said that Clipp has been a “great addition to the Aeroecology Program. Her motivation, dedication, and unwavering enthusiasm for her work are impressive. She will make important scientific contributions to our knowledge of bird migration around the Gulf of Mexico that will lead to more effective conservation efforts for populations of migratory birds.”
With regards to her love of birds, Clipp said that she likes the fact that birds are everywhere.
“With mammals, unless it’s a really common species like white-tailed deer, you often have to go looking for them and they’re hard to find, but birds are everywhere. People love them. I love them,” said Clipp. “I am reminded every day that the research I’m doing has real world applications and can be used to help conserve bird populations.”
Article by Adam Thomas
Photo by Wenbo Fan