UM Graduate Student Earns Major NSF Fellowship

UM graduate student Claire Rawlings Gilder was awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

MISSOULA – Claire Rawlings Gilder, a geosciences graduate student at the University of Montana, has been awarded a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the program has a long history of selecting recipients who go on to achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. Past recipients include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and “Freakonomics” co-author Steven Levitt.

Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, as well as a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees, and opportunities for international research and professional development. They also gain freedom to direct their own research.

Rawlings Gilder is one of only two Montana students to earn the honor this year and one of only three geomorphology students nationally out of the 2,076 awards given. The program draws about 12,000 applications annually.

“It's a nice validation of me as a scientist – that other scientists think I have the ability to make a contribution to the community,” she said. “I’m pretty excited. This is the kind of thing that stays on a CV forever. It’s great that the NSF make a point to support first-year graduate students.”

Rawlings Gilder studies fluvial geomorphology, specifically the feedbacks and relationships between the surface features of a river, the groundwater system interacting with it and the vegetation surrounding it. By studying how changes to any of these parts affect the system as a whole, she hopes to improve river management and restoration practices through better prediction of river response to change.

In addition to her research, Rawlings Gilder also is part of the UM BRIDGES program, a NSF graduate training program at the University. This program trains future leaders to connect policy and science to support our food, energy and water systems through interdisciplinary collaboration and improved science communication skills. She said the program brings biophysical and social scientists together to better tackle complex problems and then translate that science more effectively to meaningful policy.

Rawlings Gilder also recently was awarded a Glacier National Park Conservancy-Jerry O’Neal Research Fellowship. She has a project site near Glacier National Park on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

“It’s a good representative river for that area, with established data and research access,” she said. “My work at that site will be presented to the public and park management to specifically inform policy decisions as climate change and increased use impact the river systems in the park.”

Since 1952, NSF has funded over 50,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. Currently, 42 Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates, and more than 450 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program has a high rate of doctorate degree completion, with more than 70% of students completing their doctorates within 11 years. For more information visit


Contact: Claire Rawlings Gilder, UM geoscience graduate student, 406-243-2073,