UNL UCARE Students

Casey Heier, Celeste Wanner, and mentor Adam Liska
Left to right: Casey Heier, Celeste Wanner, and mentor Adam Liska

From Undergraduate Researchers to Nation’s Top Energy and Environmental Graduate Programs

Two UNL undergraduates will soon trade in their Husker red for spots in some of the nation’s most competitive graduate programs. Through funding from UNL’s UCARE program, these students used their involvement in undergraduate research to prepare for and help gain entry into the graduate programs of their choice at Stanford University and Indiana University.

Casey Heier, a 2010-2012 UCARE student, used his undergraduate research experience to work on a project focused on issues of bioenergy and fossil fuel sustainability. His collaborative work with faculty mentor, Assistant Professor Adam Liska, led to them publishing the peer-reviewed article, “The Limits to Complexity: A Thermodynamic History of Bioenergy” that is now in press in the journal Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biorefining. Casey says of his research experience, “My research projects gave me the unique opportunity to formulate and refine my own scientific arguments, and ultimately have them critically reviewed and accepted for publication. Going through that learning process as an undergraduate gave me the confidence to apply to some of the most prestigious universities in the world.” After graduating in May 2013 with a BS in Biological Systems Engineering and a minor in Energy Science, Casey will begin a Master’s program in Atmosphere/Energy within the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Stanford University.

Celeste Wanner, who completed an Environmental Studies degree in the School of Natural Resources and an Energy Science minor, used the research she conducted with UCARE funding in 2012 to complete a senior thesis entitled “Impact of Vehicle Efficiency Improvements on U.S. Gasoline Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions”. Celeste notes, "UCARE was a great experience because it allowed me to delve deeper into a topic in my field and gave me the opportunity to work closely with a professor. I believe that my undergraduate research experience definitely gave me a competitive edge when applying to graduate school, as well as for earning a fellowship. After completing the Energy Science minor and my thesis related to energy efficiency, I plan to continue focusing on energy related topics in graduate school." In the fall of 2013, Celeste will be going to Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs to start a dual Master’s program in Environmental Science, and Environmental Policy and Management, which is ranked first in the nation in that field.

Casey and Celeste’s faculty advisor, Dr. Adam Liska, from the departments of Biological Systems Engineering and Agronomy and Horticulture, and coordinator of the Energy Science minor, believes that undergraduate research is a key component of any student’s undergraduate education, especially for those who want to be competitive in graduate school. “I have known for a long time how important undergraduate research is for advancing student’s understanding how of science is applied in real-world settings, and how this research allows them to explore increasingly complex problems. Part of my success as a scientific researcher began with four years of undergraduate research.”

"My research projects gave me the unique opportunity to formulate and refine my own scientific arguments, and ultimately have them critically reviewed and accepted for publication. Going through that learning process as an undergraduate gave me the confidence to apply to some of the most prestigious universities in the world."
--Casey Heier