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Studying soil across the globe

Growing up in small, agricultural Terreton, Idaho, prepared Emilee Severe (‘21) to study environmental science and sustainability. She was raised around farmers and irrigation systems and worked for an irrigation company in high school. “I would drive boats up and down streams, and I was always in the canal bank,” she says. Now at BYU, she has the chance to learn the science behind what she saw in the streams.

Emilee Severe

Severe merges her interests in soil and water quality as she researches the effects of large wildfires on aquatic ecosystems with Dr. Ben Abbott. Studying the area where the megafire blazed in 2019, she notes that most natural areas near Utah Lake recover quickly. “The natural ecosystem handles wildfires really well,” she says.

Severe’s work with Dr. Abbott also analyzes data he gathers on agricultural water in France. She will have the opportunity to work in Europe herself through Lancaster University. She recently received the Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship from the European Commission. Severe will move to England this summer to start her PhD research on microplastics in soil. “I still can’t believe I got it,” she says. “It’s such a cool fellowship.”

While searching for PhD faculty conducting interesting research, Severe stumbled upon the fellowship. She found an article from a mentor who studied water in Europe, applied for the fellowship, and got it. “The whole point of the program is to help train the next generation of researchers,” Severe says. She and fifteen other PhD students will work together on the fellowship while visiting European countries.

Emilee Severe doing field work

Severe has loved all her classes at BYU and has had positive experiences with her professors. “I felt like I’ve really found my niche of people in the College of Life Sciences,” she says. Her major has opened opportunities for her to do other kinds of research, like her biology education research with Dr. Liz Bailey.

“My project [with Dr. Bailey] is specifically looking at the factors that influence both male and female students in participating in their classes,” Severe explains. “Ultimately, the research is to help increase women’s feeling of belonging within science majors.”

After earning her PhD, Severe plans to become a university professor. She hopes to pursue both her passions as a professor in life sciences – education and research.