N. Danielle Bridgers of Suffolk, Va., a fisheries and wildlife sciences graduate student in the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources, has been awarded a 2009 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship.

The award acknowledges master’s and doctoral students who have done outstanding research in science or engineering and have the potential to make substantial developments in their fields. Each fellowship provides three years of funding, including a tuition supplement and a $30,000 annual stipend.

“I never imagined myself as an NSF fellow,” said Bridgers. “It is definitely an encouragement. I now have confidence to pursue my Ph.D. and follow my research interests.”

Bridgers attracted the attention of the National Science Foundation judges with her use of sonar to research bog turtles — successfully using sonar for the first time with that species. While sonar has been used effectively on other types of turtles, it has never before been used on bog turtles.

Bridgers completed her undergraduate degree in biology at Virginia State University. At Virginia Tech, she has focused her master’s research on the nesting habits of bog turtles in southwestern Virginia under the direction of advisers Carola Haas and Dean Stauffer. The information she obtained from sonar images helps her pinpoint when female turtles will be ready to lay their eggs.

Bridgers shares the results of her research on bog turtles with the Virginia Department of Inland Game and Fisheries, which uses the information to try to increase the population of this endangered species. Some in the scientific community were skeptical about sonar’s success on the bog turtle, which typically grows shells of only 3 to 3¼ inches in length. “It was nice to prove that sonar could work on bog turtles,” explained Bridgers.

Bridgers was recognized as the Fisheries and Wildlife Graduate Student Association’s Mentor of the Year for her work organizing the fisheries and wildlife orientation and her efforts to encourage high school students in the Baltimore area to attend college. She also serves on the Dean’s Team of Student Ambassadors for the College of Natural Resources and is a peer mentor for the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program.

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