Montana State University 

photo of Matt Blank

Matt Blank, PhD, PE

Assistant Research Professor, Civil Engineering Department

Research Scientist, Western Transportation Institute

Western Transportation Institute Website

Dr. Blank holds a B.S. (University of Wisconsin, ’94) in geological engineering, and a M.S. (MSU ’02) and Ph.D. (MSU ’08) in civil engineering.  He has over 20 years of experience conducting both academic studies and consulting activities on water resource issues.  He is currently a research scientist and assistant research professor at the Western Transportation Institute and the Civil Engineering Department at Montana State University, and does water resource consulting with Restoration Engineering, LLC, a private consulting firm.  He is co-principal investigator of a fish passage and swimming research facility formed through a partnership with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and has been investigating fish passage and aquatic connectivity issues for over a decade.  He teaches applied fluid mechanics and engineering hydraulics at MSU.  Through both research and consulting activities, Dr. Blank has been involved with the assessment, design, or review of hundreds of hydraulic structures in rivers and streams across the country and in Canada.   This work spans the range of structures from small culverts on gravel roads, to irrigation diversions, to large hydropower dams on major rivers such as Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River in Idaho, and Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Maryland.  

Photo of Joel Cahoon

Joel Cahoon, PhD, PE

Professor, Civil Engineering Department

Dr. Cahoon holds B.S. (NMSU ‘85), M.S. (MSU ’87), and Ph.D. (Arkansas ’89) degrees in agricultural engineering.  He began his academic career at the University of Nebraska as a tenure-track professor in 1990 with a research and cooperative extension appointment.  Dr. Cahoon joined the Civil Engineering Department at Montana State University in 1995, tasked with teaching and studying all facets of water resources engineering.  He teaches fluid mechanics, hydraulics, open channel hydraulics, closed conduit hydraulics, and graduate courses dealing with hydraulics.  Professor Cahoon has found research applications of his studies in broad ranging settings, including on-farm water management, river restoration, and the interactions between hydraulics and fish habitat and mobility.  In 20 years at MSU, Dr. Cahoon has mentored more than 50 graduate students and has served as academic advisor to over 200 undergraduates.  Dr. Cahoon has had various administrative appointments at MSU including Interim Department Head of Civil Engineering, Associate Director of University Honors, and Program Coordinator of Civil Engineering.

photo of tom mcmahon

Tom McMahon, PhD

Professor, Department of Ecology

Faculty Website

Dr. McMahon has been a professor of fisheries at MSU since 1990. Previously he was an assistant professor conducting research and extension in fish-forestry interactions with the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, as a visiting postdoctoral salmon habitat researcher with the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans in British Columbia, and as a fisheries biologist with the USFWS habitat evaluation program in Colorado.  At MSU, he teaches courses in fish ecology and management from the freshman to graduate level, and has been the major professor on 31 graduate student projects, including 4 fish passage projects.  Dr. Cahoon, Dr. Blank, and he have been working jointly on fish passage research projects for the past 15 years.

photo of katey plymesser

Katey Plymesser, PhD, PE

Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering Department

Faculty Website

Dr. Plymesser hold a B.S. (Case Western Reserve University ’01) and Ph.D. (MSU ’14) degrees in Civil Engineering.  She began her academic career at Montana State University – Billings with a teaching and research tenure-track appointment.  Dr. Plymesser joined the Civil Engineering Department at Montana State University in 2016.  Her research is focused in ecohydraulics and fish passage with a particular fondness for the application of hydraulic and fluid dynamic models to answer research questions in natural settings.  She has worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) both in Bozeman and at the Region 5 Headquarters in Amherst, MA on fish passage research projects and practical applications and assessments that culminated in the creation of a passage model for American shad in Steeppass (modified Denil) fishways.  Her work has been financially supported by the DOE through the Hydro Research Foundation and the USFWS.  Dr. Plymesser currently teaches Engineering Mechanics, Statics and Fluid Dynamics.  She has been engaging both undergraduate and graduate students in research since she began her own graduate work in 2008.   Through her work with the Montana State University chapter of Engineers Without Borders she has been active in promoting student engagement and involvement. 

al zale

Al Zale, PhD

Professor, Department of Ecology

Unit Leader, USGS Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit

Dr. Zale received degrees in fisheries science from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (BS), Virginia Tech (MS), and the University of Florida (PhD).  He worked in Oklahoma before coming to MSU in 1994, where he leads, coordinates, and administers an applied fisheries research program addressing topics and issues of concern to the State of Montana and the U.S. Department of the Interior. His research interests are therefore wide ranging, including restoration of native fishes, fish entrainment and passage at irrigation diversions, thermal ecology, population dynamics and effects of nonnative fishes, and effects of land-use practices on fisheries. His earlier research focused on game fish management, fisheries in regulated rivers, whirling disease, and molluscs. He teaches a graduate course on the human dimensions of fish and wildlife management and is obsessive about technical writing. 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo  of Kevin Kappenman

Kevin Kappenman

Research Fishery Biologist, Bozeman Fish Technology Center

Bozeman Fish Technology Center Website

Kevin Kappenman is a Research Biologist for the USFWS and will serve as co- investigator and the primary point of contact for the USFWS. He will be responsible for coordinating the use of BFTC physical resources and staff involved in the project, the BFTC budget, and will assist with design of the flume, infrastructure retrofitting process of Denil ladders, review of fish collection permits, health testing requirements, transportation, holding methods, and fish swimming experiments.  He is a fishery professional with nearly 30 years of research experience and has published numerous peer reviewed articles and reports. In his position with the USFWS (11 years) his focus is on restoration efforts for sensitive, threatened, and endangered species. He has been involved in a variety of projects promoting native fish passage on small streams and rivers in Montana and as a Research Biologist for the USGS and Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission where he addressed passage concerns on mainstem dams in the Columbia River Basin including work with salmonids, lamprey, and sturgeon.

Photo of Bill Rice

Bill Rice, PE

Fish Passage Coordinator, Regional Office, Lakewood, CO

National Fish Passage Program, Mountain-Prairie Region Website

Bill Rice is a Fish Passage Engineer for the USFWS and also the regional coordinator for the National Fish Passage Program. He has over 20 years of experience on water resources issues and specializes in assessing, designing and installing fish passage and stream restoration projects. Mr. Rice has designed or been involved as the expert reviewer on hundreds of structures across the country from Alaska, across the West to the East Coast. He has a B.S. (Colorado School of Mines, ’91) in geological engineering and M.S. (Colorado State University, ’98) in watershed science. His work has spanned a range of structures from culverts and bridges to irrigation diversions, rocky ramps and dams.

Graduate Students

Ian Anderson

Ian Anderson


Ian is from central Illinois and graduated from the University of Montana in 2016 with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology - Aquatics. His research interests include fish movement ecology, life history strategies of fishes in a changing climate, and, more broadly, conservation of native fish populations around the western United States. He is now pursuing a Master's degree in Fish and Wildlife Management (Dept. of Ecology). Ian will be working to determine the efficacy of the fish bypass channel at Huntley Diversion Dam on the Yellowstone River alongside graduate student Haley Tupen.

Research Committee: TBD

dan armstrong

Dan Armstrong

Civil Engineering

Dan hails from southern Colorado, where he completed a Bachelors in Biology in 2011 and then, after moving to Bozeman, finished up a Bachelors in Civil Engineering at MSU in 2018.  He enjoys most outdoor activities, namely skiing and biking, but also dabbles in whitewater rafting.  Dan is continuing his education researching hydraulics and river hydrology in the MSU Graduate school while working for the USGS as a part-time Hydraulic Engineer.  When he has time, he also enjoys painting, pina colodas, dessert and the desert. 

Research Committee: TBD 

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Tyler Blue

Civil Engineering

Tyler is from Boise, Idaho and recently completed his Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering at Montana State University.  Tyler will be working on a study to assess the efficacy of flow restriction devices for Denil fishways for Arctic Grayling passge.  He is also the Teaching Assistant for the Undergraduate Hydraulics Lab.

Research Committee: Katey Plymesser, Matt Blank, Joel Cahoon, Kevin Kappenman

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Tom Chingas

Civil Engineering

Tom is from Strafford, New Hampshire and graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2013 with a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering.  He decided to go back to school after working at a private civil engineering consulting firm in New Hampshire for three years.  He is also a Teaching Assistant in the Engineering Mechanics Help Lab. 

Research Committee: Katey Plymesser, Matt Blank, Joel Cahoon

photo of ricki garden

Ricki Garden

Civil Engineering

Ricki graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.S. in Civil Engineering.  Before finding her eventual way to the Rocky Mountains, she spent time in Washington state working as a structural engineer for Boeing, where her free time exploring the streams and rivers of the Cascades shifted her career focus to ensuring the health of our waterways. She has since worked for the U.S. Forest Service in various roles, including as a hydrologic technician, forestry technician, and a wildland fire fighter.  More recent time spent in the private sector as a practicing River Engineer found her working on projects in Colorado and New Mexico covering a gamut of river restorations, whitewater enhancements, and floodplain analyses. So that she may better protect this resource that holds her passion, she made the move to Bozeman to further her education in Ecohydraulics. Currently, Ricki serves as a Teaching Assistant in the Engineering Mechanics Help Center.

Research Committee: TBD

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Brad Hoefer

Civil Engineering

Brad is from Steamboat Springs, Colorado and recently completed his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at Montana State University. Brad will be working on developing CFD models of a Denil fishway to aid in the analysis of the Arctic grayling passage work being undertaken at the BFTC and in the Big Hole watershed. He is also the Teaching Assistant for Undergraduate Fluid Mechanics class. 

Research Committee: Katey Plymesser, Lindsey Albertson, Joel Cahoon, Erick Johnson

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Heather Nold

Civil Engineering

Heather is from Littleton, Colorado and recently completed her Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering at Montana State University.  Heather is currently working on a study to assess the efficacy of flow restriction devices for Denil fishway for Arctic Grayling Passage.  She is also a Teaching Assistant in the Engineering Mechanics Help Lab.

Research Committee: Katey Plymesser, Ryan Anderson, Ellen Lauchnor

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Nolan Platt

Civil Engineering

Nolan is from Boulder, Colorado and recently completed his Bachelor's degree in Environmental Engineering from Colorado State University.  Nolan is working on a study is to evaluate the use and effectiveness of Denil structures installed in existing irrigation diversions throughout the Big Hole watershed.  Nolan and Ben Triano will form the multi-disciplinary student team working on this project.

Research Committee: Katey Plymesser, Matt Blank, Joel Cahoon, Kevin Kappenman

Photo of Ben Triano

Ben Triano


Ben grew up fishing and exploring the coast and local estuaries of New Jersey. He has an undergraduate degree in Aquatic Biology from the University of California at Santa Barbara. His main research interest is working toward better conservation and management of native fish species in the face of increasing anthropogenic impacts, climate change, and ecological interactions.  Other general research interests include salmonid ecology and life history, fish passage, and habitat connectivity.  Ben is pursuing a master’s degree in Ecology, and will be working with Arctic Grayling on the Big Hole River along with engineering graduate student Nolan Platt. 

Research Committee: Tom McMahon, Matt Blank, Kevin Kappenman, Al Zale

tupen photo

Haley Tupen

Civil Engineering

Haley is from Auburn, California and graduated from Oregon State University in 2016 with a degree in Ecological Engineering. After working at varying government and public water agencies the past few years, she decided to head back to school to further explore her passion for river restoration and design. Haley will be working as a Research Assistant to Dr. Katey Plymesser.

Research Committee: TBD

Undergraduate Students

megan guinn

Megan Guinn

Civil Engineering (BREN Option)

Megan is an undergraduate from Golden, Colorado. Working on and exploring rivers has motivated her to pursue work toward water resources engineering projects. Her recent USP funding has helped to aid a study which focuses on redesigning Denil Fishways to increase flow productivity through mountain streams and other low flow scenarios.

embla hagensen

Embla Hagensen

Civil Engineering (BREN Option)

Embla is an undergraduate student from Bozeman, Montana and Tromsø, Norway. Spending summers by the ocean and rivers in northern Norway initiated her curiosity in learning about the ecohydraulics field. She is currently working on a USP funded project with the help of graduate student, Haley Tupen, to determine at what inlet height the water in a Denil fishway transitions from streaming to plunging to help minimize the use of excess water in the fishway.

Photo of Meaghan Key

Meagan Key

Civil Engineering (BREN Option)

Meagan is a freshman from Helena, MT studying Civil Engineering Bio-Resources option.  Meagan is part of the First Year Research Experience (FYRE) which provides her a stipend to participate in research activities.  She is currently assisting Heather Nold with the flow control plate designs for application and use in the Big Hole river watershed.  

Photo of Shannon Muenchow

Shannon Muenchow

Civil Engineering (BREN Option)

Shannon is an undergraduate student from Evergreen Colorado studying Civil Engineering, Bio-Resources option. She is working on a USP funded project with Nolan Platt investigating the validity of the midsection method when measuring discharge through a Denil fishway. She is hoping to work on additional hydraulic based projects in the future.