Bryan Vadheim of Miles City, who plans to combine his academic interests of chemical engineering and economics to benefit the environment on a global scale, has become Montana State University's first Marshall Scholar.
His selection as a Marshall Scholar, one of the most selective scholarships awarded to American students, means that Vadheim will receive two years of education in the United Kingdom. He plans to earn a master's degree from the London School of Economics as well as a master's degree in engineering specializing in water science and governance from King's College, also in London.
"I'd been looking at the Marshall Scholarship for some time because it allowed for two degrees, which was perfect for me," said Vadheim, who is a man of varied yet deep interests. In addition to majors in chemical engineering and economics, he will graduate in May with minors in statistics, mathematics and business administration. He credits an assortment of mentors at MSU with encouraging the development of his interests.
"One of the things that I have been most appreciative of is how many opportunities I've had while I've been here (at MSU) and how supportive the professors, faculty and staff have been of my efforts," Vadheim said.
An MSU Presidential Scholar and a member of MSU's University's Honors Program, Vadheim distinguished himself nearly the first time he stepped on campus, said Ilse-Mari Lee, director of the University Honors Program.
"Bryan is not only a highly gifted multi-disciplinary scholar, but also a leader among his peers and a compassionate individual," said Lee, who added that the Marshall Scholarship is very similar to the Rhodes Scholarship. However, while Rhodes Scholars must study in the Oxford University system, the Marshall Scholarship may be used at any institution in the U.K. Vadheim interviewed for the Marshall Scholarship at the British Consulate in San Francisco. About 40 American scholars across the country are selected to study at the graduate level at an U.K. institution for the scholarship, created by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1953 in honor of Gen. George C. Marshall as a living gift in recognition of the post-World War II European Recovery Plan, commonly known as the Marshall Plan.
Interestingly, Vadheim's longtime college roommate at MSU was Joe Thiel, who also learned last week that he received a Rhodes Scholarship. Both are Presidential Scholars and have at least one major in engineering.
"(Bryan) will serve as wonderful ambassador for Montana and MSU in the United Kingdom," Lee said. "We are so proud of all Bryan's accomplishments. He possesses the intellect, energy and compassion to make a pronounced difference in this world."
The youngest son of an internist and a nutritionist, Vadheim was born and raised in Miles City and has a deep passion for the outdoors fostered by summers spent in a family cabin in Silvergate, Mont., and hiking in the Beartooth Mountains. He knew he would like to study chemical engineering, his interest in chemistry encouraged by Brenda Martin, his chemistry teacher at Custer County High School. He said while he looked at a few other engineering programs across the country, MSU's excellence in chemical engineering as well as its proximity to a world-class environment and outdoor activities appealed to him. He was also impressed with the personal connection he received when he asked to tour the campus before his senior year.
"The associate director of the Honors Program (Bruce Morton, retired dean of the MSU Libraries) took time to come in and meet me and my family, even though it was summer. From that first moment I felt welcome on campus," Vadheim recalled.
Vadheim became involved in research at MSU even before his freshman year, according to Abigail Richards, professor in MSU's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and one of Vadheim's mentors. The summer before his freshman year he worked at MSU's Imaging and Chemical Analysis Laboratory and has since made significant contributions to several research projects, including a study of the interactions between biofilms and moving fluids conducted with Jeff Heys, MSU professor and interim department head of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. He received a National Science Foundation award to spend a summer with Ernest Blatchley at Purdue University researching a solar UV water disinfection system that can be used in Third World countries. The research resulted in both an article in the journal Water Research as well as an international patent application.
"Bryan remains at the top in his classes while simultaneously volunteering within the MSU and Bozeman community and still finds time to conduct undergraduate research," Richards said. "Bryan is a very talented young man who possesses a generous nature and altruistic core values that are combined with an impressive track record in research and outstanding academic credentials."
As part of MSU's award-winning Engineers Without Borders, Vadheim spent an earlier summer in Kenya as the leader of a five-person team that designed and implemented a composting latrine and installed a well for an elementary school in the Khwisero District of western Kenya. He has also served as treasurer for that group, overseeing an annual operating budget of $100,000 and assisting with writing grant proposals, one of which was funded by the Koch Foundation.
About the same time, he became passionate about economics when he took a University Honors class on the subject.
"It became clear to me that projects to correct the environment don't work without a change to the economics, likewise changes to the economics cannot work without projects to solve environmental problems," Vadheim said, adding that was the impetus to study both disciplines to truly effect change.
In addition, Vadheim has been involved in a long list of campus activities. As president of MSU's Alpha Delta Lambda Honorary, he has organized activities include ushering for the Bozeman Symphony, participating in the Relay for Life, and regularly visiting a local retirement home. He is active in the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the student group "Men Stopping Rape," the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Network of the Environmentally Conscious Organizations. He also volunteers at the Museum of the Rockies as an exhibit guide.
Following his years in the United Kingdom, Vadheim plans to return to the U.S. to earn a doctorate in economics. He foresees a career with the International Money Fund or World Bank working in environmental policy.
"But I love Montana and I can't imagine being away from it for very long," Vadheim said. "I will always find time to come back to hike every summer."
Vadheim said if there was advice that he would give to other students coming behind him, it would be to ask for help.
"The professors around here are pretty incredible," Vadheim said. "They are very willing to take an interest in students and offer opportunity to people who ask."
Ilse-Mari Lee (406) 994-4689, firstname.lastname@example.org