Montana State University

MSU student wins prestigious Udall Scholarship

April 17, 2017 -- Denise Hoepfner, MSU News Service

Mathew Bain, a junior majoring in environmental science at Montana State University, has been selected for a prestigious Udall Scholarship. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

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Tel: (406) 994-4571

BOZEMAN – A Montana State University student whose passion for the environment has driven him to participate in and lead environmental initiatives at the university and in the community has won a prestigious Udall Scholarship from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation.

Mathew Bain, a junior Honors College student and Presidential Scholar from Missoula, was selected as a Udall Scholar in the environmental policy category. Bain is majoring in environmental sciences with a concentration in soil and water in the MSU College of Agriculture and is minoring in Hispanic studies in the MSU College of Letters and Science.

"I am so pleased for Mathew, who has dedicated his life to the protection of the environment,” said Ilse-Mari Lee, dean of the MSU Honors College. “He is a brilliant student leader who can effortlessly bridge the divide between climate science and policymaking. He is focused like a laser on the task at hand, namely the protection of our environment for future generations."

Bain, who was an honorable mention for a 2016 Udall, said he was ecstatic to be chosen for the scholarship this year, which covers up to $7,000 for tuition, books, fees, and room and board. The award also provides the opportunity for Bain to meet with other 2017 Udall Scholars this summer in Tucson, Arizona.

“Not only will the money help me to continue my education, but the Udall Scholars’ community is full of highly accomplished people who will help connect me to new opportunities,” Bain said. “I spend a lot of my time working with clubs and doing research, which doesn’t leave me enough time to hold a job during the school year. This scholarship will allow me to keep dedicating my time toward the causes that I believe in.” 

As part of his Hispanic studies minor, Bain is currently on a student exchange at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso in Chile. There, he is immersing himself in courses in art, language, culture and environmental issues as a step toward his goal of working on international environmental policy.

At MSU, Bain does research in the Montana State Fluvial Landscape Lab under Geoffrey Poole, associate professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. In the lab, Bain works on creating a new generation of computer models that simulate the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and other elements within ecosystems. The goal of the project is to understand how these different cycles influence one another, for example, how the availability of nitrogen in soils affects the storage and release of carbon, including carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“I got involved with the Fluvial Landscape Lab to extend my learning and gain skills in computer programming, as well as to contribute to the ecological community,” Bain said. “I wanted to gain an understanding of environmental science before moving into policy work. I am passionate about the environment and believe that this is the place where I can make the biggest difference.”

“Mathew is a motivated student and researcher who is willing to take on new problems and work to develop creative solutions,” Poole said, adding that Bain’s research will potentially allow researchers to use computers to develop and test hypotheses describing the foundational operation of ecosystems.

Ultimately, he said, Bain's work will show how physical chemical and biological limits in ecosystems interact to influence processes like greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient cycling in soils, rivers and lakes.

The work is important, Poole said, because in nature the availability of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and other elements all affect the growth and metabolism of microbes, which drive the productivity of soils and aquatic systems worldwide.

Along with his research, Bain is also heavily involved with on- and off-campus environmental groups, including Citizens Climate Lobby, 1000 New Gardens Bozeman, and Solar 4 Everyone.

He co-founded and served as president of the MSU student group Sustainability Now, or SNOW, where under his leadership he successfully championed the Associated Students of Montana State University to pass resolutions in support of renewable energy as well as a resolution urging the MSU Foundation to divest the MSU Endowment from fossil fuels and reinvest into more socially and environmentally responsible investments over the next five years.

Bain also interns in the MSU Office of Sustainability where, according to director Kristin Blackler, “he works tirelessly” in his efforts to promote sustainability at MSU. As part of his internship, he collects and analyzes data for MSU’s first-ever Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) submission through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

“Mathew’s intelligence is surpassed only by his work ethic,” Blackler said. “As a result of Mathew’s hard work, dedication and leadership, campus students are making big strides in environmental sustainability.” 

Poole said he was pleased, but not surprised, to hear that Bain was selected as a Udall Scholar.

“He is an exceptional student and an active leader in his communities outside of school,” Poole said. “I can't imagine a more worthy recipient.”

Bain said his time spent at MSU has provided him a way to hone his leadership skills and increase his knowledge, as well as build a network of support.

“All of these experiences have connected me with mentors and opportunities that have furthered my education and helped me to grow as a person,” he said.

The Udall Foundation is an independent federal agency that Congress established in 1992 to provide federally funded scholarships for college students intending to pursue careers related to the environment, as well as to American Indian students pursuing tribal public policy or Native health care careers. Udall Scholars receive up to $7,000 to use toward academic expenses.

Contact: Ilse-Mari Lee, dean, MSU Honors College, (406) 994-4689 or