Montana State University 

photo of Matt Blank

Matt Blank, PhD, PE

Assistant Research Professor, Civil Engineering Department

Research Scientist, Western Transportation Institute

[email protected]

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 25 years of experience conducting both academic studies and consulting activities on water resources 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 resources consulting as a partner 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 both in the lab and in rivers and streams for 20 years.  He teaches applied fluid mechanics and water resources engineering at MSU.  Through both research and consulting activities, Dr. Blank has been involved with the assessment, design, or review of over a hundred 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.  

Photo of Joel Cahoon

Joel Cahoon, PhD, PE

Professor, Civil Engineering Department

[email protected]

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.

head shot of david dockery

David Dockery

Research Biologist, Wild Rivers Consulting

[email protected]

David Dockery holds a B.S. in Ecology (Montana State University 2010) and a M.S. (Montana State University 2015) in Fish and Wildlife Management. His masters research focused on the swimming abilities of longnose dace and sauger and developing predictive models to assess passage probabilities of fish passage structures. David started a consulting business, Wild Rivers Consulting LLC, in 2016 and has worked on a variety of fish passage and swimming studies as well as research on pallid sturgeon larval development, spiny soft shell turtle population structures, and has developed and implemented a water quality monitoring program on the Big Hole river in Southwest Montana. 

photo of tom mcmahon

Tom McMahon, PhD

Professor, Department of Ecology

[email protected]

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

[email protected]

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

[email protected]

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

[email protected]

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

[email protected]

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

Photo of Wyatt Alt in a Kayak on the Colorado River

Wyatt Alt

Civil Engineering

Wyatt was born and raised in Eagle, Colorado. He graduated from MSU in 2022 with a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Engineeringand will be pursuing a Masters of Science in Civil Engineering with a focus on Ecohydraulics. As a graduate student, he will be a Teaching Assistant in the Engineering Mechanics Learning Center. Outside of school, Wyatt spends his time whitewater kayaking, biking, and skiing.

Research Committee: TBD

cole buller

Cole Buller

Civil Engineering

Cole is from Breckenridge, Colorado and recently graduated from Montana State University with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. He is continuing his education to get a master’s degree in civil engineering with a focus in Eco-hydraulics. Cole will be the teaching assistant for Water Resources Engineering (ECIV 333) and is also involved in research related to Westslope Cutthroat Trout passage through scaled Denil fishways. Outside of school Cole loves to ski, mountain bike, and whitewater kayak.

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

Photo of Sam Steel in a Kayak on the Colorado River

Sam Steele

Civil Engineering

Sam is from Bozeman, Montana and has recently (Spring of 2022) graduated from Montana State University with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering. Sam is continuing his education at MSU where he will be getting a master’s in Civil Engineering with a focus on Eco-hydraulics. During his time as a grad student Sam will be preforming fish passage research to determine swim performance of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout as well as designing a scaled rock-ramp fishway to evaluate the passage efficiency of native sucker species. Outside of school you can find Sam skiing, whitewater kayaking, or anywhere with the possibility of new adventures.

Research Committee: TBD

Photograph of Cindy Ufelle

Cindy Ufelle

Civil Engineering

Cindy holds a B.Eng. degree in Agricultural and Bioresources Engineering from the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), Nigeria. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering with a focus in Ecohydraulics. Cindy is a Teaching Assistant for Fluid Mechanics at the Engineering Mechanics Learning Center (EMLC) and is also working on modeling of a nature-like fishway. She enjoys variety of activities including hiking and playing scrabble and bananagrams.

Research Committee: Katey Plymesser, Joel Cahoon, Matt Blank

Undergraduate Students

Photo of Anthony Bruno holding a fish

Anthony Bruno

Civil Engineering
Anthony is from Reno, Nevada and is currently a sophomore at MSU studying Civil Engineering and water resources. Anthony has also been working as an undergraduate research assistant in conjunction with Megan Conley on a fish passage project. When he is not engaged with academic activities, Anthony enjoys a variety of outdoor activities including flyfishing, mountain biking, and snowboarding. He hopes to pursue a career in Hydrologic Engineering after he graduates.