May 19, 2024

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MSU student wins prestigious environmental scholarship

4 min read

A junior at Montana State University was recognized by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) with a prestigious scholarship.

Ella Horgan received NEHA’s Dr. Sheila Davidson Pressley Scholarship, totaling $2,650 to support her final year of undergraduate studies.

During her final year Horgan will study different species of mosquitoes in Montana and gather data with climate trends.

Montana State University sent out the following:

A Montana State University junior was one of three undergraduates recognized last month by the National Environmental Health Association with one of the organization’s prestigious scholarships.

Ella Horgan, a student in MSU’s environmental health program in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology, received NEHA’s Dr. Sheila Davidson Pressley Scholarship, which will support her final year of undergraduate studies with an award of $2,650. The scholarship recognizes students from accredited environmental health programs who show exceptional potential for contributions to the field.

Horgan, who is originally from Minneapolis, said she connected with MSU’s environmental health program almost immediately when she arrived in 2021. She has built her academic slate around her deep interest in insect-borne illnesses, specifically those carried by mosquitoes, so she complemented her environmental health studies with a minor in entomology.

“I’ve always been interested in mosquitos and insects, how these little things can both do so much harm and so much good,” she said. “It all fit together perfectly. I’ve had the same vision of what I wanted to do for a while now, and there’ve been a lot of opportunities that have brought me closer to that.”

Through her program in environmental health, Horgan conducted a study examining groundwater quality and health risks associated with well water, which she presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in April. She also connected with Agnieszka Rynda-Apple, an associate professor at MSU who studies immunology, to conduct undergraduate research on bartonella, a type of harmful bacteria that can be carried by fleas or animals infested with fleas.

During her final undergraduate year, she plans to study mosquitoes in Montana, conducting surveillance of what species are present in the state and mapping that data alongside climate trends.

Mari Eggers, an associate research professor in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology and associate director of the environmental health program, said Horgan is exactly the kind of impassioned and engaged student the field needs.

“Ella is exceptional, excelling in lab research, community engagement and public service,” said Eggers. “She has long had a vision for how she will bring these together in a doctoral program in vector-borne disease ecology and vaccine development. She is intelligent, gracious, hard-working and entirely committed to making a difference in public environmental health by improving our understanding and management of mosquito-borne diseases. It’s wonderful that NEHA is recognizing Ella’s accomplishments, dedication and potential.”

While Horgan’s academic accolades are many, she has been equally active outside the laboratory and classroom during her time at MSU. She received MSU’s E.C. Harrison Leadership Award at the 2024 Day of Student Recognition and was a member of the 2023-24 group of the MSU Leadership Institute’s Boardroom Bobcats program, which allows students to develop knowledge and leadership skills by serving on the boards of local nonprofits. She was paired with the Montana Mindfulness Project, attending meetings and helping to put on events and workshops at local schools.

“It lined up with my values and it was cool to step out of the world of science for a bit and focus on that,” she said. “It was more personal for me, learning how I can add that to my life. And I think that’s important for everybody. It ties into being a better person all around.”

Horgan is an intern with the Gallatin City-County Health Department, working in public health and learning about how cities monitor and respond to communicable diseases. She has also served as a member of the College of Agriculture Ambassadors, a student group that focuses on recruitment and keeping students in school, as well as fostering a lifelong passion for agriculture.

Ambassadors meet with prospective students, plan events and mentor current College of Agriculture students to ensure a welcoming and engaging environment for everyone in the college, regardless of background or degree program. For Horgan, being a part of the program has meant advocating for microbiology and environmental health in agricultural fields, helping to foster a sense of belonging – something she said she found for herself in the group.

“Ag is in everything, and if you dig into the details, you’ll see that,” she said. “Things like environmental health and a lot of fields in microbiology connect a lot to the agricultural world.”

While the NEHA scholarship will support the last year of Horgan’s undergraduate experience, she knows her academic journey is far from over. She plans to pursue graduate school and continue studying mosquito-borne illnesses, blending public health with entomology, insect surveillance and mapping. She credited the connections she has made so far at MSU and the wide array of groups she has been a part of for laying a strong foundation to build upon.

“I’ve gotten so lucky to be working with the people that I do and being supported by them,” she said. “It takes some work to find opportunities, but I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit of everything in the time that I’ve been here.”

Horgan is the fourth MSU student to be recognized by NEHA in the past four years, along with Pilar Santos in 2023, Michelle Leonard in 2022 and Amanda Ruckey in 2020.

MSU is one of 25 institutions nationwide to offer an undergraduate program in environmental health accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council.


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