Editor’s note: The Montana Standard is featuring two Montana Tech graduates — Macy Ricketts and Hannah Stajcar — on page 1 today in conjunction with graduation ceremonies Saturday at the Butte Civic Center.
For Macy Ricketts, it must seem a glacial pace, finally getting to graduation day.
A Montana Tech biological sciences major with a cellular and molecular biology emphasis, the Livingston native has already jumped into the research fray with several projects, including a Techxpo Design Showcase project studying soil and plant interactions in receding glaciers — as in Glacier National Park glaciers.
It has allowed her to slide head-long into a future brimming with extended research opportunities — starting with graduate school at the University of Wyoming.
“I really like this type of work because it’s a mix of lab and field work,” said Ricketts, who gave up playing basketball at Tech to focus on her studies. “In the summers I’m outside doing a lot of field work, and in the winters I’m in the lab.”
Impressed, the Wyoming botany department head recruited her while she presented her project at an American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco — proof that networking can make all the difference.
“She’s a great student and she’s nice — fun to work with, considerate, thoughtful, and funny,” said mentor Martha Apple, Tech botany professor.
Ricketts interviewed at Stanford, the University of Washington, University of California-Davis, and the University of Montana grad schools.
But Wyoming clinched it for her, thanks to what amounts to a full-ride graduate tuition waiver, stipend, lab, and travel awards as she earns her doctorate in microbiology. It’s part of a honking $20 million National Science Foundation grant spread among such stellar students.
“I should be good for the next four to five years,” she said, grinning. “Wyoming was the best.”
“She’s blazing along,” Apple said. “Her research is very closely related to what she did with me. I think it’s a great opportunity for her and a good match.”
In the face of uncertain funding for science programs, Ricketts rests assured that the NSF grant remains safe.
“Professors want to conserve their funding right now,” she said.
Yet her mad skills are in demand, as Ricketts rocketed to seven major U.S. cities and four countries — all while still a Tech undergraduate.
“As a freshman, I never imagined that I’d get to do something I love — scientific research and travel — and get paid to do it,” she wrote in The Technocrat, Tech’s student newspaper. She was editor-in-chief for two years.
Apple, who also teaches plant ecology, plant physiology, Rocky Mountain flora, and microbiology, praises Ricketts for spending the summer of 2015 in the Mariana Islands near Guam studying field ecology with National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates.
“It seemed it was super challenging and rewarding at the same time — and a big deal to go over there by herself,” said Apple. “Those are very competitive programs.”
Ricketts volunteered, meaning she did not get college credit, for Apple’s Tea Composition Project on Mount Fleecer, southwest of Butte, last year. Field workers placed green tea and rooibos tea on the mountain.
“We do it to test composition rate to get ballpark figures of rate of leaf decomposition,” said Apple.
Ricketts also counts among her mentors biology professors Amy Kuenzi and Marissa Pedulla — heavy hitters in their own right.
A member of a self-described “Legendary Study Group,” Ricketts learned early how to attack the study dilemma characterizing the rigorous Tech curriculum.
Classmates Spence Hale, Paul Engstrom, Margeaux Black, and Tanner Tregidga met regularly — and all got into a variety of graduate programs: engineering, medical school, dentistry, and pharmacy, in that order. They epitomize Tech’s high-charging, fast-track students.
“I feel really accomplished,” said Ricketts, taking a rare breather recently. “It was definitely difficult.”
Next up, she goes to the Tetons to do field work with a Kentucky group then the Tibetan Plateau to study glaciers with a Flathead Lake Biological Station-Chinese university cooperative then enrolls at Wyoming in July.
Her family celebrating her graduation: mother Kara Stermitz; father Matt Ricketts; and siblings Ladan, Jakim, and Alexandra.
For the record, Ricketts confirms that global warming exists.
“It’s a very complicated process, and a lot of people make it very black-and-white. The fact is, yes, climate change is real — and yes, the glaciers are receding, but there’s not really much we can do to stop it other than just slow the process. Basically, all you can do is understand how these processes are occurring and know what to expect for the future.”