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Local hydrologist awarded Science Foundation fellowship

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Tyler Fouty spends his days in his lab at Washington State University, focused on engineering calculations about culvert design. But when you talk to the engineering graduate student, it’s clear that the heart of his work is improving the world: for salmon, and, by extension, for people who rely on salmon for food and income. It’s that element of compassion that he credits with earning him a competitive fellowship for engineering graduate students.

Fouty was chosen to be part of the prestigious National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Fouty grew up in Polson and is a first-year master’s student at Washington State University, pursuing a degree in civil engineering. He was selected from thousands of applicants on the basis of academic excellence and high-impact research. His research was on designing culvert beds to support spawning salmon. 

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program awards funding to promising students who are pursuing research-based science, engineering, technology and math graduate degrees. According to the GRFP website, the mission of the fellowship is to “ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States.” Fellows are awarded a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, and $12,000 to cover tuition and fees at their graduate institution. Fouty was one of 2,000 fellows chosen from over 12,000 applicants for the fellowship this year.

Fouty says that his childhood in Polson shaped his career path.

“Growing up in Polson I fell in love with the water: the rivers and especially the lake,” Fouty said. In high school, he worked at S&K Environmental Restoration in Arlee where he built streambeds and planned wetlands.

“I knew I wanted to do hands-on environmental work,” Fouty said. He went away to school for engineering but transferred to SKC to study hydrology. He earned an associates and bachelors degree in the field.

According to Fouty, SKC provided a top-notch educational experience.

“It was a great atmosphere. The classes were small and there was great one-on-one time with professors and advisors,” he said.

Fouty’s goal is to create a design that will allow salmon to swim upstream through a culvert as easily as they do through natural streams. In many of the culverts currently in use in Washington, water flows very quickly or debris clog culverts. This prevents salmon from swimming upstream to lay eggs. If salmon can’t swim upstream, they can’t reproduce, and their populations drop. A decline in the salmon population has had disastrous impacts on Native people in Washington who rely on the harvest of salmon for food and income.

Without the fellowship, he would have had to work as a TA next year to cover the cost of tuition. The GRFP will allow him to focus on his research to better the future for Washington’s salmon and those who rely on them.

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