by Lana Koepke Johnson | Agronomy and Horticulture
Abigail Ridder, a plant biology and environmental studies double major, is one of 94 University of Nebraska–Lincoln students who will be recognized as Chancellor’s Scholars during the undergraduate commencement ceremonies May 20 at Memorial Stadium.
Chancellor’s Scholars are students who have maintained 4.0 grade-point averages on all collegiate work at Nebraska and elsewhere. This is the highest academic honor awarded to graduating undergraduates.
Ridder came to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln excited about studying sustainability and waste reduction. However, the classes she started to enjoy the most were the biology courses, especially the plant-specific ones.
“I wanted to know everything about how plants work and why they do what they do, and this led me to plant biology,” Ridder said. “Dr. Elowsky was my adviser and mentor for plant biology. He helped me figure out what I wanted to gain out of my degree and what I needed to do to maximize my experience at UNL.”
Christian Elowsky is an agronomy and horticulture assistant professor of practice.
Ridder’s education included more than just coursework. She was a teaching assistant, conducted research to complete a thesis for her degree with distinction, was a member of the Cornhusker Marching Band front ensemble and was active in student organizations.
Ridder said she enjoyed teaching the botany lab and guiding students through lessons in microscopy and plant structure as a teaching assistant for Plant and Landscape Systems 278 Botany with Elowsky.
“I absolutely loved building connections with my students and being able to teach them content that I was passionate about,” Ridder said.
“Finding undergraduates with the personality, skills and depth of education to instruct labs is difficult but Abbie demonstrated all of those attributes coupled with incredible enthusiasm,” Elowsky said.
Ridder’s undergraduate research was with Sabrina Russo, professor of biological sciences, working in the Niobrara Forest Plot in Nebraska.
According to Russo, Ridder’s research has shown that the woody encroaching species, eastern redcedar, reduces several forms of forest diversity, including the diversity of woody seedlings, saplings and adult trees, as well as of understory herbaceous plants. This research provides land managers crucial information that helps fill this knowledge gap.
“Abbie is one of the most promising undergraduates I have had the pleasure of working with,” Russo said.
Ridder submitted proposals and obtained several thousand dollars in research fellowships from UCARE and the Cabela’s Apprenticeship Research Program.
“Abbie has a knack for field data collection and statistical analyses – she learned the R programming language in order to analyze her data and make figures, which is exceptional for a plant biologist at her stage,” Russo said. “The care, fore-thought, diligence and healthy skepticism that she exhibits are hallmarks of an excellent young scientist.”
Elowsky added that Ridder’s ability to comprehend and apply knowledge across a range of scientific disciplines laid the foundation for her comprehensive understanding of intricate ecological systems, highlighting the benefits of a well-rounded education in the sciences.
Ridder’s involvement in student organizations included recruitment chair and vice president of Sustain UNL. Sustain UNL is a group of students from diverse backgrounds who have come together to create a sustainable world through activism, education and service engagement.
“I focused more of my attention to improving Sustain UNL as a club and creating a community feel again,” Ridder said. “COVID hit all clubs pretty hard, and I wanted to make sure that Sustain UNL could be a place people could still find a community in.”
Ridder was also a was a member of Gamma Sigma Delta Honor Society and was on Nebraska’s Chancellor's Environment, Sustainability and Resilience Commission.
“The best part of being part of clubs was the connections I made with other students,” Ridder said.
Ridder plans to pursue a career in forest restoration management, hopefully in northern Minnesota.
A complete list of Chancellor’s Scholars can be found at https://news.unl.edu/newsrooms/today/article/94-students-named-chancellors-scholars.