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Falvey Scholars 2022: Alec Henderson ’22 CLAS

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Alec Henderson ’22 CLAS, 2022 Falvey Scholar (Photo by Andrew McKeough)

The Falvey Scholars Program is an annual program established by Falvey Library to recognize outstanding undergraduate research. Now in its 20th year, the program is a collective initiative of the Library and the Center for Research and Fellowships. The recipients of this award are selected from a pool of candidates nominated by Villanova faculty and reviewed by Library staff.

This year, eight students received awards, their work reflecting the breadth and depth of undergraduate research at the University as well as the support the Library, its resources and staff, provide student-scholars.

This blog is the fifth of seven installments, which will introduce our scholars and cover their research in their own words. Look for additional coverage of the Falvey Scholars in the fall issue of Mosaic.

Congratulations to all of our Falvey Scholars, past and present!


Scholar Summary

Alec Henderson ’22 CLAS

Project Title: “Mapping Habitat Suitability of the American Chestnut in Pennsylvania: Can we Restore this Foundational Tree to our Forests?”

Faculty Mentor: Jennifer Santoro, Visiting Instructor, and Peleg Kremer, PhD, Assistant Professor

Hometown: Havertown, Pa.

Other Honors: Villanova Presidential Scholarship, Gamma Theta Upsilon, Phi Beta Kappa


Describe your research in your own words.

My project focused on trying to model where suitable American chestnut habitat is in Pennsylvania. The American chestnut tree was once a widespread and important tree in eastern hardwood forests but has been brought to near extinction by an invasive chestnut blight. There are ongoing field experiments to try to restore American chestnuts to the forest, but they need to better understand what environmental factors make up “good” American chestnut habitat. I compared known locations of surviving trees with a bunch of environmental factors to model where patches of suitable chestnut habitat are in Pennsylvania.

How did the Library’s staff impact your research and academic experience?

On top of their many resources, the Library has been a fantastic location to work on this project. A quiet environment surrounded by people that I knew could help if I ran into problems carrying out my research made writing this thesis a lot more doable.

How did Falvey’s resources and databases impact your research:

This project would not have been possible without Falvey’s access to a wide variety of databases and academic journals. This project required considerable literature review and background research. Because of Falvey’s resources, I never found a necessary paper I couldn’t access.

What’s next for you?

After graduation I flew up to Sitka, Alaska, to work as a wildlife interpreter intern at the Alaska Raptor Center for five months. I plan on heading to graduate school, but will take a year or two to work.

Will you continue this research direction?

American chestnuts will always be a part of my life after this project. I don’t know if I will continue doing chestnut research, but I will certainly keep in touch with the restoration status of this charismatic tree I have spent the past three years researching. I’m sure that I will continue to use the species distribution modeling techniques I used in this project in my future research and in graduate school. I have really enjoyed carrying out this modeling and am excited to apply it to different species in the future.


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Last Modified: July 5, 2022