The Billings Outpost

MSU Billings prof gets NIH grant

MSU Billings News Services

A Montana State University Billings assistant professor has  landed a National Institutes of Health grant to conduct research leading to a better understanding of the neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disease, familial dysautonomia.

Lynn George, an assistant professor in the biological and physical sciences department, was awarded the three-year, $332,000 R15 Academic Research Enhancement Award in June after nearly a decade of research involving the development of the peripheral nervous system and the genetic disorder, FD, also known as Riley-Day syndrome.

The syndrome is found primarily in people of Jewish descent and affects the development and survival of certain nerve cells in the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary actions such as digestion, breathing, production of tears and the regulation of blood pressure and body temperature.

George said she and her students are seeking to better understand the molecular complex that is defective in the disease, the same complex that can be associated with the more common neurodegenerative disease ALS. She plans to use the R15 funds to investigate the role this complex plays in acquiring ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

David McGinnis, MSU Billings’ director of grants and sponsored programs, said the award will propel the department of biological and physical sciences forward in exciting directions.

“The grant is highly competitive with a 16 percent award rate,” McGinnis said. “This is quite an honor for an MSUB researcher to receive such an award.”

The NIH uses such awards to strengthen research environments at educational institutions as well as to promote the exposure of students to academic research. This is a renewable grant and helps cover expenses for a period of up to three years.

“The National Institutes of Health has placed a significant amount of responsibility in our hands,” said MSU Billings Chancellor Mark Nook. “The award sets the stage for Dr. George and her students to develop breakthroughs in better understanding familial dysautonomia. It also further emphasizes MSUB’s commitment to undergraduate research and discovery.”

George, who will serve as the grant’s principal investigator, said the award is the high-point of her career.

“I have been working toward this in some capacity for the last decade,” George said. “The award comes as a springboard that will allow me to expand my lab here at MSUB and provide tremendous research opportunities to students interested in neuroscience.”

The grant, she said, will add up to 18 paid undergraduate internships within MSU Billings’ department of biological and physical sciences throughout the course of the grant.

George received her doctorate at Montana State University in 2003 in biological sciences and biochemistry. The groundwork for her current research began with her post-doctoral work at MSU in Frances Lefcort’s lab.

In addition to her role at MSUB, George continues her work at MSU as a research professor in the department of cell biology and neuroscience.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 July 2015 14:13

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West High students find bond at Girls State

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

The 67th annual Girls State program last month in Helena gave 160 Montanan high school girls a chance to learn about politics firsthand.

According to incoming Billings West High School seniors Grace Johnson and Jessica “Jess” Keller, the experience was eye-opening.

“In a world where we’re so focused on applying for college and doing homework, government can kind of be forgotten,” Johnson said. “However, this experience really helped show us the importance of government and politics. It took something that we learned about at school and made it more relatable for teenagers.”

During an interview last week, both girls raved about the program - something that might seem surprising when you realize that neither was very interested in attending Girls State in the first place.

Despite their lack of experience or interest in politics, the girls were encouraged by their history teacher, Bruce Wendt, to apply. Wendt said that he felt both girls had the skill sets needed to succeed at Girls State.

“What makes these girls so special is their passion for learning and for being articulate,” Wendt said. “They are both very outspoken, and I knew that they would do very well at Girls State.”

Apparently, the admissions team at Girls State felt the same way: Both Keller and Johnson were chosen to journey to Carroll College and take part in the Girls State experience.

The first few days were spent primarily listening to government leaders such as U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, Gov. Steve Bullock, and Lt. Gov. Angela McLean. However, on the third day, the two girls decided to put their knowledge into action and run in the Girls State election. Johnson ran for governor with Keller as her lieutenant governor.

Neither girl had initially intended on running for office while at Girls State. Thus, while others spent their early days at Girls State “campaigning,” Keller and Johnson spent their time getting to know their fellow students. Keller said that this ended up being one of the important things they did at Girls State.

“We spent a lot of time socializing with other girls and getting to know them, and I think that helped us out in the end,” Keller said. “When you get to know people before speaking out about your beliefs, you are less likely to offend someone because they know what kind of person you are.”

After entering the mock gubernatorial race, Johnson and Keller began participating in what are known as “whistle stops”: They were given 12 minutes to answer as many policy-related questions as possible and to defend their beliefs.

“It was really interesting to have people asking you questions about things you don’t normally get asked about in high school,” Johnson said. “No one asks you one a daily basis about your thoughts on abortion. So that was really cool.”

Prior to their first day of whistle stops, Johnson and Keller spent hours discussing their opinions on a wide variety of topics. However, they were surprised to find that there were many other topics that they weren’t prepared for.

“We got into our first whistle stop and suddenly realized that not everybody cared about the same things,” Keller said. “You are presented so much with the idea that teenagers don’t care about anything, so it was so interesting to learn about the things that people are passionate about. There were 160 girls there and not one had something that they weren’t passionate about.”

Despite their solid performances in the whistle stops, Keller and Johnson didn’t expect to be “elected” - especially since they were competing against 12 other groups of girls. Thus, while their competitors showed up to the election announcements wearing formal attire, the West High students came in wearing sweats.

“We figured that if we were going to lose, we would at least do it comfortably,” Johnson said. “And then surprisingly we won!”

The governor and lieutenant governor positions were mostly ceremonial titles, but the jobs did have at least one perk: The girls had lunch with Lt. Gov. McLean.

Memories of that experience and others are the primary things that have stuck with Johnson and Keller after the experience, but they are also grateful for the relationships and friendships they developed. While the two West High students had known each other before Girls State, the experience really helped solidify their friendship.

“Girls State really brought us together,” Keller said. “Not only did we become friends in a personal sense, but also in a way where we respect each other’s beliefs and political views. It’s definitely a stronger friendship because we know where we stand and we know what we agree and disagree on.”

While neither girl plans on going into politics - Johnson plans on going into medical anthropology while Keller is undecided – they have been inspired to speak out about issues near and dear to their hearts.

Ironically, one of those issues is the future of Girls State itself. Longtime Girls State director Sharon Anderson was forced to resign earlier this year due to concerns that the program was not “serious” enough and that the girls didn’t spend sufficient time listening to lectures. Johnson and Keller vehemently disagree.

“The things that we learned, we could have learned from a textbook,” Johnson said. “What makes Girls State so special is that you’re learning with other people and you’re turning learning into an experience.”

Keller agreed. “When you’re sitting in a basement having people lecture you for five hours straight, you can learn a lot, but it won’t really sink in until you can talk to people and put that knowledge into use,” she said. “I think that communicating with other girls was the reason it was such a memorable experience. It’s very upsetting to hear the direction they want to take Girls State. I hope that it will stay the same so that it can continue impacting other girls in the same way it impacted me.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 July 2015 12:08

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Character Counts winners named

The Big Sky State Games has selected Spencer Drange of Laurel, Jacob Michels of Shepherd, Hannah Amtmann of Butte and Abbigail Lohof of Laurel as recipients of the 2015 Big Sky State Games Character Counts! Scholarship.

The $500 scholarship winners will be recognized at the 30th Annual Big Sky State Games Opening Ceremonies event Friday, July 17.

The winners were chosen based on their character, community involvement and participation in sports. Character Counts! promotes sportsmanship and fosters good character by teaching, enforcing, advocating, and modeling, the “Six Pillars of Character”: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

High school juniors during the 2014-2015 school year were eligible to apply for the scholarship. Selecting students who are finishing their junior year in high school ensures that the winners may be observed as role models during their senior year.

Spencer Drange has competed in the Big Sky State Games for the past two years in shotgun events earning him seven medals. As president of his 4-H club and a Yellowstone County 4-H Ambassador, Drange spends much of his time on his projects which include: meat goats, llama and alpaca, beekeeping, shotgun, archery and swine. Drange is a certified leader in shotgun and archery and often speaks at workshops on what he feels passionate about. He won the Outstanding Teen Leader for Yellowstone County 4-H this year. As an active member in 4-H, Drange was given the opportunity to attend a bill writing and government workshop in Helena and Washington, D.C. His other activities include FFA vice president, a Big Brother in the Big Brother Big Sister program and a mentor for incoming freshman as a LINK crew member at school. Following graduation, Drange plans to attend Northwest Community College to study Animal and Business Management. He eventually plans to take over the family beekeeping business.

Jacob Michels has participated in the Big Sky State Games Triathlon for two years. He is the treasurer for both National Honor Society and FFA. As an active member in FFA, Michels has placed third in the nation for with the Agriculture Science Team, 1st High Team in Agriculture Mechanics and placed second as a team in Agriculture Sales at District in 2013. He volunteers for March of Dimes, Flakesgiving, ETS Car Wash, Meals on Wheels, Toys for Tots, Family Services and Flathead Gateway Mall. Michels is also a member of Student Council and participates in football, basketball and track.

Hannah Amtmann has an outstanding Big Sky State Games participation history starting when she was just 4 years old. Her State Games sports resume includes: Judo – nine years, Swimming – two years, Triathlon – three years, 5K Road Race - three years, Volleyball – two years, Grass Volleyball – two years and Tennis – one year. Amtmann has earned volleyball and swimming Academic All- State for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years. She is also part of the National Honor Society. As captain of her traveling volleyball team, Amtmann serves as a leader along with volunteering for the Big Brother Big Sister program, the Butte Judo Club, Special Olympics and tutoring at school.

Abbigail Lohof has participated in the Big Sky State Games for four years competing in track and field for three years, Volleyball for two years and Basketball for one year. Lohof has been on the honor roll for all of her current high school semesters. She earned Academic All-State honors for volleyball, basketball and track for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years along with Academic All-State in volleyball and basketball for the 2014-2015 school year. Lohof won a Citizen Award in 2014 and is involved with National Honor Society. She won the United Bank Sportsmanship Award in basketball in 2013, 2014 and 2015. She was on the basketball Class A State Championship Team in 2013, a member of the basketball Eastern A Divisional Championship Team in 2014 and a member of the volleyball Class A State Championship Team in 2012. Lohof was named to the Eastern A All-Conference Honorable Mention Team for volleyball in 2013, Eastern A All-Conference for track in 2013 and 2014, Eastern A Second Team All-Conference for basketball and volleyball in 2014, State Class A All-Tournament Team in 2014 and Eastern A First Team All-Conference in 2015.                            

The Character Counts! Scholarship is sponsored by Kenco. Major sponsors of the Big Sky State Games are First Interstate Bank, Kampgrounds of America, Scheels, and BlueCross BlueShield of Montana. Wendy’s sponsors Opening Ceremonies.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 June 2015 13:38

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Hardin wins state award

Graduation Matters Hardin is the 2015 winner of Graduation Matters Montana’s Seventh Generation Award. Hardin accepted its honor June 17 at the Impact Awards ceremony in Bozeman.

Since 2012, Hardin High School has decreased its American Indian dropout rate by 7.9 percentage points to 6.34 percent. That’s well below Montana’s average American Indian dropout rate of 9.7 percent.

“This is a huge honor for our entire Graduation Matters Hardin organization,” GMH Coordinator Laura Sundheim said. “It also serves as an invigorating reminder to constantly evaluate where we are, where we want to be and continue to implement changes that will build success in the future.”

Among its achievements, the school has created a Freshman Academy for at-risk students, a peer mentoring program, and college readiness activities.

Other 2015 Impact Award winners include Graduation Matters Livingston, Graduation Matters Laurel, Graduation Matters Stevensville, and the Student Assistance Foundation.

Graduation Matters Hardin Quick Facts:

* Graduation rate has increased 2.44 percentage points in three years.

* Overall graduation rate was 72.28 percent in 2013-2014, up from 60.91 percent in 2012-2013.

* Hardin’s American Indian dropout rate was 6.34 percent in 2013-2014, below Montana’s 9.72 statewide average.

* American Indian dropout rate decreased 55.4 percent since 2012-2013.

* Low-income student dropout rate hit its lowest-level recorded in 2014 at 4.9 percent.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 June 2015 13:37

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$5,000 donation sends kids to camp

Meeting to discuss Camp POSTCARD and to award a Apsaalooke Casino grant for Bighorn County kids to attend camp are, from left, Casino General Manager Lane Simpson; Casino Board Members Lark Real Bird and Leonard Bends; VOA Montana Development Director Dan Burkhart; BIA Officer Timothy Smells; and Casino Assistant General Manager Howard Hogan.CROW AGENCY — Thanks to a $5,000 contribution from Apsaalooke Nights Casino, Bighorn County youth will have the opportunity to participate at Volunteers of America’s Camp POSTCARD.

“We’re happy to help with a program for youth that will benefit our community,” said Lane Simpson, Apsaalooke Nights Casino Manager. “Our board of directors believes this will build important relationships between our kids and law enforcement.”

Apsaalooke Nights Casino donated the money to enable Bighorn County to join Yellowstone, Stillwater, Fergus, Gallatin and Custer counties at Camp. Camp POSTCARD (Peace Officers Striving to Create and Reinforce Dreams) is a leadership and empowerment camp for Montana youth, creating a positive experience and positive role models. Camp is held in June, in the Beartooth Mountains near Nye.

Last Updated on Friday, 19 June 2015 13:17

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Read more: $5,000 donation sends kids to camp

Montana kids more likely in families

MISSOULA – On any given night, about 57,000 children under the care of our nation’s child welfare systems are going to bed without the care and comfort of a family, according to a KIDS COUNT policy report released May 19.

The data, highlighted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in “Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success,” show children in Montana’s welfare system are more likely to live with foster families or relatives.

“Montana is doing better than most states in placing children with families,” said Jennifer Calder, communications director for Montana KIDS COUNT. Nationally, 84 percent of children in the child welfare system live in a family placement, the report shows. In 2013, of the approximately 2,200 Montana children in the child welfare system, 90 percent were placed with kin or within a foster family.

“Placement with supportive families is a clear priority in Montana,” Calder said.

According to the report, several states have high rates of group placements, but sometimes such placements are not appropriate. Forty percent of young people who live in group placements while in the care of child welfare systems in the United States have no clinical need to be in such restrictive settings, threatening their well-being and chances for finding a permanent family.

Inappropriate placements have shown to be harmful to a child by limiting opportunities to develop strong, nurturing attachments, according to KIDS COUNT. In addition, group placements can cost seven to 10 times the amount it takes to place a child with a relative or foster family.

 Children in residential placements range from a high of 35 percent in Colorado to a low of 4 percent in Oregon. Montana has a relatively low rate of 9 percent.

In those instances where children end up in group homes – and it’s usually teens – Montana is trying a new approach to establish secure connections through its Family Intensive Services Unit. Sarah Corbally, the administrator of the Child and Family Services Division at the Department of Public Health and Human Services, said collaborations have been key to the program’s success.

“Providers have been very supportive,” Corbally said. “We have found permanency for some of our most challenging kids even in the first four months of the ISU project.”

Research cited in the KIDS COUNT report shows secure attachments provided to children by nurturing caregivers are vital to their healthy physical, social, emotional and psychological development throughout their life.

“A sense of permanency can take many forms, such as legal guardianship or gaining a trusted mentor,” Corbally said. “It is building permanent connections – lifelong connections – and maybe not exactly what a family looks like to others, but to them – it’s who they’ll depend upon when they are young adults and grown-ups.”

The report is available online at Additional information is available through the KIDS COUNT Data Center at, which allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 13:10

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Scholarship named for Griz player

MISSOLA – Kole Swartz, a 19-year old redshirt freshman defensive end for the University of Montana Grizzly football team, lost his life in an accident on March 15. An outpouring of love, support and community generosity inspired Kole’s family to find a way to give back.

In May, just weeks after their loss, the Swartz family and UM awarded the first Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship.

“Through the darkness of our unimaginable loss has come astounding support that has provided much solace and comfort for our family,” said Jennifer Swartz, Kole’s mother. “We are so thankful to the Missoula, Clinton, Frenchtown and University of Montana communities for making the Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship a reality.”

The Swartz family designed the Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship to benefit defensive players from Montana.

“Kole would have been so touched to see all of the ways, big and small, that he was loved by so many,” said Sean Swartz, Kole’s father. “This scholarship allows us to contribute annually to the team that Kole loved so much. It’s absolutely fitting that the first-ever winner of the Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship is Kole’s teammate, friend and roommate, Evan Epperly.”

Epperly, a redshirt freshman from Kalispell, will play safety for the Griz during the 2015 season. He was one of Kole’s closest friends, his teammate (East-West Shrine Games, Montana-Dakota All-Star Game and the Griz) and his roommate on campus. His scholarship will be for the 2015-16 academic year.

“Kole’s family and friends have turned his tragic loss into a gift of support for generations of students to come,” said Kent Haslam, UM director of athletics. “We are truly humbled and honored to continue Kole’s legacy through this scholarship.”

Over 350 donors made contributions to the scholarship fund, which continues to grow.

To make a donation in support of the Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship, visit or call 1-800-443-2593.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 June 2015 14:37

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‘10 and Under’ rules adopted for tennis here

Billings Tennis Association

The Billings Tennis Association has announced that it is embracing the internationally successful “10 and Under” rules and regulations for introducing young children to the sport of tennis.

The new regulations use kid-sized racquets; larger, slower bouncing balls; a smaller court with shorter net; and easier scoring. The Association is working in partnership with the United States Tennis Association, the Big Sky State Games, Billings Parks and Recreation, the Elks Tennis Club, and the Billings YMCA to bring 10 and Under tennis to this community in a comprehensive way beginning this summer.

“The United States Tennis Association has realized that the key to growing the sport of tennis is to focus on making the game more accessible for young children. Substantial research has gone into developing equipment and rules to ensure that children can learn the game more quickly and have fun playing and competing, while developing skills that transition to the traditional game,” said Paige Darden, BTA President. “It is our mission at the BTA to ensure that every child in Billings has the chance to learn to play tennis, and has access to proper equipment and affordable opportunities to learn and compete.” 

Beginning next week, the Billings Parks and Recreation will begin using newly purchased 10 and Under equipment in its summer lesson program. The Elks Tennis Center has also embraced 10 and Under, the Big Sky State Games will be using official 10 and Under rules for the first time this year, and the YMCA will be incorporating tennis into its fall and winter class schedule.

“We are excited to announce that the Big Sky State Games 10 and Under tournament will be the first official 10 and Under tournament in the state.  All players will be provided with official equipment and official 10 and Under scoring will be used. A court monitor will be on each court to assist the players, and a free half-hour lesson will be given to parents and kids before the tournament to introduce new players to the game,” said Darden.

Ten and Under tennis is an international movement to encourage kids to play tennis at any early age by making the sport more accessible and easier to learn. With the official 10 and Under program, tennis has been redesigned specifically for young kids. Larger racquets, shorter courts, and larger, slower moving balls are used so that kids can easily enjoy learning, practicing and improving their game.  Gone are the days of balls whizzing past them and frustrating misses.  Kids now have time to get to the ball, practice their stroke, achieve success and have fun!   To learn more, visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 June 2015 14:36

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Letter winners named

MISSOULA – Students from Bozeman, Choteau, Hysham, Livingston, Lolo, Missoula, and Sun River captured top honors in this year’s Montana Letters About Literature writing contest. Judges selected the winning entries from 292 submissions statewide in three separate age categories.

Every fall, young readers across Montana write a to an author whose book has especially affected them. Children write about being inspired to pursue their dreams, appreciate friends and family, and imagine possibilities. A panel of judges read about how literature teaches young people to empathize with others and overcome hardships. These letters are submitted to a national contest for a chance to win state and national prizes. First place letters can be read at Area winners in the three age categories are:

Level 1 — grades 4-6

• First place — Sula Duncan, Livingston, wrote to Kirby Larson, author of “Hattie Big Sky”

• Second place — Eden Larmoyeux, Havre, wrote to Spencer Johnson, author of “Who Moved My Cheese”

Level 2 — grades 7-8

• First place — Christopher “Kit” Munson, Bozeman, wrote to Ray Bradbury, author of “Fahrenheit 451”

• Second place — Allyson Hitchcock, Sun River, wrote to Larry McMurtry, author of “Dead Man’s Walk”

• Third place — Heather Miller, Choteau, wrote to Louis Sachar, author of “Holes”

Level 3 — grades 9-12

• First place — Marcene Piper Robison, Hysham, wrote to William Boniface, author of “Mystery in Bugtown”

• Third place — Brian Edwin Jakubowski, Lolo, wrote to Sherman Alexie, author of “Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian”

This year’s LAL state judges were young adult book author Blythe Woolston, Bradin Farnworth at Missoula Public Library, Connie Daugherty at Montana Technical College Library, and Samantha Dwyer at Humanities Montana. Guidelines for the 2016 Letters About Literature program will be posted in August on the Humanities Montana website.

Humanities Montana is the state’s independent nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Since 1972, Humanities Montana has provided services and grants to hundreds of Montana organizations in support of public programs in history, literature, values, and public issues.

Among its many programs are Speakers in the Schools, Letters About Literature, Community Conversations, and the Governor’s Humanities Awards.


Last Updated on Thursday, 11 June 2015 14:35

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Presidential scholars selected

BOZEMAN – Two Billings students are among 20 high school seniors from across the nation, including 10 from Montana, who were selected as recipients of the 2015 Montana State University Presidential Scholarship, MSU’s most prestigious scholarship.

“MSU continues to attract top academically ranked high school scholars and this year is no exception,” said Ilse-Mari Lee, dean of MSU’s Honors College. “We look forward to welcoming an inspirational cohort of incoming presidential scholars this fall.”

The MSU Presidential Scholarship awards are based on scholastic achievement, demonstrated  leadership and exemplary public service. Recipients receive a generous annual stipend plus a tuition waiver. The scholarship is for four years if the students maintain a superior academic standing.

“These students will undoubtedly impact our community, state and nation in meaningful ways,” Lee said. “They have demonstrated their desire to lead and serve. We are delighted that they chose to attend Montana State University.”

Lee said that the scholars were selected from 570 applications.

“To attract the quality of presidential scholar recipients that we have says a lot about our dedicated and inspirational faculty and the opportunities we offer our undergraduates,” said Ronda Russell, MSU’s admissions director. “The fact that so many choose Montana State is indicative of the quality of our programs.”

The 2015 MSU Presidential Scholarship recipients from Billings are:

Benjamin Carroll is the valedictorian of Billings West High School and a Montana University System Honor Scholar who intends to dual major in mechanical engineering and physics. An accomplished pianist and percussionist, Carroll has earned received superior ratings at district and state music festivals; lettered for four years in tennis and received the Air Force Recruiting Service Mathematics and Science Award. His parents are Jeffrey and Abigail Carroll of Billings.

Dylan Ladd is the valedictorian of Skyview High School and a Montana University System Honor Scholar who intends to major in chemical engineering. He is a National Merit Scholar finalist, a member of the National Honor Society, an Eagle Scout and captain of the debate team. Ladd has participated in state music festivals as a member of choral ensembles and as a violinist. His parents are John and Maureen Ladd of Billings.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 June 2015 12:44

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