She’s a 1994 graduate of Nevada High School and an award-winning Montana State University (MSU) virologist.
If you’ve ever wondered where Michelle Flenniken ended up, wonder no more.
Flenniken, 41, was recently in the spotlight at MSU as recipient of the prestigious National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award for her work on investigating the impact of pathogens on individual honey bees and honey bee colonies.
“Honey bees are important plant pollinators, including the pollination of crops that make up one-third of the U.S. diet,” Flenniken said about the importance of the work she does as a microbiologist/virologist investigating honey bee host–pathogen interactions. “Since 2006, honey bee colony losses have averaged 33 percent annually and commercial beekeepers have made up these losses by repeatedly ‘splitting’ (making two colonies from one colony) their colonies – but this level of loss is unsustainable. Research in my laboratory at Montana State University is aimed at better understanding the biotic and abiotic factors that impact honey bee colony health.”
Flenniken is an assistant professor, Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, at the university and also co-director of the University’s Pollinator Health Center. She said she loves the work she does and plans to stay at the university for the long haul.
“I enjoy researching the factors that affect honey bee health – since it is a topic of global relevance that involves environmental health and impacts human health,” she said. “I enjoying training and mentoring students, both graduate and undergraduate students, in my laboratory, and teaching classes, like virology and genetics. I also enjoying giving public lectures and interacting with life-long learners at various community events.”
After graduating from Nevada High School, Flenniken attended the University of Iowa from 1994-1998, earning a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. She had lived in Bozeman, Mont., for the summer of 1998, before leaving for Ghana as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1998-2000. From 2000-2006, she worked on her doctorate degree from Montana State University, then went on to the University of California, San Francisco, to earn a postdoctoral fellow, finishing that work in 2012. She has been at MSU since 2012.
It is clear that education has been hugely important in her life, and for Flenniken, that all began with her education in Nevada.
“I lived in Nevada the majority of my school years,” she said, and she has fond memories of enjoying cross country, track and spending time with friends during my school years.
But she never slacked on educational and work opportunities, or people who could help her along that path. “In addition to my family, I was influenced by great teachers and coaches in the Nevada School system, including Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Parker, Mr. Jacobsen, Mr. Foley, and Mr. and Mrs. Martin, and others,” she said.
And like many students, Flenniken added, she worked during her school years. At first that work was in the fields that surrounded Nevada, then at Smitty’s local grocery store, and finally at Iowa State University in a research laboratory. “These jobs were the foundation for an ‘Iowa work ethic’ that I think has helped me in life,” she said.
Even though she was in a rural community, she believes Nevada Schools helped her learn to work with all types of people. “When I attended Nevada High School, our small class size meant that you were friends with a large of number of students, as opposed a small number, who were ‘just like you,’ therefore my ability to get a long with people with different interests likely stemmed from being a student at Nevada High.”
In December of 2006, Flenniken married Blake Wiedenheft, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at MSU. The two met in 1998 during her first summer in Montana, she said. They married in a small two-person ceremony in Yellowstone National Park.
“We don’t have kids,” Flenniken said, “but really enjoy our role as aunt and uncle to both our biological nephews, who live in Nevada, as well as to many of our friends’ kids in Bozeman.”
Flenniken and her husband enjoy lots of travel to other countries and regions of the world, like “Thailand, South America, and India, as well as interesting place in Canada and the U.S., especially our National Parks,” she said. She also enjoys running, particularly on the trails near Bozeman, hiking and reading.
It’s about once a year that she’s able to get back to Nevada for a visit. “Some of my family lives in Nevada, including Barb and Gene Hedberg (her mother and step-father), Eric Flenniken (her brother) and my nephews. There are friends in the area too — though I haven’t kept in that good of touch — I really enjoy running into people during my visits.”
One high school friend she has kept in close touch with, she said, is Jennifer Boysen. “Over the years we have lived in Montana and in California at the same time; she is currently an artist in California,” Flenniken said.
To read more about Flenniken and her work at MSU, visit the following links: