My awakening to the wonder of aquatic ecology stems from growing up in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. I was surrounded with endless possibilities and opportunities to learn from each lake, stream, and wetland I encountered, and each place I visited further instilled in me the passion that has taken me all over the world studying these beautiful, and fragile locations. As a young child, one of my first projects was to research a local ecosystem, and rather than simply relying on the Internet to find answers, I went to my local lake and spent hours fishing with my dad. We took photos and learned the identities each of the various species that we pulled onto the dock. Although I didn’t know it at the time, a simple poster project became my first taste of the type of work that has proven to be my life’s aspiration. This hands on experience led to my interest in research, which has guided me to this program. I believe that I possess the necessary academic background and personal motivation required to be as successful candidate for the Environmental Sciences graduate program, and I believe that my admission will further the mission of this department.
There are two primary reasons that explain why I am interested in graduate work in environmental sciences. The first reason is that I am a person who really enjoys adventure and field work, especially in the water. The second reason is I am interested in working to find practical solutions to pressing environmental problems. Water is one of our most important resources, and it is my desire to work in a field that is likely to result in the improvement of water quality and future sustainability. My past research experience in the fields of microbiology, international ecology, and marine ecology has made me more aware of the issues regarding water quality and the importance of understanding the problems for the benefit of our ecosystems.
Throughout high school and during my undergraduate career at Wake Forest University, I had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of research projects. In particular, my high school research project involved the study of chemotaxis of Pseudomonas putida to furan compounds for future management of wastewater. I had the unique experience to work with graduate level microbiology students at a very young age, which in turn forced me to learn complicated techniques and analyses, such as capillary/agarose plug assays and transposon mutagenesis, at a rapid pace. I gained laboratory skills such as bacterial culturing and identification, spectrophotometry, PCR, and DNA/RNA extraction. During this time I was able to refine my statistical skills running chi-square, t-test, simple and multiple linear regressions, ANOVA, and composing graphical models.
Throughout this project I created manuscripts as well as poster and powerpoint presentations that were submitted to various competitions. This work led to my recognition by multiple institutions. I was awarded the Minneapolis Scholar of Distinction in Science award, United States Army Award (TCRSF), United States Department of Agricultural Research award, and nomination for tri-state junior science and humanities symposium for the work I accomplished during high school and my undergraduate studies. Additionally, I received the Stockholm Water Prize for the state of Minnesota in 2011, and had the opportunity to present my research on a national level. The result of our lab’s collaborative efforts was published in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology (2012).
Following this intensive lab experience, and several years of Minnesota snow, I set out to continue my education regarding aquatic ecosystems by broadening my experiences out-of-state; both in the lab and in the field. I have had the opportunity to travel to several exotic, foreign locations, and throughout the course of these trips had the opportunity to examine, research, document, and run tests on a variety of different types of local flora and fauna within the aquatic ecosystems of these vastly different regions. I have snorkeled off the Fiji islands, the coast of Costa Rica, the coast of Mexico, and many locations around Belize making sure to pay close attention observing the unique aspects of each location. These experiences have shown that I can be comfortable in a wide variety of situations and can readily adapt to different environments. Additionally, these travels instilled in me a greater understanding and appreciation for research regarding international ecology.
I incorporated my new found passion for international ecology during my undergraduate experience by participating in a six-month long study abroad program through the Biology department based in London. The majority of my focus during the course of this program was based in international natural resource management and conservation biology. I gained valuable knowledge and an interest in international policies regarding water quality standards. As a collective ecosystem, pollutants from one country pose significant risk to other countries around the world yet the differences in regulations often hinder progress towards improving environmental problems.
While conducting fieldwork for my undergraduate Marine Ecology senior seminar class at Lighthouse Reef in Belize, I found that water use such as recreation, fishing, resource extraction, and protected areas are subject to different regulations, which directly correlated to differences in ecosystem health. During this field study we analyzed a variety of habitats including marine protected areas, open-water fishing zones, numerous reefs (heavily trafficked and remote), and mangroves. In each location we conducted visual surveys of fish quantifying species richness and abundance. Fish identification involved understanding the differences between male and female coloration, as well as juvenile coloration that often differed dramatically from adults of the same species.
In addition to quantifying species richness we conducted coral health surveys, in which we examined coloration changes for signs of bleaching. Methods included identifying a species of coral and recording the color (via coral health chart) of the darkest part of the structure as well as the lightest part of the structure and analyzing the range of change. Both of these identification techniques took extensive training, because I needed to be able to quickly and correctly identify hundreds of species of fish and coral. We collaborated with Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) by submitting our fish data to their population survey database. We also collaborated with the citizen science project CoralWatch by using their Coral Health Chart and submitting our data from various reef locations to their database.
Along with participating in citizen science studies regarding fish and coral, we conducted two novel studies: analysis of Krytolebias marmoratus and underwater go-pro recording of predator strategies. In the mangroves, we collected specimens of an amphibious fish, Krytolebias marmoratus, using cup traps in both submerged and surface substrates. Our goal was to use these specimens for further study regarding survival strategies. In the lab, our team examined aspects of the specimens’ physiology and recorded their different types of movement via camera to better understand how they transition from water to land successfully and why they have evolved in this way. They use different styles of propulsion to hunt, flee predators, or lay eggs on land. This experience led to a better understanding of how to incorporate data and samples obtained in the field to structured laboratory experiments.
To continue my education before my formal acceptance to a program, I took graduate level classes through a distance education program of NC State, which pushed me to become more independent and analyze scientific literature at a higher level. The two classes I took were concerning environmental stressors and environmental assessment of water quality. The focus on anthropogenic contaminants re-sparked my interest in aquatic toxicology that I had first explored in high school. After exploring many marine habitats and examining various aspects of water quality ranging from a microbial level to whole ecosystem dynamics, I have decided to turn my focus to North Carolina anadromous fishes and water quality. I have since then begun my Masters project at NC State University in the department of Applied Ecology with a major in Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation Biology under Dr.Fischer and Dr.Reading. I believe my passion combined with various laboratory, field, and statistical work makes me a promising candidate for the future study and management of aquatic ecosystems