Six URI students earn prestigious Hollings Scholarship from NOAA

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Awards provide $16,000 toward tuition plus paid internship

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 25, 2012 – Six sophomores at the University of Rhode Island have been awarded the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the most of any public university in the nation in 2012. Since 2009, URI students have been awarded a total of 13 Hollings Scholarships, the most of any institution in New England and second most among public universities in the U.S.

This year’s recipients, among 117 winners nationwide, are marine biology majors Michael Canton of Warwick, Eilea Knotts of West Long Branch, N.J., Sarah Merolla of Hillsborough, N.J., Benjamin Sevey of Wakefield, Callie Veelenturf of Norfolk, Mass. (double major with wildlife conservation biology) and ocean engineering major Brenton Wallin of East Greenwich.

The award provides the students with a total of $16,000 toward tuition in their junior and seniors years at URI plus a paid summer internship at a NOAA lab anywhere in the country during the summer after their junior year. The scholarship program is designed to increase interest in oceanic and atmospheric science, increase support for environmental stewardship, and recruit students to public service careers at NOAA and other governmental science agencies.

“We are so proud of the achievements of all of our students. The Hollings Scholarship will provide them with unique research opportunities and will open so many doors for the future,” said Jacqueline Webb, professor of biological sciences and coordinator of the URI Marine Biology Program. “The NOAA internships are quite extraordinary. In the past few years our Hollings recipients have gone to the NOAA labs in Santa Cruz, Seattle, Hawaii, Beaufort, Puerto Rico, and Narragansett.”

Canton said that he has always had “an innate interest” in marine biology. Last summer he studied the biofouling properties of green algae and how it adheres to various materials, which he called “a great learning experience.” A member of the URI fencing team, he hopes to intern at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab to study the effects of invasive species and other marine hazards. His long-term goal is to become a college biology professor and conduct research on coral atolls and algal blooms.

Knotts attended a marine science high school, and she said she has been “dreaming about a marine biology major ever since.” She conducted research on sandbar sharks as a URI freshman and has been helping to rear fish from Africa’s Lake Malawi. A member of several honor societies, she said that marine research is her dream job. “I know I want to work with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center because they work with the benthic organisms that interest me. I have an obsession with sea stars, and I hope to study them.”

Merolla is working toward a career analyzing human impacts on marine environments to inform policies and educate the public. A member of the URI Marine Science Society and Wildlife Society, she is assisting with research on the movement and distribution patterns of sharks. Of the Hollings Scholarship she said, “I feel honored to have been chosen for such a fantastic opportunity and look forward to completing an internship with NOAA.” She hopes to intern at the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

Sevey’s interest in marine biology was sparked by a high school project he completed on beluga whales. Like Knotts, he has been working with African cichlid fish in Professor Jacqueline Webb’s lab to learn about their sensory systems. “What I enjoy,” he said, “is being around and involved in the scientific process of discovery. And some of our fish are really cute.” A member of the URI Outing Club, Sevey said he is “elated to be a recipient” of the Hollings Scholarship, and he looks forward to interning at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

For Veelenturf, the Hollings Scholarship is an exclamation point on an already full resume. She has conducted research on fish and rabbits, served as an exhibit interpreter at the Save the Bay aquarium, and volunteers with AmeriCorps, two animal shelters, Habitat for Humanity, the United Way and several other groups. She has been a member of the URI chorus, wind ensemble and dance company. “I’ve always had a passion for conservation and a desire to affect change,” she said, “although when I was younger it sounded more like ‘I want to save the animals!’” She hopes to intern with the National Marine Fisheries Service on her way to a career studying and conserving sea turtles.

Wallin combined his childhood interest in the ocean with his love of mathematics to study ocean engineering at URI, which has provided him with experience building a remotely operated submarine and working in the URI Inner Space Center, where he monitored the research taking place on ships exploring the world’s oceans. Although he is still considering his internship and career options, he said his work and classroom experiences have opened his eyes to deep-sea exploration, the physics of the ocean and wave mechanics. “URI’s ocean engineering curriculum will prepare me for jobs in many different fields, and I’m glad such a program was available so close to home.”

Pictured above

(Left to right) Michael Canton, Benjamin Sevey, Callie Veelenturf, Sarah Merolla, Brenton Wallin and Eilea Knotts.