KINGSTON, R.I. – May 18, 2017 – Three University of Rhode Island students have been awarded the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the most prestigious scholarship awarded to undergraduates studying the marine sciences. Since 2009, URI students have been awarded 23 Hollings Scholarships, one of the most of any institution in New England.
The recipients, all sophomore marine biology majors in the Honors Program, are Dawn Parry of Point Pleasant Borough, N.J., Sara Shapiro of Austin, Tex., and Samantha Ward of Sudbury, Mass.
The award provides students with a total of $19,000 toward tuition in their final two years of undergraduate study plus a paid summer internship at a NOAA laboratory. 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.
Parry said she has been interested in marine biology “since before I knew what it was. As a little kid, I would catch fish at my local river beach with a little scoop net.”
In her first two years at URI, she conducted research on invasive marsh grasses and on a disease affecting lobsters. She also worked as a teaching assistant in biology and served as treasurer of URI’s Marine Science Society. This summer she will participate in a National Science Foundation-funded undergraduate research program at Rutgers University’s Marine Field Station in Tuckerton, N.J, and next fall she will spend the semester studying in Bermuda.
“I want to be involved in marine biology research as much as I can, so the Hollings Scholarship is ideal for me,” Parry said. “The chance to do a paid internship at any NOAA lab in the country is really an unparalleled opportunity, and I can’t imagine a better way to jumpstart a career in marine science.”
She hopes to intern with the Passive Acoustic Group at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass., and pursue a career as a research scientist in marine biology or fisheries science.
“I want to find solutions to problems that impact both humans and the marine environment and be able to communicate these solutions to any audience,” said Parry. “I’m also getting a degree in secondary education, so I could see myself working as a high school teacher or college professor one day, too.”
Shapiro is pursuing a degree in marine biology because of her lifelong interest in animals and her allergies to anything with fur.
“When I went to the ocean, I could interact with all the animals I found and get up close and personal with them without the fear of an allergic reaction,” she said. “My mother helped me identify any critters I found, which furthered my interest in the weird and wonderful and got me involved in organism identification.”
In addition to her URI marine biology studies, Shapiro enrolled in a two-week course in invertebrate biology at the Shoals Marine Laboratory off the coast of Maine and another course through the University of New England. She hopes to study corals next year as an intern with NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program in Maryland.
“My career plans will definitely involve studying marine invertebrates,” she said. “At this point in my life, I plan on studying coral and working with coral reef invertebrates. I want to be in the field collecting data and doing research. But I’m also very interested in art, so I hope to be able to incorporate my drawing into my marine studies. I’d also like to help with outreach and informing people about the importance of our oceans.”
Ward is fascinated by marine mammals, especially whales and dolphins, and admits that they are “so amazing to me that my family makes fun of me for crying whenever I see them in the wild.”
She applied for the Hollings Scholarship primarily for the internship opportunity. “NOAA does amazing work, and having connections and involvement with them will no doubt jumpstart my career,” she said. She is open to any internship opportunity that involves marine mammals, though she is hoping for a program in Washington or Hawaii.
Ward is a member of URI’s Marine Science Society and the Society for Women in Marine Science while also serving as a teaching assistant in the lab for a marine biology course, an experience she enjoyed tremendously. “I don’t think anyone has ever been so excited to stay in a lab until 4 p.m. on a Friday,” she said.
Last winter she also participated in a humpback whale research project in the Turks and Caicos, during which she tracked whales from boats, recorded their songs, and monitored their condition. “It was one of the most life changing experiences,” she said. “I met some seriously awesome people. And whales.”
Ward’s career goal is to rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals. “I am a firm believer that, as humans, it is our job to right our wrongs and help the animals we are harming, either through pollution or boat strikes or global warming,” she said.
The students will attend a NOAA conference for Hollings Scholars in July, and early next year they will learn to which NOAA lab they will be assigned for their summer internship.