URI oceanography fellowships provide future scientists with hands-on summer research opportunities

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Students from 12 universities receive intensive marine science experience

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – August 9, 2012 – Undergraduate students from 12 colleges and universities around the country spent the last 10 weeks conducting cutting-edge oceanographic research through the University of Rhode Island’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships in Oceanography program.

The students — from Cornell University, the University of California at Berkley and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, among others – were each assigned to a research project led by faculty and graduate students at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography to gain an appreciation for the interdisciplinary character of marine science research.

“This program allows us to share our enthusiasm for oceanography with undergraduate students and make them aware that training in the basic sciences or engineering is both applicable and necessary for the complex challenges facing oceanographic researchers,” said Kathleen Donohue, associate professor of oceanography and co-coordinator of the program.

Kayla Flynn of Johnston, for instance, analyzed surface winds in Buzzards Bay and at T.F. Green Airport to examine their seasonal and yearly variability and to assess the effect of climate change on the winds.

“This project gave me first-hand experience in a graduate school environment and solidified my decision to continue my education to get my master’s degree,” said Flynn, who studies atmospheric science and applied mathematics at Lyndon State College in Vermont. “I met so many brilliant and caring people at GSO who really want the best for you.”

Cindy Cesar of Providence is a biology major and chemistry minor at Rhode Island College who plans to become a veterinarian. She spent the summer studying the diet of a species of zooplankton that is an important food source for many creatures in Narragansett Bay.

“My favorite part of this experience had to be getting a real life look at what it’s like to be in graduate school,” Cesar said. “We got to experience not only the research and school part of it, but also the living away from home and having to fend for ourselves aspect of it, too. From this experience I feel as though I truly know what it’s like to be a graduate student studying oceanography.”

The experience also opened her eyes to other career possibilities.

“At first I never truly considered the aquatic animals in my future as a vet, but after this experience I’ve come to see that I really love the water, the atmosphere, and the animals alike,” Cesar said. “This experience has made me see that maybe house pets aren’t the only animals I may be interested in working with when I finally do step into my career as a vet.”

Julie Warner of North Kingstown, a math and physics major at American University in Washington, D.C., applied for the fellowship as a way of exploring whether oceanography might be a good career choice.

“The best part was working with people who are so excited by their research,” said Warner, who studied the factors that affect the radius of ocean eddies. “The program was really beneficial because it gave me a good idea of what graduate school will be like. It also gave me a better understanding of what goes into research much better than undergraduate classes do.”

The URI Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships in Oceanography program began in 1984 and has been funded by the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation. More than 200 students have participated in the program through the years, and 75 percent have gone on to attend graduate school in a science, math or engineering discipline.