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Foster Scholars Prepare to Dive into America's National Marine Sanctuaries

By Kathryn Klett

Buoyed by financial support from NOAA, a new group of burgeoning marine scientists is preparing to dive into the underwater world of America's national marine sanctuaries. Graduate students students Emily Aiken, Jessica Hale and Corinne Kane are the latest recipients of the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship — awarded annually by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries — which will provide them with the opportunity to collaborate with sanctuary scientists as they embark on research ventures in marine biology and oceanography.

Aiken will be based at Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, where she will use remote-controlled robots to study the distribution of bottom-feeding fish among deepwater corals. Hale will explore the population and range expansion of northern sea otters in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and Kane hopes to uncover the mysteries of deepwater corals and the role they play in protecting reef dwellers in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Jessica Hale observing sea otters on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.

The Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program was established in memory of Dr. Nancy Foster, a leader in marine conservation. A former NOAA assistant administrator and past director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, Foster was a pioneer in ocean conservation who knew the value of mentoring in the workplace. The scholarship program was created by Congress in 2000 as a way to honor her 23 years of service to NOAA and her contribution to the nation through her life’s work.

“This extremely competitive program is a wonderful opportunity to nurture the development of the next generation of NOAA scientists as they begin their careers,” said Daniel J. Basta, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “These scholars and their research will enhance the work and mission of the National Marine Sanctuary System as they expand their own knowledge through their chosen graduate school path.”

The scholarship recipients were chosen from a pool of more than 200 applications, which were reviewed and scored by a panel of scientists from across NOAA. The decisions were made based on financial need, academic excellence, research, and more. Each student will receive an annual stipend of $30,000, with up to $12,000 provided yearly as an education allowance. They also may receive up to $10,000 to support a four- to six-week research collaboration at a NOAA facility.

As part of a team building activity, scholars were able to paddle on beautiful Crescent Lake.

To learn more about the 2014 scholars, or for information on how to apply, check out the newly redesigned Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program site, now accessible via smartphone and tablet. Applications for the 2015 scholarship will open in October 2014.

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