Congratulations to the 2022 Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has selected seven graduate students as recipients of the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, representing graduate-level areas of study such as marine biology, oceanography, and ecology. The scholarship recognizes outstanding academic achievement and encourages independent graduate level research, particularly by female and minority students.
Last year, the Nancy Foster Scholarship Program took a hiatus on recruitment due to COVID-19, and during that time, NOAA conducted a robust 20-year review of the program to remove barriers for historically marginalized, underserved, and/or underrepresented students.
“We are excited to welcome these talented individuals to the NOAA team, and look forward to witnessing their academic achievements and contributions to science over the years,” said John Armor, director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “The Nancy Foster Scholarship Program continues to provide guidance for young scholars at the beginning of their careers and is an integral part of NOAA’s commitment to increasing the diversity within its workforce.”
Subject to appropriations, each scholarship recipient will receive an annual stipend of $30,000 and up to $12,000 annually as an education allowance. Additionally, recipients may receive up to $10,000 to support a 4-6 week research collaboration at a NOAA facility. Masters students may be supported for up to two years, and doctoral students for up to four years.
The seven scholarship recipients for 2022 are:
Aspen Ellis is a Ph.D. student focusing on seabird conservation at the University of California Santa Cruz under the advisorship of Dr. Donald Croll and Dr. Bernie Tershy. In her role as a Dr. Nancy Foster Scholar, she will be assessing the impacts of offshore wind energy development on seabirds in the West Coast region national marine sanctuaries and evaluating the efficacy of feasible mitigation measures. Utilization of renewable energy resources is essential to reduce the severity of climate change, but the construction of infrastructure in marine environments may pose new risks for marine wildlife. Through her research, Aspen hopes to facilitate renewable energy development while ensuring that seabird populations aren’t jeopardized.
Aspen entered her Ph.D. program with over 10 years of experience working in the field. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 2017. There, she was part of a team that worked on a dataset of 40,000 songbird window collisions to study changes in body size related to climate change—research that has since been awarded the Ecological Society of America’s George Mercer Award for outstanding ecological research published by young authors. As an undergraduate, she also worked with Project Puffin to contribute to seabird research and management in the Gulf of Maine.
Working with Humboldt State University’s Common Murre Restoration Project and later, USFWS’s Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, she contributed to long-term monitoring of seabirds at multiple breeding colonies in the Pacific. She carried out research and recovery efforts for endangered and threatened shorebirds as a crew leader for both the USGS’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in North Dakota and a non-profit, Conserve Wildlife Foundation New Jersey. Working with an NGO, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, she contributed to efforts to study the value of Michigan’s Mackinac Straits as a migratory stopover site for waterbirds in response to concerns around the safety of an aging natural gas and oil pipeline. As a rehabilitation technician for Save Our Shearwaters on Kauai, she tracked and counteracted mortality of endangered fledgling Newell’s Shearwaters grounded by light pollution on their way out to sea.
Throughout her career, Aspen has taught students of all ages and performed outreach in the communities where she’s worked. As a student with a non-traditional education background, she is interested in finding creative ways to use outreach and pedagogical techniques to improve access to the sciences for students from historically excluded demographics.
Ella Bea Kim
Ella Bea Kim is pursuing a Ph.D. in biological oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the Scripps Acoustic Ecology Lab with Dr. Simone Baumann-Pickering and NOAA’s Sanctuary Soundscape Monitoring Project team. Her research focuses on investigating fish chorus and the impact of marine heat waves across Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, and Olympic Coast national marine sanctuaries. Fish chorus is often associated with mating, and therefore characterizing fish choruses within soundscapes is a non-invasive way to identify mating season, essential habitat, acoustic niche, and species distribution. Ella’s research explores sound source separation methods, elucidating spatiotemporal trends of fish choruses across the West Coast sanctuaries, and analyzing how marine heat waves impact fish sonifery through habitat modeling. Studying fish sounds has the potential to increase fish monitoring throughout national marine sanctuaries, provide a better understanding of fish behavior, protect vulnerable species, identify essential fish habitat, and support fishing/cultural traditions of coastal Indigenous peoples.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in environmental analysis from Scripps College, Ella spent two years working as the head of the Applied Mathematics Department at The Island School in The Bahamas. As a Nancy Foster Scholar, Ella will create a communication toolkit on fish acoustics and climate change impacts across the West Coast national marine sanctuaries for educational programming. Additionally, Ella is excited to partner with Makah Fisheries through their internship program, to mentor Makah Tribe high school students and engage them in acoustic research in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. As a woman of color, Ella is passionate about increasing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) access and mentorship to underrepresented students. When Ella is not learning to speak fish, you can find her swimming, running, surfing, and exploring the ocean.
Fabiola Rivera Irizarry
Fabiola Rivera Irizarry is a coral reef ecologist and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biology of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Río Piedras Campus. She holds a bachelor’s degree in coastal marine biology from the UPR Humacao Campus and a master’s degree in biology specialized in coral reef ecology from the UPR Río Piedras Campus. During the last nine years she has been dedicated to coral reef conservation and restoration. Her research is focused on how anthropogenic factors affect coral physiology and population dynamics with the aim of developing effective management strategies.
For her doctoral dissertation she is performing an integrative study on stony coral tissue loss disease that includes spatial distribution, demography, microbiome, treatments, and restoration alternatives. As part of this project, she is monitoring healthy and diseased Pseudodiploria strigosa brain corals in contrasting water quality sites with the aim of understanding whether water quality plays an important role in disease dynamics. Over the years, Fabiola has been a research mentor to over 25 undergraduate students and various high school students. She is very active in coral reef restoration and continuously offers talks about coral reef conservation to all academic levels and the general public. Fabiola enjoys educating the community, wants to be an agent of change and serve as inspiration to people, especially young girls, who aspire to be scientists in the future.
Jaida N. Elcock
Jaida N. Elcock grew up in DeKalb, Illinois and later moved to Queen Creek, Arizona in her childhood. Despite being raised in landlocked states, her curiosity for the ocean took over and she decided to pursue a career in marine science. To begin this journey she received her bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, AZ) in biology in just three years with university honors. During her studies, she spent a summer as an intern at OdySea Aquarium, learning about fish care and interacting with a variety of elasmobranchs. Following graduation, she studied skate reproduction ecology during her REU-Blinks Summer Internship Program experience with University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs.
Jaida is currently interested in the ecology of all things elasmobranch (sharks, rays, and skates). Her Ph.D. research will focus on the energetic cost of migration and climate-induced resource disruption, using a case study of basking sharks in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Jaida is also passionate about science communication and can be found making shark-centric content for many different platforms, including classrooms, panels, podcasts, and social media. She is a co-founder of Minorities in Shark Sciences, an organization dedicated to supporting women of color in the field of shark science. Jaida is incredibly excited to pursue her passion for studying the ocean and lifting others up with her along the way.
Keiko Wilkins is originally from Ohio where she received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Miami University (Oxford, OH) with a focus on freshwater zooplankton ecology. She now resides in Honolulu, HI as a Ph.D. student within the marine biology graduate program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Under the direction of Dr. Robert Richmond at Kewalo Marine Laboratory, her dissertation research will explore the physical and chemical effects of microplastics on coral reef health, survival, and reproduction.
Through support from the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program, her work will help to establish a baseline of current conditions of microplastic ingestion by corals within the three NOAA national marine sanctuaries within the Pacific Island region: Papahāumokuākea Marine National Monument, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and National Marine Sanctuary of American Sāmoa. Her work will also help to better understand how coral species-specific characteristics affect ingestion and retention of plastics as well as determine potential ecological threats through analysis of microplastic-associated chemical contaminants.
Natalie Nicole Dornan
Natalie Dornan is pursuing a Ph.D. in marine science at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Under the mentorship of Dr. Alyson Santoro, Natalie’s research seeks to better understand how the cycling of nutrients (particularly nitrogen) in coastal areas interacts with anthropogenic and environmental drivers to influence the bottom-up ecology of kelp forest ecosystems. As the foundational nearshore species in West Coast region national marine sanctuaries, canopy-forming kelps provide an array of ecosystem services that support high biodiversity, complex food webs, blue carbon storage, and benefit local coastal communities. Natalie’s dissertation work will improve our understanding of how the sources, availability, and transport of various nitrogen forms in the West Coast region drive kelp production, contributing to our ability to manage kelp forests effectively in the face of a changing climate.
Natalie first became interested in research at NOAA while working towards her bachelor’s degree at the University of Hawai῾i at Mānoa (UH), where she participated in different projects out of the NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office that coupled research with environmental management within the context of native Hawaiian culture. After graduating, Natalie worked in environmental consulting before pursuing her master's degree at UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. While at Bren, Natalie's thesis project worked with a community-based organization on O῾ahu, Hawai῾i to investigate the potential of reducing harmful loads of stormwater runoff into an important bay region on the island. She graduated with her Master's of Environmental Science and Management from Bren in the Spring of 2020. When not thinking about kelp forest biogeochemistry, Natalie enjoys exploring outdoor spaces with her pets, identifying and pressing seaweeds for her herbarium, tending to her garden, and fishing in the productive waters of the California Current system.
Taylor Williams is pursuing a Ph.D. in biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she will be advised by Dr. Stacy Krueger-Hadfield. Her Ph.D. research will focus on a cryptogenic alga that is acting invasively within the boundaries of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Chondria tumulosa is a newly described red macroalga that was found growing in dense mats and smothering the coral reefs at Manawai (Pearl and Hermes Atoll) and Kuaihelani (Midway Atoll). She will be using a combination of novel population genetic analyses and laboratory experiments to assess the reproductive system of this alga. This research will help inform science-based management strategies for Chondria tumulosa and expand our understanding of the role reproductive system variability plays in the eco-evolutionary success of red algal invasions.
Taylor completed her bachelor’s degree in marine biology at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa and was an active Marine Option Program student. It was during her time at UH Mānoa that she first became involved with Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a scientific diver. After completion of her bachelor’s degree, Taylor completed her master’s degree in marine biology at the College of Charleston with Dr. Heather Spalding where she began her research on Chondria tumulosa. Taylor is dedicated to protecting the ecologically and culturally significant resources in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument by limiting the spread of this invasive algae and developing science-informed best management practices with her research.
The importance of place-based science is at the forefront of Taylor’s research. She is excited to foster this belief through continued collaboration with Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and local outreach initiatives as a Dr. Nancy Foster Scholar.
The Nancy Foster Scholarship Program was established in memory of Nancy Foster, Ph.D., a leader in marine resource conservation, a former assistant NOAA administrator for oceanic services and coastal zone management and past director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Throughout her NOAA career, Dr. Foster was highly respected as a supporter of mentoring, a champion of diversity and an advocate of fair and equal treatment of all people in the workplace. Congress created the scholarship in 2000 as a way to honor her life’s work, 23 years of service to NOAA and her contribution to the nation.
Congratulations to the 2022 Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars!