Congratulations to the 2019 Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars!

By Claire Fackler

July 2019

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has selected five graduate students as recipients of the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, representing graduate-level areas of study such as marine biology, oceanography, and maritime archaeology. The scholarship recognizes outstanding scholarship and encourages independent graduate level research, particularly by female and minority students.

To date, 17 percent of alumni are minorities, and the majority (89 percent) of former Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars are women. Sixty-four percent of scholarship alumni work as professionals in a field related to NOAA mission critical sciences.

“This highly competitive scholarship program allows the next generation of NOAA scientists to grow intellectually and expand their knowledge while promoting the work and mission of the National Marine Sanctuary System,” said John Armor, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries director. “It presents an unmatched opportunity to provide these young scholars with guidance in the very beginning of their careers.”

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 could see 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 five scholarship recipients for 2019 are:

Erin Arneson, Georgia Southern University

erin arneson

Erin is pursuing a Master’s degree in biology, focusing on the impacts of ocean acidification on benthic invertebrates specifically in the temperate live bottom reef system of coastal Georgia in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The primary branching coral species found at Gray’s Reef is Oculina arbuscula, which provides spatial refuge for many invertebrates and larval fishes. Understanding how this coral species will be impacted in an age of anthropogenic change is important for the management and assessment of ecosystem health for this marine protected area.

Jenna Hartley, North Carolina State University

jenn hartley

Jenna is a Ph.D. student in the Parks, Recreation, & Tourism Management Department at North Carolina State University. As both a social and environmental scientist, Jenna thinks about how people can be both the cause of and the solution to many environmental challenges. As a former classroom science teacher for almost a decade, she is particularly interested in the roles that young people play in creating solutions. Under the advisement of Dr. Kathryn Stevenson, Jenna's research examines the role of students as environmental change-agents in their communities, specifically on the topic of marine debris, or plastic pollution.

Elise Keister, University of Alabama at Birmingham

elise keister

Elise’s Ph.D. research interest focuses on the impact warming ocean waters will have on foundational coral species in the tropics, which has become imperative with the increase of global bleaching events. As a Dr. Nancy Foster Scholar, Elise is excited to continue participating in local impact science. She engages students, particularly students underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, by leading hands-on activities using the scientific method so students can understand how climate change is influencing the physiology and ecology of coral reef ecosystems.

Nury Molina, University of California, Santa Barbara

nury molina

Nury is pursuing a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution, and marine biology. Her research will explore the role of herbivorous fish in promoting coral reef resilience. Many disturbed coral reefs have shifted from coral to algal-dominated states due to natural and anthropogenic disturbances. In intact reef systems, herbivorous fishes can control the accumulation of algae, which facilitates coral recovery. Nury will complement her research on coral reefs in American Samoa and Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale national marine sanctuaries with reefs in Mo’orea, French Polynesia, to compare herbivory pressure in protected and nonprotected areas. This information is critical for informing policy and management to make optimal decisions for sustaining healthy coral reefs.

Vanessa ZoBell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

vanessa zobell

For her Ph.D. research, Vanessa will be quantifying noise pollution produced from ships in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Ship noise in the ocean significantly contributes to the underwater soundscape and can impact fish, invertebrates, and marine mammals that use sound for navigating, habitat selection, mating, and communication. In response to the concerns of intense maritime shipping on marine organisms, she will be working with Channel Islands sanctuary staff and the “Blue Whales and Blue Skies” group to investigate how to best reduce ship noise in underwater soundscapes.

As recipients of the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, these women become recognized members of the NOAA community, as well as ambassadors for the National Marine Sanctuary System. Scholars are highly encouraged to share their research and results with a broad community, focusing on how their research will impact society.

The scholarships were 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 well respected as a personal 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.

This year, the Office of the National Marine Sanctuaries received 88 applications for this prestigious scholarship. Experts in the fields of science, education, and policy from across NOAA reviewed and scored the applications based on their financial need, academic excellence, research, recommendations, and career goals.

Congratulations to the 2019 Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars!

Claire Fackler is the national volunteer coordinator and national education liaison for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.