Congratulations to the 2020 Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars

July 2020

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has selected three 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.

The 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.

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.

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

The three scholarship recipients for 2020 are:

Brijonnay Madrigal, University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Brijonnay Madrigal

Brijonnay is pursuing a Ph.D. in Marine Biology with an emphasis on marine mammal acoustics. Her research will focus on using passive acoustic monitoring techniques to understand the potential effects of anthropogenic noise on odontocete (the “toothed whales”) acoustic behavior in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. As a former educator at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center, Brijonnay is excited to continue engaging in sanctuary education and outreach, inspire interest in science, and foster a love for the oceans.

Sarah Hutchinson, Hawaii Pacific University

Sarah Hutchinson

Sarah is pursuing a Master’s degree in Marine Science. Her research focuses on using Wedge-tailed Shearwaters as indicators of ecologically important areas and processes in the waters within and surrounding Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Seabirds are proven ecosystem sentinels, and their movements and behaviors are useful for evaluating changing conditions and the design and management of marine protected areas. The goals of her research include mapping ecologically or biologically significant areas, areas of high wildlife overlap with fishing vessel use, and potential zones of marine debris aggregation around the Main Hawaiian Islands.

Tamara Russell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego

Tamara Russell

Tamara is pursuing a Ph.D. in biological oceanography. Her research will focus on seabird habitat use within the California Current, specifically understanding how west coast national marine sanctuaries capture areas that are important for seabird foraging. She is also interested in using long-term datasets to understand how seabird communities have changed over time and in response to shifts in prey availability. Seabirds are important members of the marine ecosystem and can serve as valuable indicators of ecosystem health. Research on seabird habitat use and how this may change in the future is vital to our understanding of whole ecosystem health and food web dynamics, as well as the conservation of resident populations. She is also passionate about outreach, education, and mentorship to encourage underrepresented students to get involved in STEM, and is excited to increase her involvement in these activities as a Dr. Nancy Foster Scholar.

“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.”

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

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 2020 Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars!