Virgin Islands Students Qualify For Prestigious Marine Biology Program
Jarvon Stout of UVI
SAN DIEGO – Twenty-three ambitious college students from across the United States spent their time in labs and in the field conducting research in earth, ocean, and atmospheric sciences as part of the Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.
SURF is a ten-week summer research experience for undergraduates (REU) that engages students in cutting-edge scientific research alongside a scientist mentor, helping them prepare for graduate school and careers in science.
View a photo gallery for the 2015 Scripps SURF program here. Learn about the exciting research conducted by the SURF program participants in 2015:
Jarvon Stout, a student studying marine biology at the University of the Virgin Islands, notes that the ocean was his first real passion. His scientific ambition led him to apply for a summer research opportunity through the SURF program, and he was placed in the lab of Scripps Assistant Professor Brice Semmens, where he captured stills of videos in order to develop photographic marks of critically endangered groupers. He was using software in order to distinguish marks that make individual fish uniquely identifiable. The hope is that this tool will allow researchers to use “natural marks” to track the fate of individuals through time. One of the highlights of Stout’s experience was visiting Birch Aquarium at Scripps because it was his first time observing fish and sea creatures in an aquarium. In the future, Stout hopes to attend graduate school at Scripps and said that “the pinnacle” of his career will be studying and working with whales.
Virgin Islands native Richard Laplace has been interested in marine biology from a very young age due to his family’s unique ability to swim (70-80% of the people born and raised in the Caribbean do not know how to swim). As a SURF program participant in the lab of Scripps Associate Professor Stuart Sandin, Laplace analyzed photomosaics of juvenile corals at the Palmyra Atoll. These photomosaics consist of thousands of pictures taken 1-2 meters from the surface. Photos are stitched together using Photoshop. There has been no human interaction with this coral reef, so Sandin’s lab has been interested in learning as much as they can about the pristine corals. The program has provided Laplace the opportunity to study marine biology outside of books. Learning how to use Photoshop was a SURF highlight for Laplace, who also noted that he liked the access to activities and the speed of the Internet in San Diego. In the future, Laplace plans on attending graduate school and obtaining a PhD.
Cheryl Petsche grew up in the Midwest, but a childhood trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago gave her an up-close look at some dolphins. This experience sparked her interest in marine biology, a field she is now studying at the University of the Virgin Islands. Petsche had such a great experience with the SURF program last summer that she applied for a second time. She noted that she is grateful Scripps Associate Professor Jennifer Smith and UC San Diego alumus and current Scripps Staff Research Associate Clinton Edwards have “put up with her” for the past two summers. This year, Pestche studied the tropical coral Pocillopora from the Palmyra Atoll in the central Pacific. She analyzed the frequency of coral mortality, determined what factors influenced mortality, and determined the fate of the corals after they died. Petsche has “lucked out” because she has yet to find a topic that she has studied and not liked. She admits that her long-term goals rotate frequently, but currently she hopes to either lead a lab or start a non-profit organization after graduate school.
Puerto Rican native Eden Santiago Gomez is a student at the University of South Florida, where she is majoring in marine biology and environmental science and policy. After taking an ecology class in college, Gomez realized that she wanted to investigate real life problems and became an environmentalist. During the SURF program, Gomez was thrilled to research salt marsh ecology with graduate student Akana Noto in the lab of Jonathan Shurin, professor of the Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution Section at UC San Diego. Here, she studied the abundance of parasites and insects in salt marsh plants across California. Gomez measured and identified insects using a dissecting microscope and dichotomous key, which is a tool to identify insect families. This research will benefit our knowledge of salt marsh food webs, an area that is not well understood. In the future, Gomez plans on continuing research with wetlands and attending graduate school. She hopes to eventually implement her research in agricultural practices and animal raising practices.