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Our 2022 PEP Students Share Insights

August 09, 2022

Since 2009, this partnership among local science institutions has brought students to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, for a lively summer course in marine science and opportunities to work with top researchers.

Collage of 2022 PEP Interns

Now in its 14th year, the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program hosted 20 students from populations underrepresented in marine and ocean sciences who want to spend a summer gaining practical experience in marine and environmental science. The students hail from 11 states, and 20 different colleges and universities in nine states. Project topic areas range from saltmarsh ecology, water quality, fish diet, and plankton, to climate change, citizen science, human microbiomes, and information technology.  Some projects involved technologies like remote sensing, image analyses, and artificial intelligence.

In each profile, students outline their project, explain why it's important, and—always the most compelling part—share insights they’ve gained into marine science as a career during their time with us.

Ayinde Best (He/Him/His)

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Ayinde Best in graduation cap and gown.

Bio:

Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts

University: Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts

Major: Environmental science, concentration in biology

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

This summer I've been applying an economic model to the results of a Cape Cod shellfish survey conducted in 2021. The goal is to estimate the value of recreational shellfish harvesting on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I’ve been using a statistical computing and graphics software called R to estimate that value. This work will help inform shellfishing regulations at both the town and county level.

Insight:

This summer has been incredibly helpful by really pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. This project is very R-coding heavy and is based in policy. While my background is in biology, this project and internship experience have given me an opportunity to explore other aspects of science and develop my programming abilities.

Malika Brown (She/They)

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Malika Brown at the coast.

Bio:

Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland

University: University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne, Maryland

Major: Environmental science, concentration in marine science

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

For my project, I’ve been using image analysis techniques to extract age and growth data from endangered Atlantic salmon scales. The scales are from fish that were caught and released from the Narraguagus River in Maine. Age and growth data are critical for creating population assessments and in analyzing trends over time.

Insight:

Throughout my time in the Partnership in Education Program, I’ve had many experiences that have helped me grow as a student and young professional. What I liked the most was the chance to go sailing as a crew member, participate in a research cruise, and have hands-on experience in oceanography. My favorite part about my internship is that I got to analyze real, impactful data that I and other scientists have collected over a 26-year period.

Hector Delgadillo (He/Him/His)

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Hector Delgadillo roller blading on the wharf.

Bio:

Hometown: Tulare, California

University: California State University, Long Beach in Long Beach, California

Major: Marine biology

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

I’ve been studying the distribution of two important salt marsh plant species: smooth cordgrass and saltmarsh hay. As global sea levels rise, we expect to see low-marsh plants like smooth cordgrass encroach into the high marsh area often dominated by high-marsh plants like saltmarsh hay. To see if this is happening in Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay marshes, I’ve been looking at the presence of these two plants within the same marsh to see if they inhabit the same elevation. I've monitored 11 marsh sites within Buzzards Bay to see if there is a difference among the marshes.

Insight:

My favorite part of this internship is the strong connection we have to science, further nurtured by the setting of Woods Hole. I love the invited speakers, resources, and support that the Program provides us. They’ve been a constant reminder that we truly have the potential to succeed, even if we’re plagued with imposter syndrome or doubts. This Program really helps prepare us for personal exploration and a career in STEM.

Alexandra Figueroa (She/Her/Hers)

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Alexandra Figueroa in graduation gown in front of hedge.

Bio:

Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts

University: University of Massachusetts Boston in Boston, Massachusetts

Major: Environmental science, concentration in marine science

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

I’ve been working with the Science Center’s Ecosystem Dynamics and Assessment Branch to assess the coastal water quality of the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions. I’ve been using a statistical computing and graphics software called R to aggregate data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Assessment Total Maximum Daily Load Tracking and Implementation System database. I’m trying to find trends and common patterns across the states to understand how regional water quality might impact the coastal ecosystems that are key to many important fish species.

Insight:

The Partnership in Education Program provided opportunities for me to build long-lasting connections and skills to start my scientific career. As a recent graduate, career development and graduate school preparation are the next steps in my career. The Program’s workshops and network connections will definitely help my career. Learning R has been a huge learning curve for me this summer. However, I’m excited that I had the opportunity to learn it because I see that it’s a valuable skill for scientists and scholars working on data analysis and visualization.

Madison Griffin (She/Her/Hers)

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Maddison Griffin in foul weather gear on stern of boat.

Bio:

Hometown: Durham, North Carolina

University: Duke University in Durham, North Carolina

Major: Biology with marine biology concentration

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

For my project, I’ve been characterizing Coonamessett River health by measuring temperature, dissolved oxygen, nitrogen levels, groundwater discharge, and habitat structure. As part of the greater Coonamessett River Restoration Project, it's important to determine if the features built into this project were effective in increasing animal habitat and improving water quality. My project included a lot of field work and environmental chemistry to better understand how different nutrients are affecting the health of the river and how it's changing since its restoration.

Insight:

One of the things I've loved about working at the Woodwell Climate Research Center is being able to learn about the full process of restoration design. This has spanned from collecting the data to analyzing the results in the scope of the bigger picture. This experience has helped me see the different avenues I can pursue to obtain my research goals and further my scientific career. It’s helped me think more deeply about the type of work I want to do, where I’d want to work, and the lab community I want to be a part of. However, my absolute favorite part of the program is making lifelong connections and friendships with the other interns.

Alexis Hernandez (She/Her/Hers)

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Alexis Hernandez standing on the beach.

Bio:

Hometown: Palm Springs, California

University: California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt in Arcata, California

Major: Marine biology

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

My project involves analyzing decades of Atlantic spiny dogfish stomach content data. We’re trying to better understand comb jelly abundance and distribution in the Northeast U.S. continental shelf. We want to assess if and how comb jelly population patterns have changed over the past 20 years. If the population is increasing, we want to determine how that might impact food webs, and ultimately commercial fish stocks. We’re also interested in understanding why the comb jelly abundance is increasing in our region and if it’s happening globally.

Insight:

The Partnership in Education Program has given me the opportunity to learn valuable new skills that I can utilize to further my career as an aspiring marine biologist. I’ve learned how to better use a statistical computing and graphics software called R to create graphs from data extractions, develop better presenting skills, and gain lab experience dissecting fish. Some of my favorite parts of the Program were the fun field trips we took in getting to know New England, especially during our time on Sea Education Association’s SSV Corwith Cramer.

Tyvonta Johnson (He/Him/His)

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Tyvonta Johnson

Bio:

Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland

University: Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland

Major: Biology

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

My project has focused on the impacts of climate change on land change. I’ve been using a government-licensed program called Coastal Change Likelihood to determine how things like weather, sea level rise, erosion, and tidal flooding may change landscapes and environments in the next decade and further in the future.

Insight:

I love how diverse and focused on diversity the Program is. Being able to see people like you creates a sense of safety and connection because sometimes working around others who don’t understand you or relate to you can be uncomfortable. I’ve learned so much from this internship—from job opportunities to funding, networking, relevant marine science programs and fellowship opportunities, graduate advisors, and career sectors like government, private, non-profit, and academia. That’s only a small part you learn in this Program.

Caniah Lentz (She/Her/Hers)

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Caniah Lentz

Bio:

Hometown: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

University: North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina

Major: Environmental and geographic sciences

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

My project this summer focused on estimating the value of predicting harmful algal blooms for the Pacific razor clam fishery in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been using data collected during a recreational fishers survey to look at the social and environmental factors affecting HAB management. This work will help determine if and how recreational fishers might use and benefit from a HAB forecasting tool.

Insight:

I’m grateful for the new skills I’ve learned during my internship. The most useful skill that I’ve learned is R—a free software for statistical computing and graphics. I’ve also learned that you should look for jobs, graduate early if you can, and that it’s okay if you’re not sure what your next step is. The Partnership in Education Program has shown me that I—a woman of color—belong in STEM. It has empowered me to consider exploring the different STEM areas as career options.

Aaron MacDonald (He/Him/His)

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Aaron MacDonald in winter coat.

Bio:

Hometown: Cranston, Rhode Island

University: University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada

Major: Biodiversity and conservation biology

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

For my project, I’ve been studying how increasing ocean alkalinity—the ability for the ocean to buffer acids—affects small, unicellular phytoplankton called coccolithophores. To do this, I’ve been increasing the alkalinity of seawater that my treatment coccolithophores are in to see if it affects their growth rate and health.

Insight:

Over the course of the summer, I’ve had a major change in how I view the STEM field. It’s been great to experience how far STEM stretches as a discipline. This internship has shown me that there are many ways to get involved in STEM, and that there is no set path to achieving your goals.

Ayanna Mays (She/Her/Hers)

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Ayanna Mays

Bio:

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

University: University of Miami in Miami, Florida

Major: Marine biology and ecology

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

My project looks at the impacts of hypoxia on Atlantic silversides. The goal is to understand how low oxygen during development affects behavior and growth in fish. To do that, I’m looking at things like behavioral changes, larval development, and physiological endpoints over multiple generations.

Insight:

I’ve enjoyed the Program because it introduces and welcomes you to a community. My mentors and the Program directors are all so helpful and encouraging. I came into the Program not really knowing what my next steps in marine science were. Now, I have a clearer picture of what I want to do and the steps needed to get there. I’m coming out of this internship with research experience, career mentors, and close friends.

Jordan McDavid (He/Him/His)

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Jordan McDavid

Bio:

Hometown: Simsbury, Connecticut

University: University of Tampa in Tampa, Florida

Major: Marine science and biology

Internship Mentor(s):

  • George Liles, Northeast Fisheries Science Center
  • Catherine Walker, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Melisa Diaz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Project:

I’ve been working with my mentors to categorize Antarctica and Greenland melt features using remote sensing technology. I’ve been using a free open-source geographic information system program QGIS to look at satellite images and document ponds, streams, crevasses, and blue ice I see on the glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland.

Insight:

My favorite part of the program has been the people I’ve met. Not only have I met a lot of people who are important to my career, but I’ve also met people who I can call my friends. I’ve been met with nothing but support from my peers and mentors during my internship and I really appreciate that. While my internship isn’t in marine biology, my major is, so it definitely will help round out my future career as a scientist.

Parker Mooney (He/Him/His)

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Parker Mooney in coveralls on stern of fishing vessel.

Bio:

Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii

University: Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts

Major: Environmental geoscience

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

For my project, I’ve been studying the Eastern mudsnail in New England salt marshes and how parasites alter their behavior. I’ve been conducting lab experiments to better understand how changes in mudsnail behavior might affect soft sediment communities, which could impact the ecology of a salt marsh.

Insight:

My internship helped me gain extensive knowledge on the scientific method and learn how it can be applied to a biological setting. I’ve enjoyed conducting fieldwork and discovering new programs such as the statistical computing and graphics software called R, ImageJ, and Python. However, my biggest takeaway from my internship experience was connecting with the other interns and the Woods Hole community in Massachusetts. Everyone has been eager to learn, teach, and further our education and careers.

Monét Murphy (She/Her/Hers)

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Monet Murphy in front of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution sign.

Bio:

Hometown: Leesburg, Georgia

University: Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia

Major: Marine and environmental science

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

Hydrothermal vents are the result of seawater percolating down through fissures in the ocean crust where two tectonic plates move away or toward each other. These vents are home to some unique animals that depend on that environment. This summer I’ve been identifying the macrofaunal community composition of vent sites before and after catastrophic disturbances from tectonic and magmatic activity. Dispersal of larvae among vent sites is critical for population maintenance, colonization of new vents, and recolonization of disturbed vents. My project will help us better understand how quickly vent communities recover from disturbances and what processes influence their ability to recover. On a broader scale, this project will help us understand how the unique environment and ecosystems at hydrothermal vents will be disrupted by human activities like deep-sea mining.

Insight:

The 2022 Partnership Education Program has provided me with paramount knowledge about the dynamic and often interchangeable world of research and effective human relations. I’ve been able to demonstrate the skills that I’ve acquired over the years from prior research all while being given the platform to grow professionally through continuous study and participation alongside my mentors. I’ve always had an infatuation with deep-sea research. To be given the opportunity to work in my dream career field has allowed me to provide a positive impact in this amazing area of study.

Jill Paquette (She/Her/Hers)

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Jill Paquette

Bio:

Hometown: Falmouth, Massachusetts

University: Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina

Major: Biology

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

I’ve been looking at how the seasonal patterns in abundance differ among ciliate groups—single-celled organisms that have short hair-like structures called cilia. To do this, I’ve been applying a convolutional neural network—a kind of artificial intelligence—to identify the plankton observed by an imaging robot called Imaging FlowCytobot that’s deployed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Knowing how the abundance of different types of ciliates changes seasonally helps us better understand food webs and energy transfers within an ecosystem.

Insight:

I’ve really enjoyed stepping into the real scientific community and learning more about an understudied group of organisms. This internship has helped me with networking, team communication, presentation skills, and experimental design. I’ve learned so much about marine biology and the technology that we have accessible to us, especially during a research cruise aboard the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography’s R/V Endeavor. This internship experience has helped me learn how to identify plankton, code in MATLAB, and what I could do in my future science career.

Kimberly Porras (She/Her/Hers)

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Kimber Porras in sun hat

Bio:

Hometown: Managua, Nicaragua and San Mateo, California

University: College of San Mateo in San Mateo, California

Major: Environmental science

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

For my research project, I’ve been comparing two different methods of collecting dissolved oxygen and temperature data in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. One method involves data collected by citizen scientists with the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s Baywatchers Program and the other method uses data collected by HOBO data loggers. In addition to looking at the pros and cons of each method, I’ve also been looking at the social aspect of citizen science, how the Coalition has made science accessible to local residents, and how their program may increase local stewardship of Buzzards Bay.

Insight:

My favorite part of this internship has been that I’m able to challenge myself everyday. It’s made me realize I can do a lot. I’ve made genuine connections with my cohort and mentors. This internship has given me the confidence to apply for other internship opportunities and to trust in myself more. I’m an immigrant Latina and a first-generation student. Being away from home has made me realize that the goals I’m achieving right now are not only a victory for me, but also for my family.

Haley Roche (She/Her/Hers)

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Haley Roche sitting on wooden bench.

Bio:

Hometown: Saunderstown, Rhode Island

University: St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City, Maryland

Major: Biology and biochemistry

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

Bacteria play a critical role in human health. For my project, I’ve been exploring critical microbial relationships in the human mouth by recreating the typical plaque biofilm found on our teeth and photographing its progression over time. This research will show how plaque begins to develop on our teeth and give us insight into the interactions between bacteria in plaque biofilms. Understanding our oral microbiome is important because it gives us greater insight into the symbiotic relationships we have with bacteria and the problems or advantages they provide us with. Additionally, since the oral microbiome is so diverse, it can be used as a model for other microbiomes in the environment.

Insight:

The program has given me the opportunity to develop new and critical skills that will help me in my field of interest: marine microbiology and biogeochemistry. At the beginning of the summer I had very little experience with microbiology. I now understand my project and these concepts well enough to explain them succinctly at the Program's annual symposium. I’m so thankful for this opportunity to make connections with my peers and mentors—they’ve taught me so much!

Morgan Smith (She/Her/Hers)

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Morgan Smith

Bio:

Hometown: Annapolis, Maryland

University: Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland

Major: Computer technology

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

Interning at the Science Center’s Information Technology Division helped me experience IT in a large scientific government environment. The IT needs and challenges in this kind of environment are different from other smaller, less complex organizations. One of the ways I was able to contribute to the division was to create a database that inventories the accounts on systems to help assist record-keeping. This database will help the division distinguish different factors such as position, employment status, first name, and last name of each service account. My mentor, Heidi, promised me a fully immersive IT experience and I got it. I’ve really enjoyed this internship.

Insight:

My favorite part of the internship has been getting the chance to put everything I learned into practice. I took a personal computer architecture course before coming to the Science Center’s Woods Hole Lab. This internship has given me an opportunity to see the different components of a computer, such as the motherboard and the hard drive, in a work environment. This opportunity has helped me solidify what in information technology interests me. Most of my courses have been virtual. Having this in-person experience with such a large organization has been valuable and helps me understand where my career path can go.

Zachary Taylor (He/Him/His)

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Zach Taylor in front of small plane.

Bio:

Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colorado

University: Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee

Major: Agricultural science

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

Herring River Estuary, located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is the site of a carbon dioxide removal study led by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service. Scientists are looking to see if adding olivine—a green volcanic carbon-capturing mineral—can enhance carbon dioxide uptake by the marsh and help raise the elevation of the marsh. For my project, I’ve been studying porewater exchange at a field site upstream of the Chequessett Neck Road dike located at the mouth of the river. Porewater exchange is critical to carbon dioxide uptake because it’s how water, oxygen, and sulfate enter the marsh during flooded periods and exit the marsh during low water periods.

Insight:

My favorite part about the internship has been meeting all of my amazing cohort members! Ever since arriving on campus, I’ve had a wonderful time hanging out and having fun with the other interns. The best and most useful thing I've learned during my internship is the idea that "your network is your net worth." I’ve also gained some field and lab skills during my internship, including Excel, R software, data analysis, and how to use a CTD. I want to become an NOAA Corps pilot and I believe this internship will help with this career goal. Having an NOAA-supported internship program on my NOAA Corps pilot application is like a foot in the door.

Rhegan Thomason (She/Her/Hers)

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Rhegan Thomason

Bio:

Hometown: Alamogordo, New Mexico

University: University of Texas at El Paso in El Paso, Texas

Major: Biological science

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

For my project, I’ve been monitoring the growth and survival of oysters and hard clams at five sites in the Three Bays Estuary in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. The five sites run along a gradient of poor to good water quality. By having our sites run along a gradient, we can see how they are affected by nutrients, food availability, and low pH. This work is important because the shellfish aquaculture industry plays a huge role in Massachusetts’ economy, bringing in millions of dollars every year. Shellfish also remove nitrogen from the water, which can help reduce excess nutrients and the problems commonly associated with nutrient pollution.

Insight:

My favorite part of this internship has probably been the fieldwork! We put the oysters out when they were tiny babies, smaller than the tip of my finger. Every time we go out, I see how much they've grown. Being in the Program this year has solidified my love for marine science. It’s also helped me develop more coding skills, expand my network, and learn the ins and outs of fieldwork. I enjoyed being involved in every step of my project’s process. It’s been such a fun experience and it’s given me a great foundation for all my future endeavors in scientific research.

Alicia Yodlowsky (She/They)

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Alicia Yodlowsky at sunset on the beach

Bio:

Hometown: Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina

University: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina

Major: Agricultural and environmental systems

Internship Mentor(s):

Project:

For my project, I’ve been looking at nitrogen levels in Little Pond located in Falmouth Heights on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Several years ago a sewer system was installed to help reduce nutrient pollution in Little Pond. The goal of my work is to see if and how quickly the levels of nutrient pollution have been decreasing in Little Pond and see if the new sewer system is doing its job.

Insight:

My favorite part of my internship has been living with my fellow interns. It’s been a lot of fun spending time with them. I’ve also enjoyed the research cruise on Sea Education Association’s SSV Corwith Cramer. It was a unique experience, and I learned a great deal about ship operations, navigation, and oceanographic research methods. This internship experience has given me valuable environmental science knowledge and research experience that will serve me well in my career.

For more information, please contact Heather Soulen.