Clownfish in coral reef

NOAA Fellows heading to summer research projects in Hawaii, Calif., Md.

May 13, 2016

Faye Harwell ’15, MS’16, has some words of advice for Clark University’s three Marsh-Mosakowski National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fellows this summer: You never know how you’ll end up using the invaluable experience gained through a research project for NOAA.

Take larval samples. Harwell encountered plenty of aquatic larval species during the summer of 2013, when she worked on a research project for the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maine. The field samples and information she gathered about the health of estuaries are included in a large dataset still accessed by researchers. She worked on that as well.

“That was the only experience I had had with an extremely large dataset, and for my Ph.D. next year I’m joining a research lab [at Boston University] that has a 20-year dataset on primates,” she told this year’s NOAA Fellows at a recent luncheon held in Clark’s Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise. “It’s just very helpful to have knowledge on how to work and do the statistics and the computational work for such a large dataset.”

Robert Johnston with Isabel Miranda, left, and Becca Hadik

Robert Johnston with Isabel Miranda, left, and Becca Hadik

Robert Johnston, director and research professor for Clark’s George Perkins Marsh Institute and professor of economics, emphasized the significance of Harwell’s and the other fellows’ work. He has used the dataset that Harwell helped develop.

“Every year, I hear back from NOAA, from the mentors, from the coordinators about the great students we send from Clark and about the important work they do,” Johnston said. “These are real-world projects,” and NOAA is “desperately constrained in a lot of areas of capacity.” Students, he said, are “providing a service to society because this is work that otherwise might not get done.”

Johnston and Harwell were two of the speakers at the recent send-off event held for this year’s three NOAA Fellows. The summer program is sponsored by the Mosakowski and Marsh institutes, in partnership with the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

“This is a great example of a partnership between Clark University and an outside federal agency,” Johnston said. “That’s what a great university is about ‒ it’s about getting the faculty and students out in the world and engaged.”

This year’s fellows include:

  • Becca Hadik ’17 (pictured), a political science major, who will work at NOAA’s Maryland office on congressional communications for oceanic and atmospheric research. Her faculty mentor is Amy Richter, associate professor of history.
  • Isabel Miranda ’16 (pictured), a studio art and geography major, who will work as a geographic information systems (GIS) intern for NOAA’s Sentinel Site Program/Habitat Blueprint and Office for Coastal Management in Hawaii. The program addresses habitat degradation, especially coral reef degradation, in West Hawaii and Guam. Her faculty mentor is John Rogan, associate professor of geography and adjunct associate professor of biology.
  • Kristen Sheldon ’17, a biology major, who will work on “Climate Effects on Physiology and Life History” in California. Her faculty mentor is Deborah Robertson, professor of biology and adjunct professor in the Carlson School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

This is the fifth year of the NOAA-Clark partnership, which offers highly competitive, paid summer field internships for select undergraduates. Each year, students are assigned to labs and offices, working in fields such as applied ocean and atmospheric science, policy and science communication. They are overseen by NOAA scientists or managers and advised by Clark faculty mentors.

(Pictured: Clownfish in a healthy coral reef, a habitat that is threatened by many impacts, including climate change.)