Catching up with the NOAA scholars: Where are they now?
We asked our NOAA Office of Education undergraduate scholarship alumni to tell us what they are up to and how they got there — and wow, did they deliver! Keep up-to-date with their unique and inspiring stories by looking for our social media posts tagged #WhereAreTheyWednesday or checking in with this story, which will be updated with each new post.
Ernest F. Hollings undergraduate scholars and Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI) undergraduate scholars receive an academic award of $9,500 per year for two years of full-time study. The Hollings Scholarship provides a 10-week, full time, paid summer internship opportunity at any NOAA facility nationwide. The EPP/MSI Undergraduate Scholarship offers two paid summer internships, one in a NOAA office in the Washington, D.C., area, and one at any NOAA facility nationwide. All scholars also receive funding to present their summer internship research at two national scientific conferences.
The application for the scholarships is open annually from September through January. The 2021 deadline is Monday, February 1. New #WhereAreTheyWednesday posts will be added to this story throughout the application season. Check back and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedInoffsite link.
Jump to an alumnus:
My name is Hillary Thalmann, and I am a 2016 Hollings scholarship alumna. Currently I’m a third-year Ph.D. student in fisheries science at Oregon State University. I discovered my passion for studying the effects of extreme environmental variability on marine fisheries during my Hollings internship. I interned at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Oregon, where I investigated changes in foraging patterns in an endangered population of juvenile steelhead trout during the "Warm Blob" marine heatwave.
Now, I'm back in Newport for my Ph.D. (literally across the parking lot from my former Hollings internship office!). I study the effects of marine heatwaves and other environmental stressors on the early life stages of Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska, a fishery stock that has declined by about 75% in the past decade in response to two recent marine heatwave events.
My Hollings experience helped me build the tools to succeed in graduate school: it taught me to think critically about issues impacting our marine fisheries, improved my scientific communication, and helped me win prestigious awards including the NSF Graduate Research Fellowshipoffsite link. In fact, my Hollings research project has recently been published as a featured paper in Transactions of the American Fisheries Societyoffsite link!
As much as I loved the mountains of Vermont where I went to school, the Hollings program changed my life by taking me to the ocean. I had never been exposed to marine biology prior to the Hollings scholarship, and the experience made me passionate about studying the ocean. I interned at the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biologyoffsite link, where I conducted research on the effects of ocean acidification and warming on coral reef cavity dwellers called cryptofauna. I learned about coral reef ecology, studied marine sponges, gained hands-on molecular biology lab experience, and worked in the field. It was a transformative opportunity to see the different angles of scientific research — fieldwork, labwork, and data analysis. I was mentored by incredibly supportive NOAA scientists, post-docs, and Ph.D. students, and I am grateful for all that they did to make my internship so valuable.
The Hollings internship helped me decide to become a biology major with a focus on marine science. I then studied abroad in Australia to learn more about the ocean and got involved in conducting reef-monitoring surveys. I recently graduated from college and am now a research assistant in a microbiology lab at University of California San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanographyoffsite link. The lab skills and experience working with environmental samples that I gained during my NOAA internship have transferred over to my new position. I am thrilled to be helping with a variety of projects — from analyzing human gut microbiomes to studying dolphin and oyster health. I am especially eager to explore all that Scripps has to offer in the marine science realm and hope to attend graduate school for marine biology.
The Hollings internship was an amazing opportunity to gain hands-on research experience, attend conferences, and dive into the marine science community. I am truly grateful for the chance to be part of the program and for where it has led me.
While the Hollings Scholarship provides unparalleled opportunities for educational and professional growth, it is also an amazing chance to meet other inspiring scientists who may just turn out to be friends for life! In my case, having a fellow Hollings scholar to swap stories with during my internship made the experience even more exciting. My friendship with Lizzy Ashley took off during our Hollings Scholarship orientation in 2017 when we met and discovered a funny coincidence — that we shared the same name. I went on to do my internship in Alaska, where I studied the population ecology of salmon, and Lizzy was interning at the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Networkoffsite link in Washington. Despite being in different parts of the country after our internships, we kept in touch and met up whenever we could, including at the post-internship Hollings Scholarship conference in 2018.
After Hollings, we both put the skills we gained in independent research and marine ecology to good use — I worked in Taiwan as a coral reef ecologist while Lizzy worked on Orcas Islands in Washington as a mammal stranding coordinator for the Seadoc Societyoffsite link. Now, we have both moved on to the next step in our careers and continue to keep in touch along the way. While Lizzy has just embarked on her journey as a D.V.M./Ph.D. student at UC Davisoffsite link, I have moved back home to Hong Kong to work as a data scientist in applied conservation finance research. Our shared passion for ecological conservation and experiences as Hollings scholars has made us friends for life, despite now being half a world apart! All in all, while I had a truly unforgettable research experience in Alaska during my internship, the network and friendships I built along the way have proven to be equally, if not more, valuable and memorable.
Hi! I am Jason Wong, a Hollings scholar alumnus from the class of 2011. I am currently an Assistant Professor of Economics at Occidental College. Prior to this position, I earned my Ph.D. in Sustainable Development at Columbia University and completed a fellowship at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Back in 2012, I interned at the Hollings Marine Laboratory within the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. I was somewhat of an“odd ball” within the Hollings program — most of my peers were interested in atmospheric or marine science, while I wanted to learn about the equally valued and important economics and science policy portion of NOAA’s work. My mentors, social scientists Dr. Susan Lovelace and Dr. Maria Dillard, taught me about coastal communities and the issues they face, the importance of translating research into products and actions, and how to be creative in interdisciplinary inquiry. My internship and my interactions with my mentors solidified my commitment to research and my desire to pursue a graduate degree. Spending a summer in picturesque Charleston, South Carolina, and making lifelong friends were also a dream come true!
Hollings opened many doors for me. For one, I gained an important skill set in developing independent research projects and the ability to understand and communicate across different disciplines, which helped me apply to a variety of interdisciplinary and social science Ph.D. programs. Through my interactions with social scientists at NOAA, I had the opportunity to work briefly as a Systems Analyst at NOAA Fisheries Southeast and the Southeast Fisheries Science Center. The indicators mapping work I did in that position formed the basis of my M.A. thesis. I also revisited it as a Ph.D. student, working with a few former students to extend the project. This culminated in a trip to St. Petersburg, Florida, to visit NOAA Fisheries Southeast and present our findings. This confirmed my passion to become an academic and to be a good mentor like the ones I have had the pleasure to have!
To say that the Hollings Scholarship shaped my career path and my life is an understatement, in fact I don't think I would be working at NOAA now if it wasn't for this program! I did my internship in 2014 with the Biogeography Branch of the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science looking at the distribution of threatened coral species in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS). During my internship, I found that being a coral scientist extends beyond fieldwork — I analyzed data and used a GIS program to look at coral distribution in different reef habitats and between east and west FGBNMS.
At the end of my Hollings Scholarship, one of my mentors offered me a job working at the NOAA NCCOS lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, as a GIS Analyst! During my internship I realized that I wanted a career at NOAA doing similar work, so I was thrilled to have landed what had become my dream job. After a year working at the lab further developing my GIS and statistics skills, learning more about the coral reef ecology field, and diving for the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program, I was ready to study coral reef ecology through a graduate program.
I completed a master’s degree at the University of the Virgin Islands and found a pathway back to working at NOAA — the Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. Much like my Hollings internship, I landed a job at NOAA after my fellowship with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, which ended in February of 2020. I now work in that office today as an Associate Scientist, and will even be co-mentoring a Hollings scholar in 2021. Overall, the Hollings Scholarship has completely transformed my life and career!
The applications for both NOAA's undergraduate scholarships and Knauss Fellowship are open now, so if you are interested in the experiences I had, learn more today at the NOAA Office of Education scholarships and Knauss Fellowship web pages!
I’m Holly Fowler, a 2005 Hollings scholar. My NOAA internship at Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida, was full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences and inspiring people. I studied biology as an undergraduate and planned to pursue a Ph.D. in marine science, but along the way I realized I preferred a career path that would allow me more opportunities to interact with the public, to teach and inspire conservation.
My internship and other undergraduate experiences helped me see that I had a knack for interpreting science and helping others understand the real-world applications, but that I didn’t want to spend so much time in a lab. I found my way into the environmental nonprofit world and spent several years working in environmental education and community-based habitat restoration with the National Aquariumoffsite link.
Currently, I am a Senior Project Manager for Council Fire, a consulting firm that helps purpose-driven organizations thrive by creating lasting economic, social, and environmental value. This position gives me the chance to contribute to projects that have large-scale impacts in sectors like ocean management and transportation systems, and I work alongside an incredible team of diverse subject matter experts.
I have taken a somewhat nontraditional career path, but I wouldn’t change a thing. When people ask me how to break into the environmental field I always suggest they pursue volunteer opportunities and internships — and the NOAA Hollings and EPP/MSI internships are as good as it gets!
Hi, I’m Kevin Thiel, a Hollings alumnus and Ph.D. student at the University of Oklahoma's School of Meteorology. During my Hollings Scholarship, I not only gained the research skills that I still use today, but also connected with my current Ph.D. advisers while attending a national conference to present my Hollings work!
As an undergraduate student at Ohio University I had a fascination with lightning and the NOAA Hollings program gave me an excellent opportunity to explore the field during my internship with the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Miami, Florida. It is through this experience that I developed my research skills and connected with other talented students and professionals. I am now studying how forecasters can use a new space-based lightning sensor to improve forecasts and severe storm research. By pairing the sensor with other tools like satellite imagery and radar, we can use the rate of lightning flashes and their size to better understand thunderstorm severity . The NOAA Hollings Scholarship is a wonderful opportunity for any student in the environmental sciences to learn, network, and most importantly, explore all the careers your field has to offer.
My name is Anjali Boyd and I was awarded the Hollings Scholarship in 2017. During my NOAA summer internship, I designed and implemented a field-intensive research project with my mentors to learn about how pinfish can impact seagrass conservation. Today, I continue that research as a first-year Ph.D. student and a Dean's Graduate Fellow at Duke University!
The NOAA Hollings scholarship not only gave me the opportunity to design a research project, but also present my research at national conferences. I also networked with professionals at Duke and NOAA, including my mentors, Riley Ken, Ph.D. (NOAA Beaufort Lab) and Brian Silliman, Ph.D. (Duke University). Brian is now my graduate school advisor, and I study how ecologically important species like seagrass are affected by the interactions between other species and physical forces in their environment, such as water quality, clarity, and nutrients. Ultimately, I aspire to develop new ecosystem-based restoration and management practices that can be used worldwide.
Hi! I’m Jala Morrow, a 2015 EPP/MSI Undergraduate Scholarship recipient. It is so amazing that just five years after my EPP/MSI scholarship, I have a Masters degree, am federally employed, and own a small business. The scholarship was a great opportunity to broaden my interests professionally and personally, to expose me to great experiences and people, and to realize that anything can be accomplished if I maintain an open mind.
After I graduated from Jackson State University with my Bachelor of Science in mathematics with a minor in finance, I completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the University of Texas at Arlington. While pursuing my MBA, I started my federal career working for the United States Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General. I am a Management and Program Analyst, and my duties are to conduct audit work to evaluate the federal transportation programs.
I also started a small business called SEE ME: STEM Engagement and Exploration for Minority Enrichment, which connects students with STEM professionals and offers scholarship opportunities. I am proud that through SEE ME, I can reciprocate the commitment to educational advancement that was offered to me from EPP/MSI and similar opportunities and scholarships!