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Into The Wild
A record number of Washington College students are headed off this summer to seas, coasts, estuaries, and labs, conducting research as interns for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The summer before her sophomore year, Amanda Peters ’16 accepted an internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve on the Monterey Bay in California. On the pre-veterinary track at Washington College, the biology major helped to research sea otter behavior, Olympia oyster restoration methods, and the effects of algae on marsh bank habitat reduction.
She also learned something startling: She was captivated by the science and study of coastal ecology.
“That summer was actually what sparked my interest in ecology, and completely changed my plans for the future,” Peters says. “At the time, I was set on going to vet school, but I have since declared a second major in environmental science and decided to pursue my PhD in conservation biology and ecology. My NOAA internship in California completely changed my plans, and I’m so glad that it did, since I am trying to attend graduate school now for a field that I am incredibly passionate about.”
Seven Washington College students this summer will be getting the same kind of opportunity that Peters did, working with NOAA scientists on a wide range of projects that will expand their skills and experiences. It’s the largest group the College has placed, says Andrea Lange, assistant dean for academic initiatives, and it makes up nearly a third of the total placements from the 10 colleges and universities participating in the NOAA internship program.
This summer’s interns are:
- Erika Koontz ’17, who will be based in Beaufort, North Carolina, helping create an updated map of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary;
- Harold Braden ’16, who will work in NOAA’s Washington D.C. offices on a special project related to marine life and climate change;
- Madhu Cornelius ’16, who will work in Wells, Maine, on coastal ecology issues;
- Sean Granata ’16, who will work in the Gulf of Mexico and Pascagoula, Mississippi, studying distribution, abundance, and mortality of marine species in the northern Gulf of Mexico;
- Jack Hinder ’16, who will work in Beaufort, North Carolina, conducting research on fertilizer pollutants;
- Ellen Maxwell ’17, also in Beaufort conducting fish surveys;
- Anna Windle ’16, who will work in Florida studying sea turtles.
Peters, who graduates in May, will also be working with NOAA again along with the Chesapeake Research Consortium in Annapolis, helping to GIS map the oyster reefs that have been implemented in the Bay and monitoring their progress.
“It will be a great experience looking at the fish communities that have begun to inhabit these reefs and to get a feel for the effectiveness of oysters at providing habitat while cleaning up the Bay,” Peters says. “I can’t wait to get started on this project, as I think there will be a lot of implications to the research that could be super important to restoring the Bay.”
Sean Granata ’16, a double major in biology and business, will be based in Pascagoula, Mississippi, working in a lab helping log fisheries data into SEAMAP (the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program), as well as participating in two two-week research vessel trips—the second one helping tag and track sharks.
And Erika Koontz ’17, who was hoping for an internship that would combine fieldwork with her interest in GIS, will get exactly that and then some when she spends 10 weeks helping create a new map of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In addition to using her GIS skills in the lab to process bathymetry and sonar data already collected, she’ll spend a week on a research vessel out of Florida gathering additional data, including sediment samples and conductivity, temperature, and depth measurements.
“I’m so excited,” says Koontz, an environmental studies major with biology and Spanish minors. “I wanted to experience professional NOAA fieldwork, and to actually be involved at the federal level with this type of research is what I’m most looking forward to, and starting to make those connections.”