Dr. Raleigh Hood and Dr. Victoria Coles from UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory, and Gary Shenk, hydrologist for USGS and team modeler for Chesapeake Bay Program
What is the focus of your research?
My focus is ecological forecasting Vibrio vulnificus, and Vibrio cholerae, two organisms are the leading causes of foodborne illness when consuming raw or undercooked seafood, within the Chesapeake Bay. We are utilizing previous vibrio abundance and water quality research to determine Vibrio probability within the Chesapeake Bay in order to understand its relationship to water quality. My work is part of a larger project that is funded by the National Science Foundation.
How will it make a difference?
This research gives insight into what shellfish aquaculture might expect for future shellfish harvests, the economic viability, and how harvest seasons might be affected, as well as the future state of the current locations where aquaculture is practiced.
It will also hopefully lay the groundwork for a more sophisticated way to look at environmental change as not just as an environmental impact but a human response of cause and effect. What this has the potential to ultimately do is begin bridging the gap between environmental science and the local communities that usually tend to struggle to work with and understand one another.
What influenced your career path in science?
Being a native of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I have to give most credit to the landscape and environment that I was so fortunate to grow up in. Unlike most kids that attended summer camp, I grew up spending my days out on the water fishing knee-deep in mud on a coastal flat or surfing during a hurricane swell.
I was always taking every possible adventure these barrier islands offered. I saw firsthand the power of the ocean and how temporary the shapeshifting sandbars of my home really are. This inspired me to major in geology and environmental studies.
After working in the geology field in New Mexico and Tanzania, I knew I wanted to do something to give back to the local ecosystems of my home. I wanted to use my profession as a tool to not only help protect our Mid-Atlantic ecosystems, but also to protect and help local fishing communities and generations that depend on these resources.
Why did you choose to study with your mentor at UMCES?
UMCES chose me! In all honesty, I applied for UMCES right before COVID struck, so it was almost a year before I heard from anyone after being accepted. Dr. Hood and Dr. Coles came to me with this opportunity, and when I learned that the CNH2 project was an attempt to understand and forecast the feedback loops between the environment and human relationship within the Chesapeake Bay, I knew I was on board. I could not be more thankful for it too.
What is an experience that stands out most to you about your time at UMCES?
The Horn Point Laboratory is a gorgeous campus, and I’ve really enjoyed the privilege of working in a lab where I can watch deer and turkey roam while eating lunch. I’m also so close to the water that I’m able to fish literally right after work. I might just have a small office pod, but the location makes up for it!
What is the most important thing people can do to help the environment?
I really think the most important thing we can do to help the environment is to continue to understand it and to continue to make it accessible to people. We also need to encourage the scientific realm to be an inclusive and sustainable solution for the environment and human populations. That way the feedback loop becomes reinforcing for both parties, thus generating a desire to work together in order to protect both.
Do you have advice for kids in the next generation who are interested in STEM fields?
For the next generation I would encourage them to get involved as soon as they can. That's something I didn’t do, and it came with a learning curve. Join a STEM club, apply to “Research Experiences for Undergraduates” opportunities, learn how to use data software like RStudio!
Additionally, remain curious and believe in yourself. Academia is a cutthroat business and at times can feel overwhelming and judgmental. The truth is if you decide to go into this field, it’s because you deserve to be there and you deserve to learn. Don’t let the stress of grades and/or approval from your mentors take away from how important you are to the science community. You’re here for a reason and we need you.
When do you anticipate earning your degree?
Hopefully fall 2023 or spring 2024.
What are your future plans?
If I don’t pursue a Ph.D., I’d really like to take what I’ve learned back to the Outer Banks and hopefully work at NOAA’s research facility there. I’d also like to work at the Coast Studies Institute, either teaching or doing research, as well. I want to continue to do work that involves the relationship between local humans, habitat, and wildlife. If none of that pans out in my favor then there’s always starting a goat farm… Just kidding but kind of serious!