My Story

I often get the question– So, you’re from Kansas, how the heck did you get interested in marine science?

My answer is terribly cliché. At the age of three, just about everyday, you could find me and my mom at Seaworld’s dolphin exhibit in Aurora, OH, where my family lived at the time. “It’s the only thing that would keep you entertained!”, she recalls. Not unlike many of my peers, I was drawn to marine life from this young age, and decided then and there I was going to make a career out of it. Twenty years later, aquatic science is still holding my full-attention.In 2019, I completed my dual B.S. in Biology and Marine Science at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. As an undergrad, I was gifted with several research and outreach opportunities which fostered my passion for environmental research and science communication.

During my first internship, I worked aboard a whale watch boat in the northern Atlantic, where I educated ecotourists about humpback whale populations and human impact on oceanic habitats. While there, I developed an acute interest in field research, and fell in love with the outreach teaching. I absolutely adored talking to people about my passion, and I began to understand the work my generation of researchers would need to conduct to diminish necessary the gap between scientists and the public. I realized that effective science communication is crucial to conserve marine ecosystems.

As I pondered  the next steps after graduating, I wasn’t confident research was right for me. Unsure where my career interests would take me, the one thing I knew for certain is that I was thoroughly intrigued by human impact on the environment.

Summer 2018, I took an internship with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL, and this is where I found the research question which would open the next chapter of my life. As it did most summers, the west coast of Florida endured dual harmful algal blooms (HABs) of cyanobacteria in Lake Okeechobee and red tide in the Gulf of Mexico. The respective toxins produced by these blooms threatened human lives, killed thousands of aquatic organisms, and cost the fishery and tourist industries billions of dollars in lost revenue. I was awestruck by the lasting socioeconomic impacts associated with HABs–and was lucky enough to continue my HAB research at UMiami for a senior thesis.

My mentors at UMiami (all awe-inspiring women in marine science) were integral in pushing me to apply for the PhD. They insisted that I was ready to pursue higher research, even if I wasn’t convinced myself. Having aspired to live and work in the Research Triangle from the time I was thinking about college–I got in touch with my current mentor and P.I., Dr. Hans Paerl, and applied to UNC-Chapel Hill.
Now, I’m in my third year as an Environmental Science and Engineering doctoral student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. I live and work at the UNC-Institute of Marine Sciences, studying harmful cyanobacterial bloom growth dynamics, toxin production, and spray aerosol formation as a potential human exposure route to microcystin.