Two graduate students at universities in Florida have been named the inaugural winners of the Guy Harvey Excellence Award, recognizing their outstanding achievement in marine science research.
Melinda J. Donnelly, a Ph.D. student in conservation biology at the University of Central Florida, and Austin Todd, a Ph.D. student in physical oceanography at Florida State University, will each receive a $2000 stipend to be used in support of their research and education.
The scholarship, funded through a partnership between Florida Sea Grant and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, recognizes undergraduate or graduate students enrolled full time at Florida institutions of higher education who are conducting work related to improving marine resources through science.
“The academic credentials, extracurricular experiences and personal career statements of Melinda and Todd were absolutely outstanding,” says Florida Sea Grant director Karl Havens.
“They exemplify the motivated, intelligent and dedicated persons we envisioned when developing this award.”
Donnelly, the daughter of Robert and Carol Anderson of Mims, Fla., studies the ecological interactions among mangrove plants and organisms to improve the success of saltmarsh restoration efforts in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon system.
Notably, she has tracked the recovery of birds, fish and vegetation over nearly a 10-year period that has helped validate and improve restoration methods undertaken in the Mosquito Lagoon by the St. Johns River Water Management District.
“Growing up, I was surrounded by the beauty of local beaches and coastal ecosystems, and exploring these natural areas fueled my curiosity about the marine environment,” Donnelly said.
“While pursuing a career as a biological researcher in central Florida, I am excited that I will have the opportunity to conserve and restore coastal ecosystems I grew up exploring to inspire a love of nature in future generations.”
Donnelly has been an active volunteer with multiple classrooms of elementary students, leading field trips and directing mangrove planting and restoration efforts along the Canaveral National Seashore.
She has also mentored undergraduate students at UCF in the design and implementation of their scientific research, and received the university’s Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award in 2009. Upon completion of her doctorate in 2011, she plans to pursue a career as a biological researcher for a nonprofit or government agency in Florida.
Todd, the son of Al and Teresa Todd of Cape St. Claire, Md., is researching the effects of ocean currents on the early life stages of gag grouper in Florida’s Big Bend Region. The area contains both spawning sites and nursery habitat for grouper, considered among the most valuable finfishes in the Gulf.
“I hope to advance the current understanding of the mechanisms and pathways that transport gag grouper larvae from their continental shelf break spawning sites to their inshore nursery habitats in the Big Bend,” Todd said.
The numerical ocean models he is developing will give fish ecologists a better understanding of how events such as changing ocean currents and atmospheric fronts contribute to reef fish productivity, helping ensure that gag and other fisheries remain a significant part of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, he said.
Todd holds undergraduate degrees in meteorology and mathematics from Florida State. He participated as a student research scientist on a research cruise to Antarctica in 2008. He mentors high school students selected as part of FSU’s Young Scholar program, and served as an instructor in FSU’s Saturday at the Sea program instructing middle-school students about coastal marine ecosystems.
Upon completion of his doctorate in 2011, he plans to continue studying how physical processes in the ocean affect ecosystems near the coast through a teaching faculty position at the university level.
Application instructions for the 2011 Guy Harvey Excellence Award are available on this page.