Two graduate students at Florida universities have been named recipients of scholarships from the Aylesworth Foundation for the Advancement of Marine Science.
Since 1986, the Aylesworth scholarship has supported students pursuing college degrees in disciplines that have direct application to marine science. Recipients continue to receive funding from the award each year as long as they make satisfactory progress toward degree completion.
The scholarship is a joint effort of the Aylesworth Foundation, the Southeastern Fisheries Association and Florida Sea Grant. Scholarships worth $568,974 have been awarded to 100 students in 14 Florida universities over the past 29 years.
The winners will be recognized at the annual Southeastern Fisheries Association awards banquet in June. More information about each recipient follows.
Stephanie Garvis is pursuing her Ph.D. in conservation biology at the University of Central Florida. Her dissertation research is attempting to predict how marine habitats, such as seagrasses and oyster reefs, will shift from future changes in the environment due to sea-level rise.
“If we can successfully predict these shifts, then we can change coastal development planning in a way that maximizes future habitat for these creatures,” she said.
Garvis has always enjoyed the coast and remembers clearly the day she transitioned from supporting herself by a “regular” job to getting paid to do marine research.
“I was with a couple other researchers out in the beautiful Mosquito Lagoon, collecting data on red mangrove predation, and I randomly said out loud, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this!’” she said.
Garvis earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Florida as well, and hopes to find a job at a government agency, such as NOAA, the United States Geological Survey, or at one of Florida’s water management districts.
“I would love to conduct ecological research and promote marine conservation as well as participate in public outreach and the policymaking process,” she said.
Garvis’ adviser, John Weishampel, a professor of biology at the University of Central Florida, said he was happy to recommend her for the award.
“I have found Stephanie to possess a scientific keenness, a strong degree of perseverance, a desire to assist others with graduate education and research, and a passion to conserve marine resources,” Weishampel said.
Megan Conkling is a Florida native who has always had a passion for the ocean. She earned her bachelor’s degree in marine science from Florida Gulf Coast University and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in biology at Florida Atlantic University.
“After changing my major nine times, I decided that I wanted to be passionate about my career and enjoy going to work day after day,” she said. “I decided to major in marine science because of the amazing opportunities it held and the passion I have had since I was young.”
Conkling’s research is focused directly related to understanding how and why marine sponges produce chemicals with pharmaceutical relevance. To do this, she is using high-content imaging, or HCI, to characterize the responses of sponge cells to a variety of challenges.
“HCI is cutting-edge technology, which, to my knowledge, has not yet been used to study marine invertebrates or to explain the mechanisms by which sponges produce bioactive compounds,” said Conkling’s adviser, Shirley Pomponi, research professor at Florida Atlantic University.
Pomponi said she recommended Conkling for the scholarship because she is “hard-working, has excellent lab skills, is dependable and is committed to successful completion of her courses and thesis research.”
Once finished with school, Conkling hopes to continue her sponge research with her adviser and possibly pursue a doctoral degree, or gain a position as a research scientist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.