Three graduate students at Florida universities have been awarded $1,000 each as the 2017 recipients of the Florida Outdoors Writers Association scholarship for outdoor communicators.
The winners are Matthew Ware, a Ph.D. candidate in biological oceanography at Florida State University; Kirsten Hecht, a Ph.D. student in interdisciplinary ecology at the University of Florida; and Heather Sadusky, a master’s student studying coastal zone management at the University of Miami.
The recipients have demonstrated a remarkable ability to connect their love of the outdoors with the scientific world, said Dorothy Zimmerman, communications director for Florida Sea Grant and chair of the FOWA scholarship committee.
“FOWA is pleased to recognize these new scientists who are dedicated to communicating the results of their research to a broader audience. They really impressed the scholarship committee with their new and innovative use of media as well.”
The awards are given by FOWA annually to recognize students whose career goals are to communicate a love and appreciation for hunting, fishing and other aspects of the outdoor experience. In the past eight years, FOWA has awarded more than $16,000 to aspiring writers, photographers and filmmakers.
Matthew Ware is an avid dive photographer and master dive trainer who is incorporating new photographic technologies like virtual reality in his fieldwork. As an aspiring scientist and communicator, Ware uses his underwater photography as a tool in his fieldwork for encouraging marine conservation.
For example, his dissertation focuses on how beach and species management plans impact the nesting grounds of sea turtles in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Images of sea turtles can spark empathy among the public, Ware said.
“Through photography and videography, we have the chance to show the public the real world challenges sea turtles face even though they may not be able to see the animal directly.”
In 2015, Ware was invited to give a TEDx talk at Nova Southeastern University to talk about his love of visual media and species conservation, this time with a focus on sharks, which are sometimes given a bad rep.
“I got to stand up in front of hundreds of people and show them, not just tell them, how sharks should be admired and respected instead of feared and vilified,” Ware said.
Ware’s academic adviser, Mariana Fuentes, said her lab has come to depend on Ware’s ability to take a well-composed photograph.
“I believe that Matthew’s photography is a powerful tool in our lab’s arsenal for encouraging marine conservation,” Fuentes said. “His photographic experience has been incredibly useful in communicating not only his own research, but that of the entire lab.”
Kirsten Hecht founded the Florida chapter of the Southeast Partners in Amphibians and Reptile Conservation, and is an avid blogger for the national website. She has been featured on BuzzFeed News as the creator of the uber-successful hashtag #HERpers highlighting the work of women in herpetology.
“It all started in a childhood backyard,” said Hecht, who also co-manages a blog about giant salamanders. “Now I’m a salamander obsessed ecology student and the mom of an amazing seven year old. In the end, my goal is to encourage every young person I reach to value nature as they mature and make decisions that will shape future generations to come.
Hecht earned her bachelor’s degree in evolution and ecology at The Ohio State University and her master’s degree in interdisciplinary ecology at the University of Florida. Her dissertation research focuses on two types of salamanders: common mudpuppies and sirens. After taking classes in communication and education, she’s embraced the use of social media to showcase her work and the work of her colleagues.
“I began running Facebook pages for conservation groups while also fostering my own efforts. From websites, to blog posts, to viral Twitter hashtags, I’ve watched this work pay off,” Hecht said. “Certainly electronic media can’t begin to replace childhood backyard experiences like mine, but I believe they can spark a connection to nature by encouraging young people to get outside.
Max Nickerson, professor and curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and Hecht’s adviser, said he “has never seen a student so driven to introduce students and the public to enrich their lives with outdoor experiences.”
“I lived for the original reporting stories I managed to work in between the daily car accidents, sports news and political updates – the stories that brought me into the field to understand wildlife cameras or elk management at the state and county levels.”
Sadusky returned to Florida from Colorado in 2016 to start her graduate degree.
“In doing so, I hope to communicate the scientific findings of the marine world to the people who revel in enjoying all the ocean has to offer, not least the sea creatures we find captivating and delicious,” Sadusky said.
In addition to pursuing her master’s degree, Sadusky is currently building a website titled Farmed Seafood as an information center for all things aquaculture, and interning with The Billfish Foundation.
During her internship, she will be communicating with local fishers and marina operators about their businesses as well as managing the organizations social media channels.
“Pairing my graduate degree with my journalism experience not only combines both my passions, but also positions me to effectively communicate fisheries conservation to the masses,” Sadusky said.
The three recipients will be attending the annual FOWA conference in August in Ocala and speak briefly to the membership. In addition to their monetary award, each receives a one-year student membership award in the association to encourage their participation in association meetings and activities.