Undergraduate Researchers' Journey of Learning Leads to Paths of Discovery

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Alexa Sterling, a junior Honors College student majoring in Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, had a research question: "What are the ecological effects of chemicals produced by toxic algae on marine life?" To answer her question, she began working with Dr. Alison Taylor, a professor of Biology and Marine Biology, in her lab at UNCW. At the heart of her research was to examine the interactions between toxins from phytoplankton that produce harmful algal blooms and micro zooplankton.

"Micro zooplankton are important components of the marine food web, so negative effects on them may have wide ranging ecological impacts," Sterling said. "This is an especially important area of study because human activities are believed to be causing an increase in harmful algae blooms."

Sterling's interest in algae and its harmful effects has certainly paid off as she is one of three UNCW students to be awarded the prestigious Hollings Scholarship to continue her work via a full-time paid summer internship at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) facility following a full 9-month academic year of study.

Sterling is but one example of the proud tradition of discovery fostered at UNCW through the assistance of the Center for the Support of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CSURF).

Recently, several of Sterling's fellow UNCW classmates presented their undergraduate research at the 11th Annual Colonial Academic Alliance Undergraduate Research Conference at the University of Delaware. Among the research topics addressed by UNCW researchers were:

  • Matt Birk, Marine Biology - How to Choose Your Next Meal: Determining the Spatial Scale of Predatory Foraging Behavior in Fish
  • Alejandro Doldan, Finance - Estimation of Performance on Insider Trading: Insiders' Profits Influenced By Industry
  • Thorger Gabriel Enge, Geography and Ocean Science - Fingerprinting Marine Clays for Climate Reconstructions: Experimental and Analytical Characterization by X-Ray Diffraction

It is often said that the strength of UNCW lies in our three enduring values - a commitment to the journey of learning, a love of place and an unshakable conviction in the power of ideas and innovation. The pursuit of knowledge and educational discovery through diligent undergraduate research touches all three of these values and produces Seahawk graduates ready to tackle any obstacles that may come their way, even algae.