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2016 UCI OCEANS Graduate Fellows

UCI OCEANS is pleased to announce the inaugural cohort of OCEANS Graduate Fellows.

These students received fellowships in the amount of $2,000 to $10,000 to work over the next year on ocean-related activities that span disciplines and schools on campus. The seven inaugural fellows are from the Departments of Anthropology (School of Social Sciences), Biomedical Engineering (Samueli School of Engineering), Dance (Claire Trevor School of the Arts), and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (Ayala School of Biological Sciences).

The fellows are highlighted below.


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Alyssa Braciszewski
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a detailed understanding of the abalone digestive system and the mechanisms for differential WS resistance across the Haliotis (abalone) genus. I will use comparative transcriptomics to identify biochemical pathways that confer susceptibility or resistance, and compare expression levels of genes upregulated indigestive tissue during heat-induced WS-RLO infection between a relatively susceptible species (H. rufescens) and a relatively resistant one (H. fulgens).

I am interested in how climate change, pollution, and other human-induced environment changes impact organisms’ ability to obtain nutrients from their environment. More specifically, I am interested in how the digestive physiology of marine invertebrates is impacted by disease, environmental change, and the interaction of the two. I graduated from American University (Washington, DC) in 2012 with a B.S. in Marine Biology, where I studied species variation in gorgonians and nutrient pollution in Guam’s mangroves with Dr. Kiho Kim. During this time, I was also a research assistant at the Carnegie Institution of Washington where I worked with Drs. Marilyn Fogel (UC Merced) and David Baker (Univ. of Hong Kong), investigating nutrient pollution using stable isotope analysis of Caribbean gorgonian corals and lionfish. Upon graduating from AU, I received a Fulbright Fellowship to study the effect of nitrogen availability on bleaching susceptibility in the New Zealand mud-flat anemone. In 2014, I joined the German Lab at UCI to study how species of abalone are differentially resistant to a disease called withering syndrome. Since beginning at UCI, I received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for this work, as well as research awards from the American Malacological Society and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. I was Events Coordinator for the Orange County Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology for a year, and was recently accepted into UCI’s inaugural cohort of the Climate Action Training Program. Through this program, I will be interning at NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region working on abalone conservation policy. I am currently designing an international collaboration between high schools in Orange County and New Zealand where students will work together online to understand climate change in their home environments.

Laura Elsberry
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The goal of my UCI OCEANS research project is to identify potential abiotic and biotic factors that influence the geographic distribution of three seaweeds (Hesperophycus californicus, Pelvetiopsis limitata, and Silvetia compressa) found in California. At ten locations along the California coast I will estimate the abundance of each of my target species and take several environmental measurements at each location to explain the geographic distribution.

I am interested in identifying the abiotic and biotic factors that determine the distribution of seaweed species found along the California rocky coast. Specifically, I want to determine the relative importance of species associations, seawater temperature, seawater nutrient availability, and nutrient uptake rates in modeling species distributions. I graduated from the University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, WA) in 2008 with a B.S. in biology and a minor in chemistry. In spring 2009, I spent a quarter at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs where I was a member of the ZooBot program and investigated the ability of several seaweed species to physiologically recover following simulated low tide exposure. I then moved to California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) where I completed my M.S. in Biology in 2013. My masters thesis examined the photosynthetic recovery of Endocladia muricata following summer and winter simulated low tide exposure in southern California and Washington. Following the completion of my masters degree I remained at CSUF as a part-time lecturer for one year before beginning my doctoral program at UCI.

Forest Haven Photo
Forest Haven

Forest’s research focuses on the sensory and regulatory politics of ocean- and riverine- based food resources in Alaska. This includes analyzing on-the-ground processes involved with regulating traditional subsistence foods, and how state regulation aligns or conflicts with the needs of Native traditional food practitioners.

Forest Haven is Ts’msyen from Metlakatla, Alaska. She received her B.A. in Social Science from the University of Alaska Southeast and is currently a second year PhD student in anthropology. Forest has spent much of her life learning and teaching traditional subsistence food practices, especially those involving salmon and other ocean-based food resources. Besides focussing on her dissertation research, Forest works during the summers with local university and community representatives in Alaska to asses concerns over the maintenance and sustainability of traditional subsistence food practices. Along with the UCI OCEANS grant, Forest is a recipient of the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.


Lauren Pandori
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The goal of the project is to investigate how microhabitats within the rocky intertidal zone could provide refuge from temperature stress under climate change for a critical foundation species, the California mussel. With funding from UCI OCEANS, I will test the hypothesis that mussels in more sheltered habitats will be less tolerant of thermal stress than those in more exposed habitats due to selection and environmental filtering that occurs over a mussel’s lifetime.

After completing my bachelor’s degree in Physiology and Neuroscience at UC San Diego, I am currently earning a PhD in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Irvine. My work combines the disciplines of ecology and physiology to understand how global climate change will affect the abundance and distribution of marine invertebrates. More specifically, my dissertation work addresses how the responses of marine invertebrates to climate change vary across their life stages. I conduct research at many sites within the Orange County Marine Protected Area network, and I truly enjoy working in such a beautiful place. In the future, I hope to continue my work in marine systems either as a professor or as a researcher, utilizing science to further understand and conserve marine ecosystems.

Neto Sosa
Biomedical Engineering

I surf and I love the beaches here in Orange County. Local agencies will shut down a beach for bacteria contamination, after the public has been swimming and playing in the contaminated water for days. The objective of my research is to develop a robust and sensitive system that can assess water quality within 1-2 hours, allowing agencies to make important decisions when they matter most. I hope this will streamline the logistics of keeping our oceans clean and safe, and the public healthy and happy.

Neto Sosa obtained his bachelors in Biomedical Engineering at University of California, Irvine. He is currently pursing a PhD in Dr. Weian Zhao’s lab where he is developing novel biosensors and fluorescent chemistries to run on droplet microfluidic platforms. His current work specifically focuses on antibiotic susceptibility testing and the direct detection of E. coli, Klebsiella, Borrelia burgdorferi, and MRSA in unprocessed samples. He is a recent recipient of the National Science Foundation GRFP Fellowship and has won several awards at national conferences for his undergraduate work done on bacterial genetics and antibiotic resistance. He is also currently the Chief Technology Officer of Velox Biosystems, an early stage start up spun out of Dr. Zhao’s lab at the University of California, Irvine.

Piper Wallingford
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

This OCEANS project will assess how vertical distributions of predators and their prey vary by latitude in West Coast intertidal communities. In addition to informing predictions of how climate change will affect future predator-prey distributions, this project will establish an interdisciplinary collaboration with Koryn Ann Wicks that explores ecology through the arts.

Piper Wallingford is a PhD student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine. Her primary research interests are predator-prey relationships and global change ecology. She is currently studying how distribution patterns of intertidal predators and prey may shift as a result of climate change. Piper received her bachelor’s degree in environmental science from New York University and her master’s degree in marine biology from Northeastern University.


Headshot-Koryn Wicks
Koryn Wicks

Ecology as an Embodied Experience; visualizing biological data with dance and technology, creates an interactive environment in which dance manipulates visual representations of biological data in real time to depict the effects of climate change. This project combines my research in dance and augmented performance with research by Piper Wallingford from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology to fosters education about climate change by appealing to both logic and emotion through an interdisciplinary project.

Koryn Ann Wicks is an MFA candidate studying dance at the University of California, Irvine. She is a dancer, choreographer and multimedia artist. In her work, she utilizes hybrid practices that integrate dance with various forms of media based technology. Koryn graduated from the Ailey School with a Certificate of Dance with Honors and holds a BA in Political Science from the CUNY Baccalaureate Program where she graduated Summa Cum Laude and was a Thomas W. Smith Fellowship recipient. She has danced professionally with diverse companies including Armitage Gone!, Teresa Fellion/Bodystories, Transitheart Productions, Kinetic Architecture Dance Theatre, and Classical Contemporary Ballet Theater. Her work has been shown to great acclaim in New York and Montreal.