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Two Students — And A Recent Grad — Win Prestigious Marine Science Fellowships

Fellowship winner Jake Roth, left, and another student prep to deploy a seawater collection device in the waters off the Cal Poly Pier.
Written By Nick Wilson

Three students from Cal Poly’s marine science program have received prestigious fellowships that will help support their careers and offer opportunities to explore research interests in their field. Fourth-year student Audrey Sarin and alum Noel Clark received National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awards, which provide three years of financial support through an annual $37,000 stipend, along with a $12,000 education allowance for graduate education tuition and fees.

Student Jake Roth inspects a labeled water sample.
Jake Roth inspects a seawater sample while conducting research at the Cal Poly Pier in December. Joe Johnston 

Fourth-year student Jake Roth is among the 2023 cohort of the African American Scholar Program that was started by Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific in 2021. The scholarship provides $10,000 to support each recipient’s studies and exploration of fields related to the work of the aquarium. Since 2021, the program has selected 31 scholarship recipients. 

Roth will participate in various aquarium programs, including writing for the member magazine or social media, serving as a judge in the organization’s high school film festival and as “Ask a Scientist” at aquarium events. The scholars also attend a fall symposium to strengthen their connection to the aquarium and to each other.

“These students are extremely committed and have put in a great deal of hard work, energy and passion into pursuing careers in a field they love,” said Nikki Adams, a Cal Poly biological sciences professor who specializes in marine sciences. “I’m elated that these organizations are providing each one an opportunity to advance and grow as scientists, researchers and educators, whether that’s through public outreach or in the classroom.”

Student Audrey Sarin smiles for a photo while kneeling down and holding a clipboard at the beach.
Audrey Sarin is one of the students who received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Sarin plans to seek a graduate degree in marine sciences after graduating in June. The fellowship will help her pursue research interests and her goal to become a professor. She wrote her senior thesis on microplastic impact on sea urchin larvae. 

She also participated in Cal Poly’s Marine Conservation Lab’s Pismo Clam Project — studying a species heavily impacted after decades of human harvesting. The last legal sized Pismo clam (4.5 inches) was found at Pismo Beach in 1993. Sarin is interested in researching the effects of human activities on marine organisms and their life history.

“I aspire to become a professor, and in my classroom, I never want a student to feel excluded,” she wrote in her application’s personal statement. “Through my experiences in informal education and outreach, I have been trained on how to meet learners where they are and tailor my message to them. In formal education, I want to tap into my passion for inclusivity to make science the welcoming community I know it can be."

Clark, a master’s student at Colorado State University’s Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology program, is studying native Colorado River cutthroat trout genomics.

Noel Clark poses in a printed dress and a green Cal Poly graduation stole.
Alumnus Noel Clark fell in love with fisheries research due to her work in the Pismo Clam Lab.

“At Cal Poly, I did a lot of work with the Pismo Clam Lab,” Clark said. “Through that, I fell in love with fisheries research and fisheries management.”

African American Scholar Roth said that the program will also offer a host of career-building resources, including symposiums and professional development collaborations. It also offers opportunities to network with other African American marine science students as well as opportunities to share perspectives on future goals and creating a scholarly network.

At Cal Poly, Roth has served as a student ambassador in the Santa Rosa Creek Foundation outreach program for teens from the Central Valley who join in field trips, Learn by Doing labs and summer camps.

He has also worked with the Friends of the Elephant Seal research team, a partnership between the community organization, which oversees the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery on a beach 5 miles north of Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument.

“Marine science can be labor of love because of the expense, travel, and it often requires years of volunteer work to get established in the field,” Roth said. “As part of the Aquarium of the Pacific fellowship, we’re part of a network that can help grow representation of Black students in marine science, academia and in industry.”

Lead image caption: Fellowship winner Jake Roth, left, and another student prep a seawater collection device at the Cal Poly Pier to be deployed into the water to collect seawater samples in December 2022. Photo by Joe Johnston.

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