Evelyn Maurmeyer gathers interns on the beach at Cape Henlopen State Park to teach beach-profiling techniques.

Marine science interns

Undergraduates gain field, lab experience in competitive internship program

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9:33 a.m., June 26, 2013--College students in science majors across the nation dream of a summer internship where they get paid to work one-on-one with experts on their own research projects. Every year, the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) makes that dream a reality for an elite group of students. 

Funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the competitive Research Experience for Undergraduates program has only a 3 percent acceptance rate at UD. The internship takes place at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes over the course of 10 weeks and, at the end, the interns present their research findings to a group of peers and faculty.

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The program was started in 1987 to provide graduate-level experience in the field and lab to those qualified — and lucky enough — to be accepted. Research topics include chemistry, physical and biological oceanography, marine biology, marine geology and marine biochemistry. The projects range from observing sediment geology at an artificial reef off Delaware’s coast to analyzing radioactive Iodine-131 in the Murderkill River.

“It’s great because it’s a well-known, prestigious university and program, and it gives us the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment in the field and lab,” said Eastern University senior Sam Goodwin.

Goodwin has been spending 2-3 hours every day in the marsh with Doug Miller, associate professor of oceanography, observing how populations of fiddler crabs — the little crabs you see at the beach with one claw much larger than the other — react to the decline of marsh grasses and plants. Goodwin has been contemplating what she wants to do after she graduates and said this summer has been a great way to explore options.

“The experience is good for students, and many go on to do graduate work,” said Ana Dittel, a UD research scientist who has directed the program since 2001. 

Every year Dittel sends out an announcement to a list of thousands of names for when the program will begin accepting applicants, allowing interested students to find out about the program through their schools, the NSF and through their own searches on the Internet.  

One intern, Furman University senior Elisabeth Schlaudt, is using her research on nitrogen cycling of freshwater in the Murderkill Watershed as her senior thesis. She said that this has given her insight into her plans for a career in water management.

“It’s been extremely gratifying since the researchers are just as invested in these projects as we are,” Schlaudt said.

When they are not in the field or lab, interns attend weekly workshops and seminars presented by CEOE faculty and staff. These events include informational talks on topics such as the chemistry at hydrothermal vents and the ethics of research.

Additionally, interns go on three field trips throughout the course of the summer. The first is a marsh walk with Miller along the Murderkill River to learn about the importance of marshes, the second is a trip to Cape Henlopen State Park to learn about beach profiling from adjunct professor and environmental consultant Evelyn Maurmeyer and the third is a boating trip with Dittel to gain field experience in water sampling and trawling.

“Everyone is dedicated to helping us learn,” said Charleen O’Brien, a Christopher Newport University student who is researching salt-tolerant plants.

The students participating in the program are: Margaret R. Blake of Rhodes College, Nicholas J. Pajerowski of Villianova University, Elisabeth A. Schlaudt of Furman University, Charleen E. O’Brien of Christopher Newport University, Samantha E. Goodwin of Eastern University, Gabriel A. Browning of Houghton College, Joanna Marrufo of the University of California, Berkeley, Seaver Wang of the University of Pennsylvania, Anna N. Gruszkiewicz of Brigham Young University and Elizabeth J. Cieniewicz of Lebanon Valley College.

Article and photos by Andrew Cooper

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