Around the Pier: Event Highlights Value of Donor Support for Scripps Students


What do microscopic algae used for biofuels, atmospheric dust from the Sahara Desert, and yellowtail fisheries have in common?  

Disparate as they may seem, these topics—as well as many others—are being researched by students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Scripps graduate students shared their innovative research projects with fellowship and scholarship supporters at a “thank you” event held March 6 at the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and the Environment. (Photo gallery here.)

The annual Scripps Student Fellowship Brunch recognizes donors whose support provides early career scientists with the freedom to focus on their research and training, as well as opportunities to share their research at conferences and events worldwide.

Event attendees were treated to a brunch buffet while they viewed poster displays and chatted with students about ongoing research projects. 

“We enjoy coming here for a lot of the educational programs,” said Scripps donor Charles Bohle, as he browsed the research posters. “I went through the UC system, so by supporting Scripps students, this is my way of giving back.”

Scripps Director Margaret Leinen kicked off the event by welcoming donors and thanking them for their financial commitments that allow students to pursue and complete their degrees at Scripps.

“Each and every one of you has contributed to our ability to support Scripps students. You have materially contributed to the future—not only of these fabulous students—but also to our future,” said Leinen. “Of course, these remarkable students are the people who are going to generate the solutions to the complex, far-reaching problems facing our planet today.”

Scripps Department Chair and Deputy Director for Education Brian Palenik also expressed words of gratitude to fellowship supporters and elaborated on how, in addition to tuition and living expenses, donor funds are used to help support research (both in the lab and in the field) and to send students to important conferences and workshops around the world.

“All these experiences are actually really important to get a career going in science, so we’re very appreciative for all that you do,” said Palenik.

Scripps graduate student Mariela Brooks expressed thanks for donor support as it allowed her to participate in the monumental COP 21 event in Paris last December, a career highlight. 

“Going to COP 21 was an amazing experience on a million different levels,” said Brooks, who presented a poster on the global carbon cycle and carbon storage in the ocean. “I think the biggest benefit for me was being able to see what strategies might work to best inform policy, from a scientific perspective.”

Palenik served as emcee at the event, introducing three graduate student speakers who gave enlightening presentations about their research.   

Noah Ben-Aderet discussed his research tracking and quantifying yellowtail in the waters off Southern California; Eva Sanchez Alvarez presented her research on green microscope algae and discovery of a particular algae strain that can be used as feedstock for biofuel production; and Weijie Wang talked about her research studying the mechanism that controls dust emission in the Sahara Desert and rainfall in the Sahel region.

Thanks to donor support, Wang also had the opportunity to attend COP 21 in Paris as well as AGU’s fall meeting in San Francisco in 2015.  She described both experiences as “amazing” but for different reasons. At COP 21, she talked to the general public about how important ocean science is and what role it plays in climate change, and at AGU she presented research to people in her field and volunteered to work the Scripps education booth.

“I got to talk to prospective students about how exciting it is to work at Scripps!” said Wang.

Following a Q&A session with the students, donors had a final opportunity to browse posters and speak with students one-on-one.

Donor Louis Katzman said he was inspired to support Scripps undergraduate scholarships after he took several undergraduate-level Scripps classes as a concurrent student a few years ago.

“From my interactions with students, I realized how financially stressed they all were, and I wanted to provide some financial assistance to those students in need to enable them to participate in things like attending conferences, or being able to present undergraduate research papers,” said Katzman. “I was aware of graduate funding here, but I didn’t know if there was significant private support for undergraduates. I wanted to help fulfill that need.”

Donor and former Scripps employee Edwina Riblet was motivated to support Scripps students because she said they are the people who are figuring out “how things work.”

“Having met so many of these wonderful students and seeing what they’re doing and how committed they are, and the importance of what they’re doing—I don’t know how you could not help support them,” said Riblet. “I find their work to be inspiring and their commitment and their dedication to be inspiring as well.”

Brittany Hook

Related Image Gallery: Scripps Student Fellowship Brunch

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