Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego graduate student Andy Nosal is talking to a group of middle school science students about his leopard shark dissertation research. He’s addressing them from atop a small homely looking boat docked on the Scripps Pier.
“This is the boat I use to tag and track leopard sharks,” Nosal tells the aspiring young scientists. “As you can see,” he jokes, “the life of a graduate student is not exactly glamorous.”
Despite Nosal’s stories of uncomfortable 48-hour periods spent in the confines of that tiny old boat in the name of research, it’s evident he loves what he does, and his enthusiasm is infectious. To help supplement the cost of supplies for his dissertation research, Nosal has personally taken on the task of seeking small gifts from local businesses and individuals who wish to sponsor his leopard shark research. Through the research initiative, “Project Leopard Shark,” Nosal encourages the community to take a stake in its marine resources by supporting his studies.
Nosal’s brand of incremental fundraising is common at Scripps. Usually there’s not just one beneficiary who carries a student entirely through his or her education. In most cases funding for student tuition, research supplies, living expenses, and travel is cobbled together from a string of small contributions from a variety of donors. These kinds of gifts, when pooled together, make all the difference in a Scripps student’s story.
In the face of a difficult economy and rising educational fees, private financial assistance has become crucial to support the education of a growing number of outstanding Scripps graduate students. In response, Scripps has made a top priority of seeking financial support for graduate students through participation in UC San Diego’s “Invent the Future” and the University of California’s “Project You Can” campaigns. Over the next three years, UCSD aims to raise $50 million for students. All support raised for Scripps graduate students during that time will count toward the overall goal.
Nosal, who studies the movement patterns and seasonal abundance of leopard sharks in La Jolla waters, has volunteered his time to encourage and inspire a love of marine science to numerous school groups like this one. He’s also taught the public about shark conservation through demonstrations at Birch Aquarium at Scripps’ annual Shark Week and outreach presentations throughout the San Diego community.
Like many Scripps students, Nosal makes the most of the sometimes “gently used” resources, such as his lab’s boat. Nonetheless, in the technology-driven world of marine science, advanced tools are always needed for Scripps researchers and graduate students to stay ahead of the curve.
Nosal’s research is particularly important to the La Jolla tourism industry because the docile sharks attract thousands of people every year to dive, snorkel, and kayak in their midst. “Project Leopard Shark” is also of interest to those who wish to ensure the future abundance of these top predators that maintain balance and structure in the local marine ecosystem.
Nosal invites donors to fund the cost of acoustic transmitter shark tags and other basic tracking supplies he needs, such as boat fuel. Sponsorships start at $500 per shark, per tag, and larger gifts help support the purchase of major tracking equipment such as underwater acoustic receivers, which Nosal uses to find and follow the sharks he’s tagged.
Nosal’s grassroots fundraising success has been enough to help him keep the momentum going for future support.
“Private donations have allowed me to conduct pilot studies on leopard shark movements, thus seeding my doctoral dissertation work,” said Nosal. “I am now in the position to submit competitive proposals with preliminary data to granting agencies such as the National Science Foundation to further support my research and take advantage of the opportunities given to me by these donors.”
“Scripps graduate students are the best of the best, and they deserve the resources necessary to achieve their ambitious and innovative research goals,” said Scripps Director Tony Haymet. “Donors can feel great satisfaction knowing their support, at any level, can help carry a bright mind through their Scripps education.”