Maggie Johnson (left) and Angela Szesciorka (right)

Scripps Graduate Students Receive High Honors

Graduate Maggie Johnson receives Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellowship; incoming student Angela Szesciorka awarded NOAA’s Nancy Foster Scholarship

Two graduate students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego have been honored by two of the country’s leading science organizations for research exploring aspects of human impacts on marine life.

Maggie Johnson, a recent graduate of the marine biology program at Scripps, was awarded the prestigious Smithsonian Institution MarineGEO Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2016. Directed by the Smithsonian’s Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network, the Marine Global Observatory (MarineGEO) is a global coastal observation and research network designed to improve our understanding of coastal ecosystems and the factors that influence ecosystem resilience.

An avid scuba diver and lover of all things aquatic, Johnson studies how human activities are altering marine ecosystems, with particular emphasis on the impacts of ocean acidification and global warming. She completed her dissertation at Scripps this summer and will begin her three-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian in October.

“Being a grad student and conducting research with Scripps undoubtedly led to my success in applying for this fellowship. I have met and worked with scientists that have all sorts of different types of expertise, from microbes to marine chemistry,” said Johnson, who has been working in the lab of Scripps marine ecologist and advisor Jennifer Smith. “By joining Scripps I joined a legacy of global change research tracing back to (Keeling Curve creator) Charles Keeling, and Scripps continues to showcase the world's best research on ocean acidification.”

Johnson’s research at the Smithsonian will explore baseline ecosystem metabolism of coral and oyster reefs, and determine how ocean acidification and warming affect both biodiversity and ecosystem function. She will work with a team of researchers, including Nancy Knowlton, founder of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps, to conduct research on the coral reefs of Panama, at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution’s field station in Bocas del Toro, and the oyster reefs of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida with the Smithsonian’s Ft. Pierce research station.

Johnson is looking forward to exploring new underwater territory and expanding her perspective on the greater coral reef ecosystem. She sees this fellowship as a stepping-stone on the path to working in academia and ultimately becoming a professor.

“Although the numbers of women in marine science have increased dramatically over the last decades, there are still disproportionately few women at the higher levels of academia,” said Johnson. “This is what drives me to become a professor; we need to have more strong women that can be mentors to all of the students trying to pursue a career in science.”

Incoming Scripps graduate student Angela Szesciorka is also the recipient of a prestigious award. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries recently selected Szesciorka and two other students to receive the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, a program representing graduate-level areas of study such as marine biology, oceanography, and maritime archaeology.

The scholarships were established in memory of Nancy Foster, a leader in marine resource conservation, a former assistant NOAA administrator for oceanic services and coastal zone management, and past director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Congress created the scholarship in 2000 as a way to honor her life’s work, 23 years of service to NOAA, and her contribution to the nation.

Szesciorka’s doctoral studies within the biological oceanography program at Scripps will focus on the dive, movement, and calling behavior of fin and blue whales, as well as the potential impacts of ship noise on whale behavior. This research is needed in order for scientists and policymakers to implement preventative measures to protect these sensitive whale species.

“This scholarship will allow me to dive right into my research without having to worry about finding a job—or jobs—that pay enough for me to live in San Diego! My priority right now is focusing on my classes and getting out into the field to collect data,” said Szesciorka, who will be researching under Scripps scientist and advisor Ana Širović. “I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity.”

As a recipient of the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, Szesciorka will be a recognized member of the NOAA community and an ambassador for the National Marine Sanctuary System. Szesciorka is looking forward to these new roles, as well as the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research.

“One thing that excites me about this scholarship is the opportunity to spend six weeks at one of the National Marine Sanctuaries,” she said. “It’s a wonderful chance to get involved with applied research and get to know some of the NOAA staff that I hope to some day work with.”

Szesciorka was inspired to apply to the scholarship because of Foster, a highly regarded and beloved scientist.

“I wanted to be a part of such a well-known and honorable legacy,” she said.

Learn more about the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship here.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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