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Six N.C. Graduate Students Win NOAA/Jones Awards


Katie Mosher, 919/515-9069,
Patmarie Nedelka, 301/563-1127,

Note:  Please click on each graduate student's name for photograph.

Posted Friday, June 22, 2012

Six North Carolina graduate students are among the winners of the 2012 Walter B. Jones Sr. Awards, issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The awards for Excellence in Coastal and Marine Graduate Study recognize graduate students whose research "promises to contribute materially to the development of new or improved approaches to coastal or ocean management." The Town of Plymouth, N.C., won a Jones award for excellence in local government. See separate news release. The awards are named for Walter B. Jones, Sr., who represented North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1966 to 1992, including many years chairing the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries.

Ten graduate student awards are given nationally every other year. North Carolina Sea Grant provided research funding for four of the six North Carolina winners in 2012. Also, three of the graduate students are doing research within the N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve sites.

"The high number of North Carolina graduate students among the winners speaks to the excellent quality of marine and coastal research being conducted in our state as well as to the caliber of the students themselves," says Chris Brown, vice-president for research and graduate education for the University of North Carolina system.

Michelle Brodeur is a doctoral student with Joel Fodrie in the Coastal Fisheries Ecology and Oceanography laboratory at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Sciences. Previously a Sea Grant/N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve fellow, she recently became a NOAA/NERRS fellow. Her research focuses on management of oyster reefs and how climate change will interact with stressors, such as eutrophication and nuisance algae. The effect of algal mats on intertidal oysters in the Rachel Carson Reserve site was featured in an article for Sea Grant's Summer 2011 issue of Coastwatch magazine. "Michelle has become an industry unto herself," Fodrie says, citing her expertise in the oyster reef ecosystem consisting of macroalgae, fishes and other animals.

Michelle Covi is a doctoral candidate with Jennifer Brewer in the Coastal Resources Management Program at East Carolina University. Covi is also outreach coordinator for the Renaissance Computing Institute's East Carolina University Engagement Center, or RENCI at ECU. She is working with Dr. Donna Kain of the Technical and Professional Communications Program at ECU on a Sea Grant-funded project evaluating risk communication and perception of sea-level rise in northeastern North Carolina. She also worked with a Sea Grant team that collaborated with Plymouth leaders to establish a strategy for addressing recurring flooding problems in the town. For her doctoral research she is studying sea-level rise risk perception, communication and policy-making in North Carolina. She is cited for her abilities to relate to local residents, and use advanced techniques to analyze interview data. Covi authored an article for Sea Grant's Spring 2012 issue of Coastwatch on the Town of Plymouth and how it is preparing for current flooding and longer-term climate change.

Jennifer Cudney-Burch is a doctoral student with Roger Rulifson at the Institute for Coastal Science and Policy at East Carolina University. She was previously a Sea Grant Knauss Fellow in the Highly Migratory Species Management Division of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service. As a Knauss Fellow, she made a valuable connection between fishermen and policy makers. Her dissertation research addresses the issue of spiny dogfish management along the U.S. East Coast and Canada. Cudney-Burch's research into spiny dogfish migration, funded by the N.C. Fishery Resource Grant Program, resulted in a new paradigm in spiny dogfish management plans being recognized at national and international levels. An article for Sea Grant's Summer 2010 issue of Coastwatch highlighted her use of acoustics to track fish movement.

Timothy Ellis is a doctoral student with Jeffrey Buckel and Joseph Hightower in North Carolina State University's Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology program. His research, funded initially by FRG and later by the N.C. Coastal Recreational Fishing License Program, has resulted in significant contributions to management of spotted sea trout. He is a scientific advisor on the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission's fisheries management plan advisory committee for spotted sea trout. His research was featured in Sea Grant's Spring 2009 issue of Coastwatch; in several articles in The News and Observer of Raleigh; and several other publications. Ellis was previously an N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries/Sea Grant fellow with Buckel. He is cited for his outreach to the fishing community and state management agencies.

Rachel Gittman is a doctoral student with Charles Peterson and John Bruno in the Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill based at the Institute of Marine Sciences. She has a NOAA/National Estuarine Research Reserve Graduate Research fellowship to assess the ecological effects of shoreline stabilization on coastal resources, communities and habitats. Her work is also funded through a NC Coastal Recreational Fishing License (CRFL) grant. Gittman is cited for her poise in environmental agency working groups and stakeholder meetings with citizens. Her work is helping advance the goals of the Coastal Zone Management Act by providing federal and state agencies with valuable data.

Matthew McCarthy is pursuing a master's of marine science with Joanne Halls, director of the Spatial Analysis lab in the Department of Geography and Geology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His research involves evaluation of new satellite imagery products and their usefulness for assessing habitat change in the coastal habitats of Masonboro Island, which is part of the N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve. McCarthy won the G. Herbert Stout Award for innovative student paper from the N.C. GIS Conference and also the Hydrographic Society of America's national 2012-13 scholarship. He is cited for undertaking a variety of new techniques that will result in a better understanding of the measurement of barrier island dynamics.

For a full list of Jones Awards' winners see:

North Carolina Sea Grant's Coastwatch magazine is available at


North Carolina Sea Grant: Your link to research and resources for a healthier coast