University of Georgia Honors ecology student Scott Saunders has received an Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of only 115 awarded nationwide in 2012. The highly competitive Hollings Scholarship is awarded to students pursuing studies in oceanic, environmental, biological, and atmospheric sciences and related disciplines.
Saunders, a second-year student from Marietta, is pursuing a double major in ecology and international affairs, with a minor in French. He is the third UGA student to receive a Hollings Scholarship since the program was established in 2005 to honor retiring Senator Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina. The scholarship provides funding of up to $8,000 per year for two academic years and a summer internship at a NOAA facility with an allowance for housing and travel expenses.
Saunders became interested in marine ecosystems through an Honors class, “Ecosystems of the World,” with Associate Professor of Ecology Jeb Byers, and a course on animal behavior taught by Associate Professor John Maerz of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Shortly thereafter he began working in Byers’ lab, assisting on a research project with Ph.D. student Virginia Schutte exploring the effects of nutrient pollution on red mangroves in Jobos Bay, Puerto Rico.
“I didn’t grow up near the ocean, so I was fascinated by all these new things that I didn’t even know existed,” he said. “Then I found out about the Hollings Scholarship, and I thought, ‘this could be for me.’ ”
Saunders sought further advice from marine ecologist James Porter, Meigs Professor of Ecology. “Dr. Porter got me even more excited about the potential to work with marine systems and with NOAA,” he said. “The importance of marine systems really hit home to me, especially in light of global climate change. Oceans are 70 percent of the world’s surface and we need to know what’s happening there.”
Porter described Saunders as “intellectually ambidextrous,” excelling in biology, chemistry, the physical sciences, and math. “It’s rare to see someone who balances all those disciplines,” he said. “To win such a prestigious award so early in his career—the sky’s the limit for Scott.”
Saunders will intern at a NOAA facility during the summer of 2013, but he is already thinking ahead about graduate school and beyond. “I haven’t ruled out environmental law,” he said, “but right now I’m leaning toward research. Basically, if I could travel around the world doing research that had relevance, that would be cool.”