NOAA Hollings Scholars: 8 New Additions to the Eckerd Legacy

Journalist: Frances Wilkinson | Editor: Shannon Walsh | Photographer: Presley Carico

Kyle Vincent ’19, Sophia MacVittie ’19, Courtney Tierney ’19, Amanda Goldsmith '19, Anjali Boyd ’19, Nicole Pegg ’19, Brooke Davis ’19, and Jeffrey Michalec ’19.

Kyle Vincent ’19, Sophia MacVittie ’19, Courtney Tierney ’19, Amanda Goldsmith '19, Anjali Boyd ’19, Nicole Pegg ’19, Brooke Davis ’19, and Jeffrey Michalec ’19.

After a genetics lab on a Friday afternoon in May, Amanda Goldsmith ‘19, called her parents for a casual conversation. “I wasn't expecting to find out at all. I had Genetics lab, and I was just calling to talk about what I had done during it since it was a fun lab, and I just talked to my parents. We were kind of just all hanging, and I was chilling in my room alone,” Goldsmith said. While still on the phone, Goldsmith scrolled through her Facebook feed and saw news that her friend, Anjali Boyd '19, had been awarded the prestigious Hollings scholarship. At which point, Goldsmith, who also applied for the scholarship, decided to check the status of her application.

“I couldn’t figure out for the longest time how to... get onto the website to find out, so I’m on the phone kind of stressing out… and then it said ‘selected’ and I was like ‘oh my gosh!’ and [my parents] were screaming on the other end of the phone...I kinda cried a little because you know when you apply for something you really want and you envision yourself getting it and you think ‘What would I do? Where would I be?’ and I was like ‘I think I would cry’ and then it happened and I really cried,” said Goldsmith.

Goldsmith was one of eight Eckerd students to be awarded the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship in 2016. The other Eckerd recipients of the year include: Anjali Boyd ’19, Brooke Davis ’19, Sophia MacVittie ’19, Jeffrey Michalec ’19, Nicole Pegg ’19, Courtney Tierney ’19, and Kyle Vincent ’19.

Each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awards 120 successful, up-and-coming undergraduate applicants with this prestigious award, which includes an academic scholarship of up to $9,500/yr for two years as well as a 10-week, full-time, paid internship at a NOAA facility during the summer, after their junior year of college.

With over 500 applicants and only 110 scholars being awarded in 2017, this award is highly competitive. The application requires students to be in their second year of study of a discipline that falls under the umbrella of oceanic, environmental, biological, mathematics, and a slew of other STEM related fields to qualify. According to the NOAA website, the internship hopes to provide students with more training, research, and opportunities to expand their interest in stewardship of the ocean and atmosphere.

“It’s exciting to tell people about [Hollings] because some people don’t realize how huge NOAA is,” said recipient Nicole Pegg. “They have labs everywhere, all over the US--from Alaska, all down the east coast, to Massachusetts, and Florida. So it's cool to be able to see people realize how huge NOAA is because I mean a lot of people don't know. It's so huge that I have trouble explaining it sometimes, but yeah it's exciting and people are excited when they hear about it, so that's good!”

To apply, every applicant creates an online account on the NOAA-Hollings website in order to submit their applications. Contents of the application include a personal essay, list of activities, education history, as well as two letters of recommendation.

The hard deadline for the application is the end of January each year, but some campuses, like Eckerd, require a soft deadline of December 1. This deadline, implemented by our scholarship and fellowship advisor, Dr. Kat Robinson, ensures students have met all the requirements before finals season picks up. It also ensures all recommendation letters have been written as many of Eckerd’s faculty and student body travel abroad during the January Winter Term. Students are given a chance to share their essays with their peers, mentors, and Dr. Robinson before everyone disperses for the holidays and winter term, which makes it much more productive to start writing earlier rather than later.

“I jumped right into the process,” said recipient Courtney Tierney. “Dr. Kat Robinson was a huge help the entire way, conducting video-call meetings with previous recipients, and commenting on draft after draft. I also turned to Marine Science professors such as Dr. Hastings and Dr. Krediet for their input. I'm not great with keeping track of time, but I would say [the application] took about a month and a half to complete.”

A common thread among most of the interviewed recipients is that they included how much their love for marine life had been a part of their life since childhood, and the recipients mentioned how they had incorporated that love into their personal essays.

“I wrote about how marine science has fit into my life literally since I was born to now,” said Pegg. “Obviously your experience and research is really important, and I definitely put that in the essay, but I also put in a lot of trips I took when I was young. I talked about how I saw marine mammals, and that's literally where my interest started--when I was six years old. So I think it's important to talk about, not just school, but to show how you’re passionate and interested in marine science.”

Jeffrey Michalec, as well as Davis and Goldsmith, are from the midwest, and admired the ocean from afar before coming to Eckerd. These recipients also incorporated their land-locked upbringing into their personal essays to really explain why they’d been yearning for the ocean for so long.

“That one week vacation to the beach every year was the driving force of my love for the ocean,” said Brooke Davis. “I’ve had dolphin stuff all around my room since I was little! And then I was lucky enough to go to the Dolphin Research Center one year, and I was like ‘Yes, this is something I want to do.’”

“I'm from Iowa, and I don't have any coasts around me.” said Goldsmith. “For most of the people I grew up with, this [marine science] wasn’t even on their mind,”

Other recipients, such as Anjali Boyd, took the time to write about how Eckerd was a driving force in their future and overall decision to apply.

“I started the essay by talking about the day I toured Eckerd as a high school senior and how I decided to come here because my tour guide told me ‘Eckerd has more Hollings scholars than any other college or university,’” recalled Boyd. “I then discussed all the things I was apart of at Eckerd, including research projects, extracurricular activities, and volunteer opportunities. I ended the essay talking about my goals as a Holling's scholar and my aspirations as a scientist.”

Boyd’s tour guide did not misspeak when they said Eckerd had the most Hollings scholars than any school; there has been 74 recipients of the Hollings award to date at Eckerd, which is the nation’s record.

“I one hundred percent believe that it is because of our Marine Science department at Eckerd,” Davis said. “It is incredible. All of the professors are so passionate and because we’re so small, you can get that individualized help from those professors. It is really easy to, first of all, understand what you want to do and get involved with that right off the bat, and I think that’s really helpful because the professors just want to keep you going. Once you experience it, you realize that you want to go and try this out on your own. And then every professor is so encouraging about applying for Hollings. I think we have so many Hollings scholars because the students are so passionate here, and the professors facilitate that. The opportunities around here are unbeatable.”

Pegg surmises that Eckerd’s advantage in Hollings is the kind of science classes the students are able to take starting freshman year.

“The marine science major itself at Eckerd is really thorough. I knew just from my experiences applying to other schools,” said Pegg. “There's a school that I applied to and was really close to going to instead of Eckerd, and I was literally sitting in the counselor's office getting ready to make my freshman year schedule. But when I walked out of the room, I realized I was taking zero marine science classes. But with Eckerd, you take marine science classes your first semester, so you start off with it right off the bat… Not only are you doing research [on campus], but also the curriculum itself is really really solid. You get a lot of hands on experience and a lot of lab experience.”

Whatever it is about Eckerd that makes the student body so successful, these winners have it, and they encourage others to apply as well.

“I would say if you're the teeniest bit interested in [Hollings], you should apply.” said Pegg. “It’s a massive opportunity and even if you don’t think that they would pick you, you should still apply because you never know.”

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