Students Explore the Mississippi Gulf Coast as Part of Major NOAA Grant 5The NOAA grant provides unique opportunities
hen Alexis Hamilton first laid eyes on lush, uninhabited Deer Island just 500 yards off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, she was struck by its size.
“It was smaller than I’d expected,” said Hamilton, a Florida A&M University sophomore who is studying environmental science. “I know they told us it was 4 miles, but it is a very small piece of undeveloped land. I was happy to hear how they are working so hard to get it back up on its feet.” The small coastal preserve – which includes wildlife, sandy beaches, pine-filled woods and marshes – plays an important role as a natural barrier to storms along the Gulf Coast. And as environmentalists push to ensure a healthy balance between ecotourism and preservation in places like Deer Island, they also recognize the equal importance of training the next generation who’ll continue their efforts. For more than two decades, FAMU has been at the forefront of that training effort. It is providing leadership and best practices in environmental science to other universities across the country and developing student researchers focused on solving ocean and coastal environmental woes ranging from severe erosion and excessive ecotourism to groundwater discharge and natural disasters. In fall 2017, a dozen FAMU student researchers and their professors visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast to take their classroom lessons into the field and connect with their colleagues at partner institutions. The student researchers are part of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Educational Partnership Program initiative called the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, which was established in 2016 through a $15.4
for students to learn from environmental leaders.
million grant. FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., a highly respected environmental scientist, is leading the center. The partnership program, which engages minority-serving institutions, also includes Bethune-Cookman University, California State University–Monterey Bay, Jackson State University, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, and the University of Texas–Rio Grande Valley. The coastal and marine research trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast included places like Gautier and Ocean Springs. Sharmini Pitter, Ph.D., FAMU’s assistant director of the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, said it was the first opportunity for all of the institutions’ researchers and students to come together as a group. She explained that a key component of the program is giving students the opportunity to discover and develop together. Along with the trip to Deer Island to study the salt marshes and a shoreline restoration project, the exploration also included classroom lectures and workshops, and an outing to the Ocean Springs Inner Harbor Park to examine a living shoreline. “We will unite at least one additional time during the remaining four years of the grant,” Pitter said. “With this program we are trying to instill in our students that they are not only a part of a center, but also a part of a group that provides support from their peers and is designed to really help them in terms of retention in the environmental sciences, particularly related to research in the areas of marine and coastal ecosystems. Participating in the center will also assist with their professional development and with learning how to navigate through sub-fields with the help of their counterparts.”4
A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2018 // 7
Special Research Edition in Honor of FAMU's 130th Anniversary.