Marine Biology alumni earn doctorates and share passion for research



As undergraduates at New Haven University, Danielle Perry ’15 and Shaunna Kraatz Phipps ’13 discovered a passion for marine biology and began careers that enabled them both to pursue impactful research and earn their doctorate.

May 5, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Danielle Perry (left) uses a gas analyzer to measure greenhouse gases; Shaunna Phipps working in the lab.

As a student at New Haven University, Danielle Perry ’15 immersed herself in researching salt marsh environments while working on her undergraduate summer fellowship project with Roman Zajac, Ph.D. She says the experience has been “very influential” in shaping her career path.

With encouragement from Dr Zajac, Perry applied for Undergraduate Student Research Experience (REU), a competitor National Science Foundation-sponsored research program for students studying science, engineering or math. She was accepted and her experience in Monterey Bay, California allowed her to continue studying salt marshes and the threats they face. Her subsequent macroalgae research with Amy Carlile, Ph.D., also provided good preparation for graduate school.

“My training as a research scientist began at New Haven University and provided me with the foundational skills I needed to complete and design research projects,” said Perry, a graduate in marine biology and science. environmental sciences. “I learned the importance of networking and taking advantage of opportunities. It opened doors for me that I still enjoy today.

Danielle Perry with her research poster.
Danielle Perry presents her research at her first lecture as an undergraduate student.
“I want to be part of the solution to save these important resources”

As part of his research with Dr. Carlile, Perry studied the impacts of macroalgae buildup in Rhode Island salt marshes. She found that plants in these environments appear tolerant to the current build-up of macroalgae, but become intolerant as accumulations increase due to climate change.

After successfully defending her thesis virtually in early April, Perry will graduate from the University of Rhode Island PhD program in biological and environmental sciences later this spring.

Now work for Audubon Mass as a statewide climate change adaptation ecologist, she assesses the vulnerabilities of the organization’s environmental sanctuaries and implements climate change adaptation projects to improve their resilience. It also conducts awareness-raising activities among young students from populations traditionally under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“Salt marshes protect developed coastal areas from flooding and storms, thereby reducing damage to buildings,” she said. “I want to help raise awareness of the importance of these habitats, especially in areas like New England that have high coastal development. Climate change is rapidly degrading these coastal environments, and I want to be part of the solution to preserve these important resources for generations to come. ”

Amy Carlile, Ph.D., and Shaunna Phipps.
Amy Carlile, Ph.D., (left) and Shaunna Phipps.
“There is nothing more rewarding than working with bright young minds and seeing them become very successful”

Perry is one of two graduates of the University’s Marine Biology program who recently received a PhD. In February, Shaunna Kraatz Phipps ’13 defended her thesis as part of her doctorate. evolving program, ecology and behavior at SUNY buffalo. She was Dr. Carlile’s first research student at the University of New Haven.

“It was such a joy to watch these two women grow from first year students to outstanding scientists,” said Dr. Carlile, associate professor and chair of the University’s Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences. “The research supervised by professors that we offer in the Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences is a real cornerstone of our programs. As an educator, there is nothing more rewarding than working with bright young minds and seeing them succeed.

Phipps credits Dr Carlile and courses such as “Marine Botany” for helping her discover her passion for marine biology. She fondly remembers participating in a REU opportunity with Dr Carlile, which allowed her to spend the summer of her freshman year researching freshwater algae on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

“Taking fascinating, field-specific courses in college has shown me how successful and motivated you can be when you love the course material,” she said. “A great relationship with the professors and the courses that exposed us to people in the field prepared me for the next steps after graduation. ”

“What is amazing with science is the tools you learn are transferable in all areas”

For his thesis, Phipps studied a predominantly freshwater green algae that has a wide range of tolerance to salinity and is more closely related to land plants than other green algae. Focusing on two species – one salt sensitive and one salt tolerant – she confirmed the presence of genes regulating salt tolerance in both species to be the same found in terrestrial plants, and she found additional genes. only in salt tolerant species.

Phipps particularly enjoyed the research because it brought together the topics she enjoys learning the most, including evolution, algal physiology and molecular biology, allowing her to integrate different areas of biology.

“I would love to continue my research career path,” said Phipps, who is currently writing several manuscripts for publication. “The amazing thing about science is that the tools you learn are transferable from one field to another. Although I would love to continue studying algae or plants, it is very important for me to answer exciting questions and keep advancing science.


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