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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Visiting Students Research Local Waters at ODU in Science Foundation Sea Level Internship

Harvard University senior Matt Gschwend has spent time conducting marine research at the renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in his native Massachusetts.

But Gschwend, an aspiring environmental engineer, had no doubt he wanted to spend this summer at Old Dominion - in a Research Experience for Undergraduates internship sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

"I love the beach, and academically, my concern is the environment," Gschwend said. "This REU was a perfect combination because it's about climate change and sea-level rise."

The Research Experience for Undergraduates is a 10-week paid internship during which students live at Old Dominion and work with University faculty on research projects and on field experiments in and around the waters of Hampton Roads, as well as on their final presentations.

An NSF grant of about $275,000 funded the program that is in its second summer at Old Dominion. The University is home to the Center for Sea Level Rise and the Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute.

In the eastern U.S., Norfolk also is the urban area at greatest risk of sea-level rise, outside of New Orleans.

All of that caught the eye of Alison Palmer, a senior at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., a city with its own pressing sea-level issues,

Palmer, a chemical oceanography major, had inside information before she applied to the REU, as well. One of her Flagler professors, Matthew Brown, holds a chemistry ­­­degree from Old Dominion and urged her to apply for the program at his alma mater.

"When the sea level begins to rise, Florida's really not going to be much of Florida anymore," Palmer said. "A lot of our focus in St. Augustine is figuring out how to mitigate that."

Aside from Gschwend and Palmer, who are working together studying harmful algal blooms in local rivers, the REU includes eight other students from such schools as South Carolina, Wesleyan, Penn State and New Hampshire.

Chosen through an application process, the students receive a $5,000 stipend that includes room and board and other expenses. The REU will run until Aug. 1, but plenty of learning has already taken place.

"This is an immersive research experience, and I wasn't sure coming into it whether I was cut out for research," said Katie Darr, a junior at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Ct. "But I'm starting to feel like a real research scientist, and that's what I was hoping to get out of this program."

Research assistant professor K.C. Filippino, the director of the program, said the Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences department is thrilled to host the REU for the second summer. Filippino said she will submit a proposal to the NSF in August to continue the REU at Old Dominion next year.

"The focus on climate change and sea level rise provides students from all over the country firsthand knowledge on how to conduct research in this important and timely topic," Filippino said.

"After a summer spent in this REU, students will have gained knowledge in all aspects related to planning, executing and articulating a research project with experts in their fields," she continued. "It provides a solid background for any scientific endeavor they pursue in the future."

Sara Doermann, an Iowan, was eager to arrive at Old Dominion from the University of South Carolina and start adding to her own research resume.

"This is a very prominent REU," said Doermann, a marine science major who for her project is working to find the true global mean sea level using tidal gauges and satellite altimetry. "It was on the top of my list."

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