Underwater Exploration Earns Unique Scholarship

University of Central Florida student Adam Searles used his passion to help him succeed and fund his college career.

Searles won the prestigious National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship. The scholarship provides awards that include academic assistance for two years of full-time study and a full-time paid internship at a NOAA facility during the summer.

The rigorous online application process for the program requires applicants to submit their GPA and official transcripts, declared majors as well as emphases within the major, professional and research experiences, a list of awards and honors received, extracurricular activities, volunteering activities, two letters of recommendation from professors at UCF, and an essay explaining how students’ career goals align with NOAA’s mission statement.

“The application for the scholarship is only open to sophomores rising to junior status majoring in marine and atmospheric science related fields,” he explained. “Recipients are chosen based on academic merit and research experience as well as many other qualities and experiences.”

With a major in biology and a minor in environmental studies, Searles saw himself as the perfect candidate. His readiness for the program was mostly due to his prior research experience.

“I started off with a summer research internship in 2016 with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fisheries Independent Monitoring Program at the Indian River Lagoon Field Lab,” he said. “There, I investigated the ecological factors affecting distribution and abundance of juvenile predator and prey species in the Indian River Lagoon”

Searles is currently working with Nikolas Gardiakos on publishing a rhetorical and scientific analysis and several other projects with his mentor, Geoffrey Cook, Ph.D. Searles has conducted literature analysis in order to help create population dynamics matrices for several species of threatened coral throughout the wider Caribbean.

And his admirable involvement in research is never-ending.

“I’m also working with Dr. Cook and Dr. Richard Paperno to determine if there is a new, undiscovered subspecies of a fish called the Atlantic Croaker,” he said.

He’s excited for the experience to work with the NOAA but is most looking forward to seeing how research is conducted in fields of marine ecology that he is not yet familiar with.

“I would love to study community ecology on coral reefs,” Searles explained. “I have a lot of experience in estuarine ecosystems, which I love, but I hope this will give me the opportunity to apply my research experience to new fields within marine ecology to make me a higher quality researcher.”

In the future, he plans to attend graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. in marine ecology and biological oceanography with the goal of becoming an academic researcher.

“I would like to study ecological succession of coral reefs, trophic ecology of coral reefs, interspecific competition on coral reefs or larval habitat use on coral reefs,” he said. “I am interested in all of the same topics for estuarine systems as well.”

Searles attributes all of his accomplishments to his time spent at UCF. He specifically mentions the staff and their desire to create endless opportunities for the students. All of his experiences have been critical to his success academically as well as crucial to his development as a researcher.

“I firmly believe that if I had chosen to attend any other school I would not have received this award or any of my awards and experiences,” he expressed. “I can never say thank you enough to this university for continually propelling me forward.”

To learn more about the scholarship click here.

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