Laurie Carroll Sorabella has always been happiest when she followed her heart—and her heart has always belonged to oysters.
A 2002 graduate of VIMS’ School of Marine Science, Sorabella has found happiness in her Virginia Beach-based non-profit organization, Oyster Reef Keepers of Virginia (ORKV). The organization—which she started immediately after earning her Master’s—has a mission of restoring and maintaining oyster reefs in Virginia’s waterways through community-based education, advocacy, scientific research, and monitoring.
“When I graduated it was perfect timing for me to start my own non-profit because I had just received a wealth of experience at VIMS, and I had an understanding of the ecosystem on a higher level,” says Sorabella. “I had also formed professional relationships with professors and peers at VIMS, and I felt like I had both the confidence and credibility to start my own business.”
Through ORKV, Sorabella developed Schools Restoring Oysters for the Chesapeake—a program where she trains teachers how to raise oysters with their students, and then transplant the oysters to various sanctuary reefs in the Tidewater area.
“The oyster restoration program brings schools into the oyster restoration initiative, and students learn not only about environmental science, but also make tangible contributions to the restoration of the resource while learning environmental stewardship,” says Sorabella.
In the 8 years since she launched ORKV, Sorabella has trained 175 teachers and reached more than 100,000 students, who altogether have transported 5.4 million oysters to sanctuary reefs in Virginia. “I feel so rewarded that a program that I started has made such a huge contribution and reached so many students,” says Sorabella. “It’s so exciting for me to feel like I’m making a difference.”
Prior to coming to VIMS, Sorabella worked at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation where she developed a passion for the Bay and its oysters. “I always felt if we could increase our oyster population it would make a huge difference in the health of the ecosystem, and I was very interested in saving the Bay,” she says. “I was craving more of an academic background in marine science, so going to VIMS was a big dream of mine,” she says.
Sorabella ultimately decided to pursue her Master’s degree at the Institute under advisors Ken Moore and Mark Luckenbach. She studied how oyster reefs impact water quality, and whether or not they were creating a better habitat for sea grasses.
“The education I obtained at VIMS was more valuable than I could have ever anticipated,” she says. “Beyond the academic side, I’m still able to call and ask professors questions. It’s great to still feel like a part of the community even though I’m not still a student there.”
During her time at VIMS, Sorabella met her husband, VIMS alumnus Bob Carroll (M.S. ’02). The couple resides in Virginia Beach with their three children, who are beginning to show early signs of wanting to follow in their parent’s marine-science footsteps.
“Our 8-year-old wants to be a fisheries manager, our 6-year-old wants to be an explorer, and our 3-year-old wants to be a princess,” she laughs. “We are still working on that one.”
Though oyster restoration is her true passion, Sorabella spends her free time taking her children to the beach, training for her first half marathon, kayaking, and doing yoga. “Happiness is such a strong value of mine and I teach my kids if you put good energy out, good energy comes back to you,” she says.
Sorabella says VIMS prepared her for the many different hats she has to wear as director of Oyster Reef Keepers. “I am the grant writer, bookkeeper, fundraiser, educator, and field researcher,” she says. “It’s so multi-faceted, and I love that.”
A devoted marine scientist, Sorabella obtained her undergraduate degree in psychology from Wesleyan University in Connecticut before deciding to take a different route. “I followed my heart when I graduated from college,” she says. “Instead of pursuing jobs that I had studied to pursue, I looked at the jobs that really spoke to me. “I feel like I have made my best decisions when I let my heart lead me instead of premeditating where I think I should go—and my heart led me to marine science.”
Sorabella says the Institute played a big role in where she is today. “VIMS contributed in so many ways to the individual I am today. I had a wonderful time while I was there, and the education I attained while studying there has enabled me to have a job that makes me excited to get out of bed every morning.”