Dr. Ike Irby honored with William & Mary’s Thatcher Prize
Nine graduate students from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science joined family, friends, and faculty advisors during William & Mary’s commencement ceremony on May 13th, with W&M recognizing Dr. Ike Irby with its highest award for graduate students.
This semester’s commencement group—with 3 master’s and 6 PhD participants in W&M’s School of Marine Science at VIMS—will bring the total number of degrees earned by VIMS students to 1,029—comprising 637 master’s theses and 392 doctoral dissertations. The first master’s degree awarded to a student studying marine science at VIMS was in 1943 and the first doctoral degrees were awarded in 1968.
Dean and Director John Wells says, “VIMS alumni have an admirable track record of leadership in academia, government, and private enterprise, and I have no doubt that this year’s exemplary group of graduates will continue that tradition with service to the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world.”
Professor Linda Schaffner, Associate Dean of Academic Studies at VIMS, says “The School of Marine Science has a long history of producing outstanding young scholars who have gone on to productive careers and significant leadership positions in science, policy, education, and the private sector. Our newest graduates will certainly do the same.”
Schaffner says this year’s graduates “are already moving into jobs that will allow them to contribute to healthier ecosystems, sustainable fisheries, and more resilient coastal communities. I’ve enjoyed interacting with them during their time as students and now look forward to watching as their careers develop."
Ms. Taylor Armstrong received her master’s degree while on a short break from her Knauss Fellowship within NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program. At VIMS, Armstrong used stable isotopes to identify nutrient sources fueling toxic algal blooms in Chesapeake Bay. At NOAA, she is helping create the latest National Climate Assessment, an ongoing effort to evaluate climate-change impacts and identify environmentally sound responses for government, citizens, and businesses. Armstrong was advised by Assistant Professor Juliette Smith.
Dr. Danny Kaufman, winner of the Zeigler Award during VIMS’ annual Awards Ceremony on May 5th, earned his PhD by investigating nutrient cycling and phytoplankton dynamics in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. His dissertation research was marked by innovative use of Seaglider™ technology, climate-scenario modeling, and assimilation of biogeochemical data. Kaufman was advised by Research Associate Professor Marjy Friedrichs and will continue working with her as a post-doctoral associate using computer models to investigate how impacts of land-use and climate changes on ecological processes in Chesapeake Bay have changed during the last few decades.
Dr. Megan Wood earned her PhD with a comprehensive study of whether juvenile blue crabs prefer native underwater grasses or an invasive alga for their nursery habitat in Chesapeake Bay. She was honored and supported while at VIMS with a Graduate Research Fellowship from Virginia Sea Grant. Wood was advised by Professor Rom Lipcius. She now works for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission as a Fisheries Planner.
Though they won’t officially graduate until August, VIMS graduate students Mandy Bromilow, Ike Irby, Kristene Parsons, Bianca Santos, Jenna Spackeen, and Mark Stratton also participated in Saturday’s ceremony along with their classmates and peers.
Ms. Mandy Bromilow will earn her master’s with a study that identified the major predators of juveniles blue crabs within Chesapeake Bay seagrass beds, and evaluated their influence on juvenile mortality and blue crab abundance. During her time at VIMS, she also participated in the Short Trust GK-12 Fellowship Program at Peasley Middle School. Bromilow is advised by Professor Rom Lipcius. Following graduation, she will begin work as a coastal biologist with Environmental Research Group/Versar in Columbia, Maryland, conducting benthic and fisheries surveys for conservation projects and environmental-quality assessments.
Mr. Ike Irby was honored during commencement with the 2017 Thatcher Prize for Excellence—W&M’s highest award for a graduate or professional student. Irby will earn a joint degree, with a PhD from VIMS and a master’s in Public Policy from W&M. His research—which employs a state-of-the-art computer model to examine how climate change and nutrient reductions affect dissolved oxygen in Chesapeake Bay—is already being used by the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program to advance implementation of the Bay’s daily ‘pollution diet.’ After graduating, Irby will serve as a Congressional Science Fellow through a prestigious program managed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and sponsored by the American Geophysical Union. Irby’s advisor is Research Associate Professor Marjy Friedrichs.
Ms. Kristene Parsons will earn her doctorate with a detailed study of the biology, ecology, and taxonomy of sharks, skates, and rays of the U.S East and Gulf coasts. Indeed, her meticulous study of butterfly rays led to the discovery of two new species. While at VIMS, Parson also played a key role in maintaining the continuity of the Institute’s shark survey following the retirement of its founder and long-time director Dr. Jack Musick. Parsons is advised by Professor Rob Latour. Following graduation, she plans to continue studying sharks, skates, and rays to improve their management and conservation.
Ms. Bianca Santos will earn a master’s degree with her widely reported investigation of sea-turtle strandings in Chesapeake Bay. Her study used field experiments with drifting ‘Frankenturtles’ to determine likely locations of juvenile loggerhead mortality in the bay, and a computer model to identify potential causes of mortality and to highlight areas of focus for conservation. While at VIMS, she also won the inaugural Three-Minute Thesis© competition, and participated as a GK-12 fellow at Page Middle School. Santos is advised by Assistant Professor David Kaplan. Following graduation, she will take part in an Arctic research cruise with Assistant Professor Donglai Gong, and is a national finalist for a 2018 Knauss Fellowship.
Ms. Jenna Spackeen will earn a PhD with her study of how climate change is affecting the flow of nitrogen through polar ecosystems and food webs. Her work has taken her to both ends of the Earth, with field studies in Antarctica’s Ross Sea as well as the Bering Sea north of Alaska. While at VIMS, Spackeen also mentored a number of students in the Institute’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. She is advised by Professor Deborah Bronk. Spackeen plans to pursue further research with a post-doctoral fellowship.
Mr. Mark Stratton will earn a PhD with his comprehensive study of near-shore fishes of the Northeast and Southeast U.S. coasts. His research—which draws heavily on NOAA-funded monitoring and assessment programs in both regions—explores how physical factors such as temperature and salinity, as well as interactions among and between fishes and their prey, competitors, and predators, affect catch trends and food-web dynamics. His work already informs modeling and management efforts by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a regional body charged with managing U.S. fishery resources for sustainable use. Stratton is advised by Professor Rob Latour. After graduation, he will be establishing a farming business in Arkansas to provide locally grown food for the community.