Undergrads get a taste of marine research

20 years of research experience for undergrads brings diversity to marine science

  • VIMS Ph.D. student Jessie Campbell-Jarvis
    VIMS Ph.D. student Jessie Campbell-Jarvis  diving in subtidal seagrass beds to gain a better understanding of the interactions between seagrasses and their surrounding environment. Jarvis began her career at VIMS as an REU student in 2002. Photo by Brittany Haywood.  
  • VIMS graduate student
    VIMS graduate student  Jessie Campbell-Jarvis collects flowering eelgrass shoots in the Newport River, North Carolina. Jarvis hopes to better understand the role of seeds in the maintenance and recovery of seagrass beds. Jarvis began her career at VIMS as an REU student in 2002. Photo by Ken Moore.  
  • SAV
    SAV  Jessie Campbell-Jarvis; Erin Shields, and Brittany Haywood help restore freshwater beds of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the Upper James River, VA. Jarvis began her career at VIMS as an REU student in 2002. Photo by Dr. Ken Moore.  
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Each summer, some of the brightest young minds in science gather at VIMS. Subject to the same rigor as graduate students, these undergrads from colleges and universities across the U.S. are charged with conducting a discrete marine science project—and they have only 10 weeks.

The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) is a nationwide program funded by the National Science Foundation. Colleges and universities across the U.S. compete for this funding and for the brightest students to undertake research on topics ranging from fuel-cell technology to the breeding ecology of blue crabs.

Each spring, Program Director Linda Schaffner and Co-Director  Rochelle Seitz examine hundreds of applications, searching for students who, according to Schaffner: “Are talented, but who also bring diversity to the group and ultimately, to marine science.” The VIMS program has a long and successful record of bringing under-represented minorities into the marine sciences.

The VIMS program also boasts an exceptionally high retention rate, with more than half of the REU students continuing on to graduate studies in marine science. Jessie Campbell-Jarvis, a 2002 REU student at VIMS, returned to Gloucester Point to earn her Master’s degree, and then stayed on to pursue her Ph.D., examining the environmental factors that affect the growth of eelgrass seeds.

Campbell-Jarvis fondly recalls joining Dr. Ken Moore’s seagrass group for long days in the field, then working late nights with fellow REUs to write their final reports. “My best memory,” she laughs, “was finally hanging out with a group of people with similar interests and realizing I wasn't the only science ‘nerd’ out there.”

Now the VIMS resident-expert on eelgrass germination, Campbell-Jarvis says, “I often look back on my internship and wonder where I would be now without that experience.”