VIMS welcomes largest class in nearly two decades

  • VIMS 2021 Matriculating Class   From L (top): Sarah Koshak, Miguel Montalvo, Ben Smith, Rachael King, Anna Caputo, Candice Vinson, Claudia Moncada, Breanna Maldonado, Natalia Schoenberg, Mara Walters, Anna Poslednik, Julianna Ramirez, Catherine Czajka, Emma Dodsworth, Lilly Blume (bottom): David Arancibia, Matt LaGanke, Nathan Shunk, Kacey Hirshfeld, Julia Grenn, Jaime Calzada, Colin Hawes, Tom Sacco, Derek Jackson, Will Shoup, Rebecca Taylor, Caroline DeVries, Mary Bryan Barksdale, Josh Garber (missing from photo: Evan Flynn, Kati McCarter).   © L. Patrick.
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31 new students arrive to pursue master and PhD degrees in marine science

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science welcomed 31 new graduate students to its Gloucester Point campus last week, bringing overall enrollment in William & Mary’s School of Marine Science at VIMS to 95 students.

Professor Linda Schaffner, VIMS’ Associate Dean of Academic Studies, says “We are welcoming the largest incoming class to VIMS in almost two decades. This is an exciting time for our graduate program and students.” Classes began on September 1st, with most scheduled to meet in person under W&M’s indoor masking policy.

Carefully selected from this year’s pool of more than 120 applicants, the incoming class includes 13 doctoral students, 11 students in the Master of Science program, and 7 students in VIMS’ new Master of Arts program. Geographically, 3 students hail from Virginia, 25 are from out-of-state, and 3 are international.

Dr. Derek Aday, Dean & Director, addresses members of the VIMS community during student orientation activities. © D. Malmquist.Dr. Derek Aday, VIMS Dean & Director, says “Our incoming students bring us new talents and experiences. I’m excited to work with them and to see what they can accomplish.” John Griffin, VIMS’ Assistant Director for Admissions & Student Affairs, adds “They’re an exciting and dynamic cohort and we’re looking forward to seeing all they add to our community.”

Professional experience

Nearly two-thirds of the new students bring professional experience to VIMS. Jaime Calzada Marrero, a PhD student with Dr. Joseph Zhang, modeled hydrodynamics at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Josh Garber, a PhD student with Dr. Juliette Smith, worked as a research scientist for the biotechnology company Albany Molecular Research Inc. Derek Jackson, an MS student with Dr. David Rudders, observed groundfish harvesting for the National Marine Fisheries Service in the northwest Pacific. Breanna Maldonado, an MS student with Dr. Harry Wang, was a research assistant at VIMS. Sarah Koshak, an MS student with Dr. Jeff Shields, served as a veterinary specialist at the Vermont Large Animal Clinic. Ben Smith, a PhD student with Dr. Piero Mazzini, served 12 years in the British Army Corps of Royal Engineers as a commissioned officer and attained the rank of Captain.

Dr. Bill Walton, himself a new faculty member and coordinator of VIMS' Shellfish Aquaculture Program, will mentor three new students with professional experience. PhD student David Arancibia worked for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, while MS student Julia Grenn was an aquaculture outreach assistant at Minnesota Sea Grant. Incoming MS student Matt LaGanke shucks a Pacific oyster, {em}Crassostrea gigas{/em}, from an oyster farm in Washington state. © J. Grenn.MS student Matt LaGanke dove commercially in Rhode Island.

Several new students also have experience in education. Mary Bryan Barksdale, a MS student with Drs. Chris Hein and Matt Kirwan, won multiple high school and district teacher of the year awards while teaching science in Mississippi. Caroline DeVries, a PhD student with Dr. Kevin Weng, taught at the Acadia Institute of Oceanography in Maine. Colin Hawes, a PhD student with Dr. Marjy Friedrichs, was head counselor for a summer camp and manages a comic book company that features neurodiverse characters.

Miguel Montalvo Camacho, a PhD student with Dr. Eric Hilton, will begin his studies at VIMS in spring 2022. He continues as a marketing and audience contractor at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

Fellowships and internships

Many of the new students also arrive with fellowship and intern experience. Five—Natalia Schoenberg (PhD, Dr. Rochelle Seitz), Evan Flynn (PhD, Dr. Steve Kuehl), Anna Poslednik (PhD, Dr. Ryan Carnegie), Nathan Shunk (MS, Dr. Piero Mazzini), and Tom Sacco (MS, Dr. Carl Friedrichs)—completed REU fellowships as college juniors or seniors. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs are hosted by universities and marine labs nationwide, including VIMS.

Incoming MS student Catherine Czajka (L) and classmate Olivia DeWitt aloft aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans with SEA Semester in October 2019. NASA researchers joined their cruise to explore the landform behind them, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, a newly-formed volcanic island in the Kingdom of Tonga which could provide insight into the formation of craters on Mars. © Frank Wenninger.Students arriving with intern experience include Lilly Blume, a PhD student with Drs. Kim Reece and BK Song, who interned at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany; and Catherine Czajka, an MS student with Drs. Marjy Friedrichs and Emily Rivest, who interned with Delaware Sea Grant. Emma Dodsworth, an MS student with Drs. Mark Brush and Molly Mitchell, served as an oyster hatchery intern with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, while Julianna Ramirez, a PhD student with Dr. Rob Hale, interned with the National Parks Conservation Association in Washington D.C. Rebecca Taylor, a PhD student with Dr. Rob Latour, interned in the Trip Ticket Program at North Carolina’s Division of Marine Fisheries. Mara Walters, a PhD student with Drs. BK Song and Rob Hale, was an intern for the Ecotoxicology Program at Mote Marine Lab in Florida.

Master of Arts

Dr. Molly Mitchell, director of VIMS’ new Master of Arts program, says she is “really excited” about its possibilities. “Our professional MA program is for people who know they don't want to go into academia or research, but see the science as a really important part of their career path,” she says. “It’s an interdisciplinary program where the students learn the science but also pursue interests and skills in areas such as outreach, policy, and management.”

Incoming PhD student Julianna Ramirez identifies freshwater macroinvertebrates at Big Creek Natural Reserve in Monterey County, CA as a 2019 UCSC Doris Duke Conservation Scholar. © A. Borker.The inaugural class of VIMS MA students includes a pair of NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholars: Kacey Hirshfeld and Claudia Moncada; a pair of AmeriCorps members: Anna Caputo and Rachael King; and a pair with local ties: Kati McCarter, who worked as an oyster restoration assistant with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Candice Vinson, the outreach and events coordinator at VIMS. MA student Will Shoup served as an intern with the Conservation Voters of South Carolina.

For a multimedia look at this year’s incoming class, visit