Three graduate students at Florida universities have been named recipients of scholarships from the Aylesworth Foundation for the Advancement of Marine Science.
The winners are Christy Foust, a doctoral student at University of South Florida; Matthew Gorstein, a master’s student at University of Florida; and Stephanie Lawler, a master’s student at University of South Florida.
Since 1986, the Aylesworth scholarship has supported students pursuing college degrees in disciplines that have direct application to marine science. Recipients continue to receive the award each year as long as they make satisfactory toward degree completion.
The scholarship is a joint effort of the Aylesworth Foundation, the Southeastern Fisheries Association and Florida Sea Grant. Scholarships worth $544,974 have been awarded to 97 students in 14 Florida universities over the past 28 years.
The winners will be recognized at the annual Southeastern Fisheries Association awards banquet June 20. More information about each recipient follows.
Christy Foust is a second time winner of this award. Because of her dedication to research and admirable work ethic, the scholarship committee was happy to continue her funding.
“I definitely felt honored that they would want to keep funding me,” said Foust, who is also the president of the USF chapter of Graduate Assistants United.
Foust is pursuing a Ph.D. in ecology and evolution at the University of South Florida. Her doctorate research, which expands on her master’s thesis, examines how stressors related to climate change such as increased salt marsh salinity affect genetic structure of plants.
Foust’s adviser, Christina Richards, an assistant professor at USF said her research is unprecedented and will make the Aylesworth foundation proud.
“In comparison to other graduate students with whom I’ve worked, and in my general expectations, Christy definitely ranks in the top five percent,” Richards said. “The work she is doing in salt marshes will have far-reaching broader impacts on our fundamental understanding of biological processes, with implications for society from predicting response to climate change to improving agriculture.”
Foust said she plans to pursue a career in academia where she can train the next generation of biologists, giving undergraduate and graduate students an appreciation for coastal systems, while contributing to the body of research on coastal communities.
Matthew Gorstein is pursuing an M.S. in food and resource economics at the University of Florida. His research tracks demographics of seafood customers with the hope of gaining more insight into consumer demand for seafood. Gorstein said his dream career is one that integrates water and economics.
“I wasn’t too keen on Wall Street,” Gorstein said. “Growing up in South Florida, I’ve always loved the beach and the water. Since I’ve always been a fan of math as well, I am working toward a water-related profession doing economics modeling.”
The Florida native completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Florida with Honors Cum Laude. While he was accepted to many top universities to complete his master’s, his adviser, Sherry Larkin, a professor of marine resource economics, is happy he chose to stay in state.
“Matt is an energetic and promising student who is also appreciative of all the support he can get,” Larkin said. “Matt is a hard worker in his studies, research, outside employment and extracurricular activities.”
Gorstein said he is thankful for the award, which will help supplement the income from his part-time job at a patio store in Gainesville.
Stephanie Lawler is pursuing an M.S. in marine science at the University of South Florida. Her research is focusing on the microbial communities in deep sea corals, specifically looking at the bacteria associated with Anthothela grandiflora from the east coast of the United States. Lawler said she heard about the scholarship from her adviser at the U.S. Geological Survey, Christina Kellogg, who was a past Aylesworth scholar.
“Two things that define and distinguish Stephanie are her motivation and energy,” Kellogg said. “There is no question she is dedicated to learning and hugely self-motivated. She obviously has a talent for juggling multiple projects and priorities successfully.”
She has served as president of the Student Environmental Awareness Society at her university, was a diver at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and served as an intern at the Pinellas County Water Management District and the U.S. Geological survey. She even helped develop a campus-wide recycling program at USF using a grant she authored.
Stephanie plans to stay in academia and pursue her Ph.D.
“Originally I wanted to go straight into teaching, since I focus a lot on outreach,” said Lawler, a certified archaeological diver who spends as much time outdoors as possible. “But I’ve decided to focus on scientific research before I go back to education.”