Posted: March 9, 2016

The School for Field Studies (SFS) presented its Distinguished Student Researcher Award today to three of its alumni in recognition of the exceptional environmental research they conducted while studying abroad during the fall semester of 2015. The award was presented to: Bridget Gilmore of University of Wisconsin-Madison; Lan Thi Ngoc Nguyen of Hollins University; and Mallory Sea of Morningside College.

Each semester, The School for Field Studies honors its most exceptional students with Distinguished Student Researcher Awards for their important contributions in environmental research. SFS semester students engage in undergraduate research guided by SFS faculty on projects related to each Center’s long-term strategic research plan. Outcomes of these Directed Research (DR) projects provide information and recommendations to community members and other stakeholders on critical, local environmental issues.

Students are nominated by SFS faculty based on their demonstrated sophistication in research design, fieldwork, reporting, and contribution to the Center’s research plan. The SFS award also recognizes the student’s leadership exhibited while working with a team of student and faculty researchers in the field.

SFS Dean of Academic Programs, Dr. Mark Seifert, and Assistant Dean, Dr. Meghan Graham MacLean, presented the award this spring.


Bridget Gilmore, University of Wisconsin-Madison and SFS Center for Rainforest Studies, Australia
Bridget dug into the economics of indigenous tourism, a “niche” part of the Tropical North Queensland tourism industry, through her project, “Taking a seat at the table: An analysis of the gap in supply and demand of Indigenous tourism in Tropical North Queensland.” Her work continues long-term research in assessing and supporting indigenous tourism and provides an analysis of the supply and demand of indigenous tourism options, a significant draw to Far North Queensland. The line of questioning also revealed new insight into the views of different constituents, such as indigenous and tourism leaders, on the benefits and drawbacks of expanding indigenous tourism.

“Bridget stepped out of her comfort zone to undertake a socioeconomics research project even though she majors in biology,” noted her DR advisor Dr. Justus Kithiia. “She chose to ask questions that went beyond the prepared interview guide, instead, choosing to probe for details and seeking to understand the interviewees’ points of view.”

Lan Thi Ngoc Nguyen, Hollins University and SFS Center for Mekong Studies, Cambodia
Lan’s project, “Morphology and niche partitioning of fish assemblage in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve – a case study in Prek Toal core area,” provides a sound foundation for future ecological research at the SFS Center for Mekong Studies. Lan’s DR advisor, Dr. Chouly Ou, noted that “[she] was passionate about her research topic and was proactive, diligent, and efficient during the data analysis and write up phase.”

The Tonle Sap lake is one of the world’s most productive freshwater ecosystems, but Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment currently lacks baseline data about fish species diversity within the Prek Toal Core Area of the lake. Lan’s study produced results that may contribute to species data and knowledge from the Prek Da stream within the lake’s Core Area.

Mallory Sea, Morningside College and SFS Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies, Panama
Mallory’s project, “The Effects of Marine Protected Areas on Scleractinia Health and Disease: A Comparative Analysis in Bocas del Toro, Panama,” investigated the impact of disease on local corals through both direct observation, as well as though behavioral observation of an indicator species, the butterflyfish. The research project and results significantly contribute to the ongoing development of the SFS Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies’ long-term strategic research plan.

Dr. Aileen Maldonado, Mallory’s DR advisor, commented that the project “resulted in surprising and significant conclusions that may have profound future impacts with regard to the management of the Bastimentos Marine Protected Area in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago.”