College of Science & Mathematics
Master of Science in Marine & Environmental Science

2018 Cohort - Current Students

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Brad Arrington - Hi I’m Brad Arrington! I grew up in Minnesota and got my undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota in Scientific and Technical Communications. My interest in marine biology arose when I first got certified to scuba dive in Mexico at 13 years old. I’ve loved diving ever since and decided that with Climate Change impacting the reefs I should do more than just complain in Minneapolis, so I joined the MMES program to make positive impacts on the environment (and escape Minnesota winters!). I will be looking at how coral recruitment is affected by sponges and macroalgae with Dr. Marilyn Brandt. Contact:

Olivia Olivia DianaGood Day! My name is Olivia Diana. I am originally from Massachusetts but finished my undergrad at Virginia Wesleyan University with a B.S. in Biology. Three months later I moved to Saint Thomas, USVI to pursue my masters and work with Dr. Cruz Rivera on comparing beaches for microplastic density depending on the sargassum density. I completed research on using death assemblages as indications of environmental recovery and presented the work at the International Crustacean Conference 9 (ICC9) in May 2018. I decided to study in the Virgin Islands after study away trips to both Belize and Costa Rica taught me about the ecological importance of protecting the tropical coasts. Contact:
Courtney Courtney Gomez - I am a native of Colorado and absolutely loved growing up here. I received my bachelor's degree in Accounting in 2012 and always knew I wanted to return to graduate school so after a few life events that pushed me in that direction, I'm here. I am in the MMES program to work on my masters in marine science as the ocean has always been my love. I just received my certification for scuba diving and I can’t wait to go diving around St. Thomas! I spend a lot of time with kids doing anything we can outside. I'm very excited to be a part of the University of the Virgin Islands community and look forward to meeting everyone! Contact:

Naomi Huntley - I grew up in Flint, Michigan, and graduated from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor with a B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science. At UVI, I am working as a Research Assistant in Dr. Tyler Smith’s lab on the Ciguatera fish toxin project. My interests include coral-algal-microbial influences on reef ecology, microplastics, coral diseases, and epigenetics. For my thesis, I studying the microbial interactions between coral and Ramicrusta species to understand what is giving Ramicrusta it’s competitive edge over coral. Outside of school I enjoy growing succulents, crafting, rock climbing, horse riding, and exploring with my mini-dachshund, Ellie. Contact:

Jessica Lavenson

Jessica Levenson - I am originally from San Diego, where earned my BS in biology from University of California, San Diego. My background is originally in ocean stewardship and education, however to diversify my scientific interests outside of the Pacific Ocean, I chose to attend UVI. I taught Marine and Ocean Science for over 5 years which reminded me that I was not yet done being a student. Under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Jobsis, I will be focusing on evaluating local population genetics of the endangered green turtle and critically endangered hawksbill turtle. In my free time I enjoy swimming, diving and traveling. Contact:

Star_Loerch Star Loerch -I graduated from Arkansas State University (Astate) with an Interdisciplinary Studies B.S. emphasis in biology, communications, and sociology. I was the Natural History Collections General Assistant Curator at Astate. I devoted most of my blood, sweat, and tears to digitizing the herbarium collection, as well as, reconstructing a deteriorating ichthyology collection. While there, I studied coral reef fish and parasite interactions. Here, at UVI, I am working to reveal interactions between Coenobita clypeatus, soldier crabs and Erenetes coenobitus, a mite frequently found on the hermit crab. Contact:

Amanda Long - I graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL, with my B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Marine Biology in 2015. My undergraduate research focused on zooplankton biology. After graduating, I spent the next three years as a Science Educator at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium where I was in charge of all of the STEM education programs for girls. I absolutely loved working in informal education but I am excited to continue my education at the University of the Virgin Islands. I will be studying parrotfish herbivory with Dr. Richard Nemeth. Contact:


Sonora Meiling - Hello, my name is Sonora Meiling and I’m in my first year of my Master’s in Marine and Environmental Science. I’m currently researching the effects of microplastics on coral disease transmission with Dr. Marilyn Brandt. Before coming here I graduated from Oregon State University with my Bachelor’s in Zoology where I worked for various labs researching everything from coral bleaching in French Polynesia to crab behavior off the coast of Oregon. I love diving and am excited for the field work opportunities UVI has to offer. Contact:

Dan Dan Mele - Dan grew up in Maryland, outside of Washington D.C. He holds two undergraduate degrees, one in film production and the other in biology. His love for the ocean, led Dan to focus his studies on coral reefs where he eventually became enthralled with coral restoration. Upon finishing his biology degree, Dan spent two years working at the Mote Marine Laboratory, where he learned microfragmenting techniques for restoring coral reefs in the Florida Keys. Currently Dan is a graduate student at the University of the Virgin Islands, where he’s working to build off his prior knowledge in coral restoration. Contact:

Jessica Michael - From the mountains of Virginia, I received my BS in Biology from Hollins University where I participated in multiple research trips to St. John, USVI to study tropical fish and coral reef ecosystems. I fell in love with marine science and have continued to pursue it. I spent a summer working for US Fish and Wildlife in Georgia with nesting sea turtles. This past summer, I worked with Sail Caribbean teaching marine biology and sailing around the BVI. For my thesis, I am going to be working with Dr. Jobsis to do a study of sea turtle densities across the USVI and BVI. Contact:

Kaleigh Kaliegh Schlender - I was born and raised in York, Nebraska, a small agriculture community with little exposure to the ocean. My passion for the marine biology began when I first visited the ocean in second grade, and although I originally pursued psychology, I could not ignore my drive to pursue marine science.  I received my Bachelor of Science in psychology with two minors, one in family studies and one in biology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and I spent the last part of my undergraduate program studying marine biology in the USVI and the UK.  During my master’s program I will be studying invertebrates, particularly jellyfish. Contact:

2017 Cohort - Current Students

Manouchehr Afshar

Manouchehr Afshar - I hail from the west coast, where I have spent years working with Marine biology in the field and in academia. I received my bachelors of science from Oregon State University in 2015. I have worked with the National Park Service in St. Croix as an intern for the Buck Island Sea Turtle Research Program, and am continuing to work with NPS on my Master's thesis focusing on sea turtle nesting habitat on Buck Island, St. Croix, USVI. 

Kathryn Kathryn Cobleigh - I grew up as a military kid and have always been drawn to the water.  It wasn’t until undergraduate that I discovered I was jazzed on coral. I completed my bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in which I focused on changes in skeletal morphology of corals when exposed to temperature and acidified treatments.  Inspired by a UNC class to St. John USVI, I became fascinated with coral diseases which has brought me to UVI to work with Dr. Marilyn Brandt. My thesis focuses on how corals respond when exposed to White Plague Disease.  Using molecular techniques, I am evaluating shifts in the microbial communities between healthy and diseased corals in hopes to provide insight of potential causes of this disease.  

Owen Clower - I am originally from Palatka, Florida and did my undergrad at Savannah State University where I focused my research on Eastern Oyster, Crassostrea virginica, restorationAt UVI I work under Dr. Kristin Grimes where I am looking into if mangroves surrounding a lagoon intercept pollutants. My main interests include diving, traveling, food and Jesus.

Antonio Antonio Farchette - I'm a born and raised Virgin Islander which played a large role in interests in the ocean due to growing up on the beaches. I received my Bachelor of Science from the University of the Virgin Islands in Marine Biology and began focusing on coastal ecosystems, specifically seagrasses. I have done work with both our native seagrasses, and the Indo-Pacific invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea. I am interested in seeing how these species interact with one another and the management implications.
Kristine Kristine Funk - Starting fall of 2017, I have been playing dual roles as a student in the Master of Marine and Environmental Science program and a working professional at Coral World Ocean Park. I have worked at Coral World for over eight years and am currently the Assistant Curator of Marine Mammals and Birds. I am excited to bring marine mammal research to Coral World and share what we are learning with our visiting guests. My thesis research will involve training the sea lions to tell us when they hear changes in the volume of alternating sounds. This will allow us to determine what the minimum difference between the two sounds is before the sea lions can no longer detect the difference. This is called their difference threshold. Since there is currently no information available about how well South American sea lions can hear, this research will fill an important gap in our knowledge about an important biological function for this species.
Karli Karli Hollister - I grew up on the Lake Erie shoreline and have always loved the water, but it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Fiji that I discovered my passion for coral reef conservation. Since then, I have pursued coral reef research and volunteer opportunities in Fiji, Costa Rica, and the US Virgin Islands. In addition to coral reefs, my two biggest passions are traveling and scuba diving. While at UVI, I look forward to advancing my scuba certifications and working with Dr. Tyler Smith studying coral competition with a rapidly emerging red alga, Ramicrusta sp.
Kyle Kyle Jerris - I was born on St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. I got my undergraduate degree in marine biology at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). I have always had an affinity for the ocean and learning new things so I thought a career in research would best suit me. While at UVI, I have been able to take part in a number of research topics such as parasitism, fisheries, and herbivory. My current research is looking at the effect of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea.
Jessica Jessica Nagel - I grew up in Indiana where I received my Bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology. During my undergraduate studies at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, my undergraduate professor, Dr. Robert Brodman, taught me how to study and appreciate reptiles and amphibians. Under his mentorship, I took an island ecology course in the USVI, where I became interested in sea turtles and wildlife in the Caribbean. Now, I am studying bats and frogs of the Virgin Islands their recovery after hurricanes Irma and Maria, under Dr. Renata Platenberg.

Amber Packard - My interest in marine science has led me to many beautiful places across the U.S. and beyond.  I graduated from Portland State University with a B.S. in Biology. I've spent several years in sea turtle conservation in Bonaire, Boston, and St. Croix. Recently, I have switched my focus from charismatic mega fauna to charismatic MICRO fauna and will be studying a parasitic isopod common to St. Thomas coral reefs and their interaction with settling damselfish.


Martha Raymore - I graduated from University of Washington with a Bachelors degree in environmental science and minor in marine biology. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest  the natural world and environment has been a staple of my daily life and I'm super excited to branch out into more tropical ecology. I have studied different types of plant animal dynamics within changing environmental climates and with increased urbanization, although here at UVI I am looking at waste culture and behavior for my thesis.  I have had a long career working as a licensed veterinary technician and always find that animals play an important part of my daily life and I even work part time at the humane society here on the island.  In my free time I enjoy jogging, SCUBA, singing, and hanging out with my dog Morgan.


Joseph Townsend - I am born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, where despite being landlocked I fell in love with the ocean before I could even tell what it was. That passion followed me through my whole life, leading me to work as an undergraduate in the Castillo Lab during college. After working on projects ranging from tank experiments to field studies, my fascination had become an obsession. I graduated from UNC with a degree in biology and communications, discovering my passion for science communication and videography while in college as well, and took a year away from school to finish a self-produced short documentary before coming to the University of the Virgin Islands to continue my dream of being a marine scientist. I am currently working with Dr. Tyler Smith, and actually have used the recent severe hurricanes to develop an interesting research question of about how coral tissue may recover from stress differently depending on environment and species.

Previous Cohorts - Current Students

  • Vernita Smith - I am Vernita Smith, a recent animal science graduate hailing from Riverdale, Georgia. I am the youngest of four children and the first to attend graduate school.  I love to travel,  read,  listen to music,  and watch television. I love animals and would hope to one day become a wildlife veterinarian.
  • Deborah Elizabeth Smith - I was raised in Virginia, but am a North Carolina native. Having always had a fascination with the ocean, I began my career with a B.S. in biology and concentration in marine science at Old Dominion University. During my undergraduate career, I volunteered with the Virginia Aquarium, studied abroad in Belize, and led my university’s marine biology organization. My undergraduate thesis was on mycobacterial infections in striped bass and developed my interests in microbiology and fish health. I am excited to begin my graduate student career in the Caribbean, and look forward to the unique opportunities UVI has to offer.
  • Akacia Halliday - I am from St. Thomas, USVI. I majored in Biology with a particular interest in cell and molecular biology. I love reading, music and my violin.  For my thesis, I will be studying the transmission of a haemohormidium-like intraerythrocytic parasite between damsel fish.
  • Alexandra Gutting - I graduated from Arizona State University in 2011 with a degree in wildlife ecology and restoration. After that, I took six months to backpack around Central and South America and then worked as a field biologist for four years in California, Florida, Alaska, Kansas, and Puerto Rico. Most of my work was on small islands, and this proximity to the ocean lead to my interest in marine biology. I plan to study coral ecology while at UVI. My passions are traveling, good books, and exploring the outdoors, both above and below the surface of the sea.
  • Carolyn Courtien - After working in New York Real Estate for a number of years, I am now pursuing a Masters in Marine and Environmental Science.   I love so many aspects of the field that it is going to be very difficult to narrow things down for study, and I am so excited to continue this journey with the University of the Virgin Islands! 
  • Jan-Alexis Barry - I hail from the island of St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands and I am a Masters student in marine biology at the University of the Virgin Islands Masters in Marine and Environmental Science Program. I am the eldest of five, the first in my family to graduate from college, and I’m an easy going guy who loves trying great food, traveling, and gets really excited about fish or pretty much anything fish related. My proposed thesis project involves the parasite Anilocra chromis and its interactions with the host fish species Chromis cyanea and Chromis multillineata. My interest stems from personal observations on the parasite being found on one species in St. Thomas, but being on the other species while it is further up the Caribbean. What is peculiar is the fact that both hosts occur in the same areas. I want to figure out why this is and I am taking a genetic approach to the question by trying to figure out if they are the same species, because when the parasite was first described genetic analysis did not exist and so it may be a new species that was mislabelled simply due to an old classification method.
  • Sara Aubrey - Sara received a bachelor’s degree in Animal Biology at the University of California, Davis in 2006. Her coursework included conservation and environmental policy. She has spent time conducting field and laboratory research both in the sea and on land for a number of projects around the world. Currently within the MMES program she is studying feeding strategies of a major reef building coral as a result of changes in environmental conditions. Her research interests also include investigating mangroves as important habitats in the life histories of commercial fish. Ultimately she'd like to perform research to aid in natural resource management. After earning her Masters degree she hopes to work in St. Thomas and use her newly gained knowledge to give back to the community.
  • Hema Balkaran - Hema was born on the island of Trinidad, where she completed high school and then moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands. She achieved a B. S. degree in Biology at the University of the Virgin Islands in 2012. During her undergraduate, she was a MBRS-RISE scholar which granted her many research opportunities. She travelled to several universities, where she conducted research mostly in the genetic field. Hema has also conducted research at UVI, most of which was done with Dr. Alice Stanford, where she looked at the allele variation in a number of differing banana varieties.  After graduating from UVI, she was positioned as a research analyst for Geographic Consulting, where she worked with Brian Daley on St. Croix on studying the growth of native trees on a variety of soil types. She’s now a graduate student at UVI obtaining a masters’ degree in marine and environmental science. Her research includes looking at the genetic population of the velvety free-tailed bat, Molossus molossus, among St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John for conservation of their species. She love animals and believes that they are so awesome!!!
  • Kari Gehrke - I am from Southern California and received my Marine Biology degree from the San Francisco State University. My current thesis will be on finding the home range of the green sea turtle here in Brewers bay St. Thomas. I will be using acoustic telemetry to be able to help in the estimation of the abundance of green sea turtles that use the bay. In order to do this research I will be catching the sea turtles in the water and attaching tags. I will hopefully be able to get genetic samples along with isotope samples for further research. I will also be continuing with my PhD after I complete my thesis.
  • Haley Goodson - Haley was born and raised in Texas, but escaped her landlocked blues and chased her nautical dreams out east to Pensacola, FL where she attained her B.A. in Anthropology/Archaeology with a focus in Nautical Archaeology at the University of West Florida. While working on her undergrad degree at UWF, Haley volunteered with the Share the Beach program in Gulf Shores, Alabama where she participated in ensuring the overall hatchling success of Kemp’s Ridley and Loggerhead sea turtles along the lower Alabama coast, which stemmed her desire for future work protecting endangered sea turtle species. After graduation from UWF, she traveled to the Caribbean to focus her studies on the anthropogenic climate change affecting the available nesting beaches of sea turtles for her Master’s work at the University of the Virgin Islands.
  • Pedro Nieves - Pedro was born on the island of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. He attended Lockhart Elementary School then Addelita Cancryn Junior H.S. and graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School. class of '95. He furthered his education by attending the University of the Virgin Islands, spending time at Jacksonville University, FL but ultimately returning to graduate with a B.S. in Marine Biology from UVI. Pedro has worked in many marine related fields such as Coral World where he was a Greeter, SeaTrek operator (guiding guest/non-divers on helmet dives), and Aquarist, maintaining the animals and plants and their exhibits. Currently, he continues to focus his energy on preserving our islands' beauty by serving as a Geographic Information System Coordinator for the Coastal Zone Management, DPNR. Pedro lives with his wife and two boys on the island of St. Thomas.
  • Maggie Rios - I graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and a minor in Biology. I am originally from Southern California and have always had a love for all things marine. In 2010, I spent about five months in Monteverde, Costa Rica for a study abroad program in which I participated in an Internship with ProNativas, an NGO that is interested in doing educational outreach about the importance of native plant species in Costa Rica. I conducted a baseline study for the organization on the potential of invasive plant species in Monteverde. Through this opportunity, I was also able to participate in some other research opportunities that took me to the coast.  I will be looking at the affects of human activity (boat engine noise) on the movement patterns of juvenile Blacktip sharks in their nursery habitats on St. Thomas and St. John, USVI. 
  • Gabriel Sello - Gabriel Sello was born on the island of St. Croix, U.S Virgin Islands.  She attended the University of the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas), where she obtained a bachelor’s of science in General Biology. At UVI, she conducted research under the tutelage of Dr. Alice Stanford on the DNA extraction and amplification of Rhizophora mangleLaguncularia racemosa, and Conocarpus erectus; three mangrove species found throughout the U.S Virgin Islands and other islands of  the Caribbean. She has also conducted research at the University of Florida, under Dr. Stephanie Karst, on the Norovirus VP2 protein.  Research has always been important to her.  Thus, she decided to apply to the Master’s program at the University of the Virgin Islands in Marine and Environmental Science to further her education and to obtain the tools that would allow her to have a greater impact on her community.  While at UVI, she is interested in studying population dynamics of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector of Dengue Virus.
  • Kayla Tennent - I am from St. Augustine, Florida…the “oldest city in the nation…besides the territories.” I received my Bachelor’s Degree from Flagler College, with a major in Education and a minor in Environmental Science. During my undergraduate research I worked on designing a conservation plan for Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). I am currently working on publishing a paper on the documentation and distribution of Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) as baseline data in northeast Florida. Before moving to St. Thomas, I taught elementary school and was the science coordinator for environmental science club. I absolutely love teaching science, but I am also very passionate about research and outreach. I enjoy conservation efforts, and being in the field. I came to UVI to gain more research experience, as well as to experience the culture of Caribbean. As a result of my research, I hope to fill research needs and make a positive change in U.S Virgin Islands. Because I try to spend the majority of my time of the beach and I am always picking up trash, I asked how much trash accumulates on our beaches and how persistent is it? That led me to investigate the prevalence or abundance of debris on beaches in St. Thomas, with hopes of starting an anti-littering campaign to raise awareness and ultimately decrease litter from beaches and oceans. In my free time, I enjoy snorkeling, free diving, hiking, photography, gardening, surfing, reading, camping, trying new foods, going to the farmers market, and traveling.