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Annual Research Symposium highlights student achievement, professional development

Students listen to Sarina Baratta explain the coral research she conducted with her fellow student researchers. Photo: Alex Harsha ’22

In the 15th year of the Eckerd College Research Symposium, more than 100 students presented 57 posters in the categories of behavior, computer science and mathematics, disease and physiology, ecology, environmental threats and solutions, genetics, and humanities.

New this year, presentations were categorized to be judged by 18 Eckerd alumni working in the respective fields. Some high-profile alumni volunteered to participate—including Jane Petro ’68, M.D., professor of surgery emeritus at New York Medical College; Henry Ashworth ’16, a medical student at Harvard Medical School; and Doreen Galli ’89, Ph.D., chief technology officer for Global Expansion and Transformation at Microsoft. Judges evaluated each abstract and poster provided on the new online program and determined a winner, or winners, for each category.

Presenters Nelson Vayda, Stefan Anthopoulos and Sarina Baratta were awarded a blue ribbon in the disease and physiology category for work with Marine Science and Biology Associate Professor Cory Krediet, Ph.D.; Mote Marine Laboratory Associate Vice President for Research Erinn Muller, Ph.D.; and Senior Scientist and Program Manager Emily Hall, Ph.D., on the research “A Potential Connection Between Coral-Associated Bacteria and Disease Resilience in Acropora Cervicornis.”

Sarina, a senior marine science major and psychology minor from San Francisco, California, admits she was a bit nervous during the live presentation, “but the style of the symposium makes it really easy to be comfortable and talk to a lot of people as they go by,” she says. “Seeing how impressive what you have done [is] to others … made me feel so proud of the work Nelson, Stefan and I have been doing.”

Her research partner Nelson Vayda, a senior marine science and Spanish student from Canton, Michigan, agrees, saying, “It was a really cool experience and the semiformal attitude was nice to keep it comfortable while also getting presentation experience.”

This was not the only prestigious research to make the winner’s circle. Presenters Kayla Fulkerson, Madeline Ketner and Olivia Minney also received a blue ribbon for “Performance of African Elephants (Loxodonta Africana) on a Cooperative Task” research completed with Psychology and Animal Studies Professor Lauren Highfill, Ph.D., and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Associate Animal Care Specialist Kristina Przystawilk, ZooTampa at Lowry Park Animal Care Supervisor Christi Reiter, and ZooTampa at Lowry Park Mammal Curator Mike Burns.

Olivia, a senior biology and animal studies student from Wilmington, Ohio, says, “It was just nice to share all the work that we’ve done with people who wanted to listen.”

Full List of Eckerd College Research Symposium Blue Ribbon Winners


Judged by Joy Vincent ’18, graduate teaching assistant at Oakland University and Ph.D. candidate in psychology; Casey Winn ’19, direct care counselor at Carlton Manor Inc.; and Emily Olcott ’17, human resources specialist and payroll coordinator at Dutch Gold Honey

Computer Science and Mathematics

Judged by Doreen Galli ’89, chief technology officer for Global Expansion and Transformation at Microsoft; Robin Allen ’20, Ph.D. student in Astrophysics at the University of Georgia; and James Flagg ’73, professor emeritus of accounting at Texas A&M University.

Disease and Physiology

Judged by Jane Petro ’68, professor of surgery emeritus at New York Medical College; Henry Ashworth ’16, medical student at Harvard Medical School; and Dylan Finneran ’12, postdoctoral research associate at Michigan State University


Judged by Alex Barone ’17, adjunct instructor of biology at Massachusetts Bay Community College and Chris Flight ’15, professional development and aquaculture education coordinator at Maryland Sea Grant

Environmental Threats and Solutions

Judged by Kiana Sladicki ’17, environmental specialist II at Pinellas County Solid Waste; Emily Freeland ’13, outreach and equity programs specialist at Society for Science; Tyler Cribbs ’16, graduate research assistant at Clemson University and Ph.D. candidate in parks, recreation and tourism management; and Caroline Kelly ’19, recruitment consultant at EWI Recruitment


Judged by Jazmine Virzi ’19, Ph. D. candidate in cellular and molecular biology and Jeffrey Dodge ’84, senior research fellow at Eli Lilly


Jonathan Wynn and Philosophy Professor Nathan Andersen, Ph.D., “Living with Community: An Exploration of Authenticity and Sincerity

Judged by Padraic Fitzgerald ’12, Ph.D. candidate in religion/religious studies at the University of Denver