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Eckerd College senior brings unique story to geosciences major

Published February 22, 2022
Categories: Academics, Geosciences, Marine Science, Students

Bella Torres, whose determination has been noted by her professors, says her experience at Eckerd has encouraged her to step out of what she’s typically used to. Photo: Angelique Herring ’19

Isabella “Bella” Torres, an Eckerd College senior geosciences student from Queens, New York, is well aware her background isn’t typical of students in her field.

She attended the New York Harbor School, one of a handful of public high schools in America whose focus is solely on marine science.

But Bella had to cross Brooklyn and Manhattan to get to the school, which is on Governors Island. That meant getting up before dawn and taking two trains and a ferry. She did that five days a week for nine months out of the year. For four years. But to Bella, it was worth it.

“That experience at the Harbor School,” she says, “led me to Eckerd. It just became normal. You get up at 5:30 a.m. to catch the 8 a.m. ferry to the island. And then traveling to the deepest parts of the harbor, in the middle of January, taking samples from the seafloor … somehow I found joy in that. I was putting myself in an environment where a normal New Yorker would never be.

“It’s a very different perspective, and I fell in love with it,” she adds. “That’s how I decided to go to Eckerd and apply to the marine science program. When I was getting acceptance letters, most of them were from colleges in the Northeast.

“But Eckerd had a completely different vibe. I was used to the cold, and Eckerd was sunshine. And Eckerd has one of the best marine science programs in the country. It just seemed perfect.

So I thought maybe I should give it a try. And my mom was completely supportive, I think because she never had that opportunity when she was my age.”

Bella’s mom, Joann Fernandez, is a single parent from the Dominican Republic. “She’s raising my younger brother and me on her own,” Bella says. “She’s always making sure I’m on my game and that everything is stable. She works a 9-to-5 job and also runs a small business selling homemade cookies and ice creams based on recipes inspired by the Dominican/Brooklyn culture she grew up on. Any way to make money. She’s always working, and I really admire her for that. She’s my biggest role model and my best friend.”

Student walking on the beach alongside professor

Bella Torres walks along South Beach, outside Galbraith Marine Science Laboratory, with her mentor, Professor Wetzel.

At Eckerd, Bella had to put off some opportunities, such as internships, because of the pandemic, and her Winter Term trip to Honduras was canceled. But there is a replacement trip to the Bahamas planned for Spring Break—Cultural and Natural Environments of the World: Bahamas, which will be led by Professor of Marine Science and Geosciences Gregg Brooks, Ph.D., and Marine Science Instructor Rebekka Larson ’01, Ph.D. Bella is signed up.

“I had no idea she had made such an extraordinary effort to get a great education, and one that specialized in marine science,” says Professor of Marine Science and Geosciences Laura Wetzel, Ph.D., Bella’s mentor. “That’s amazing.

“Bella took my Earth Structure course in Spring 2021, and she would stay in class long after others had finished the lab work. I don’t think it ever occurred to her that she could leave her work unfinished. She has a dogged determination that I have rarely seen in others.

“As Bella’s mentor, beyond talking to her about classes, I have listened to her describe her family. As the first member of her family to go to college, she wants to make them all proud, especially her mother. I credit Bella, and her family, for being so positive and determined when it would be easy to quit in the face of adversity.”

“I’m definitely glad I took two trains and a ferry to get here,” Bella adds. “Eckerd not only gifted me amazing friends but has encouraged me to step out of what I’m typically used to.”