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Six Eckerd College students awarded the 2024 NOAA Hollings Scholarship

By Robbyn Hopewell
Published April 11, 2024
Categories: About Eckerd, Academics, Awards, Student Research, Students

Clockwise from top left: Sophomore Hollings Scholars Samantha Cuson, Lydia Hughes, Mikaela Serio, Riley Stoppa, Clara Oxford and Elizabeth Pellegrini; photos by Penh Alicandro ’22

Elizabeth Pellegrini’s decision to transfer to Eckerd College to study marine science in Fall 2023 is already paying dividends. The sophomore from Hereford, Maryland, is one of six Eckerd students to win the coveted 2024 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship.

The NOAA Hollings Scholarship provides up to $9,500 per year for two years of full-time study and a 10-week, full-time, paid internship at a NOAA facility for Summer 2025. Since the program’s launch in 2005, 115 Eckerd students have become Hollings Scholars.

“Since beginning at Eckerd this fall, I have met some of the most amazing and caring faculty …,” Elizabeth says.

“My professors have shaped me into a confident scientist—and student—and I am extremely grateful for my time at Eckerd so far. The opportunities for hands-on learning are endless, and being able to learn about the local community where I am studying is extremely important to me.”

Eckerd’s 2024 Hollings Scholars also include sophomores: Samantha Cuson, a marine science student from Richmond Hill, Georgia; Lydia Hughes, a marine science student from Hampton, Virginia; Clara Oxford, a marine science student from Bangor, Pennsylvania; Mikaela Serio, a marine science student from Bountiful, Utah; and Riley Stoppa, an animal studies and mathematics student from Detroit, Michigan.

Riley was sitting outside of the Sheen Environmental Studies building on April 1 checking emails when a flood of 14 notifications came in at once. “I started sifting through the subjects, not even looking at the senders, and I saw something that looked a little odd,” she says. “Not even thinking, I opened it, and all I saw was the word ‘Congratulations!’  I sat there with my mouth wide open in shock. I was so happy—could even cry—and was shaking. I was so excited and, honestly, I was in utter disbelief. When you work so hard for something, and put in so much time and effort, it’s almost hard to believe it when it all works out.”

All six winners were notified via email on April 1 and immediately notified their parents and Eckerd College Assistant Dean of Faculty Kat Robinson, Ph.D., who played an important role in their application processes. And this was no joke.

“The professors and advisers of Eckerd were really my main aids when it came to my application to Hollings,” Mikaela says. “My mentor, Dr. [William] Szelistowski, told me I could be a good fit considering my academic performance, and Dr. Kat, from the [Bevan] Center for Academic Excellence, really shepherded me and a bunch of other applicants through the whole process. Her guidance really helped me refine my application into something that the NOAA would be impressed by.”

Following an orientation in the summer of 2024, winners will be assigned to a NOAA facility or partner organization for an internship in Summer 2025. Organizers arrange the placements, but the students can dream.

“I would love to work with NOAA to monitor the ecological impacts the stony coral tissue loss disease outbreak in the Caribbean has on higher trophic levels,” Lydia explains. “Conducting research that has real, tangible conservation implications has always been my aspiration, and I’m so grateful to NOAA and Eckerd for helping me make this dream a reality.”