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Nine students from universities across the country traveled to FIU this summer as a part of the NSF Coastal Ecosystems Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) to conduct research alongside Institute of Water and Environment faculty and graduate students.

After several weeks of making sampling visits throughout South Florida and analyzing the data in their respective labs, the students showcased their work at the Student Symposium on July 25. Each student presented his or her work to faculty and graduate student mentors, as well as to other experts in the audience. They looked at different aspects of the coastal ecosystems – from the Everglades to mangroves to coral reefs.


Ivanna Ortiz Rivera – University of Puerto Rico

Growing up, Rivera’s older sister motivated her to study science. She first fell in love with the ocean after taking scuba diving lessons and decided to follow her passion of becoming a scientist. Rivera worked with Dr. Jose Erin-Lopez and with CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment (CAChE) graduate student, Javier Rodriguez-Casariego, on seasonal DNA methylation on a type of coral from Culebra, Puerto Rico to observe the influence of seasonal and environmental factors. Rivera aspires to share her knowledge and create awareness about the environment and how our actions impact the planet. 


Christopher Donohue – Florida International University

Donohue, a student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has had a natural inclination towards science since he was young. He is drawn to chemistry for its applications and the greater impacts that science can have on society. He worked with Dr. Francisco Fernandez-Lima on the development of a Drift Tube Ion Mobility Spectrometer for accurate mobility measurements. After this summer, Donohue hopes to continue working in Dr. Lima’s lab for semesters to come.


David Banisakher – Saint Leo University

A computer science major with a minor in business management, Banisakher grew up in a “science-oriented family” which inspired him to study computer science. He was also encouraged by his older brother, who is a graduate student at FIU. Banisakher worked with Dr. Leonardo BobadillaDr. Gregory Reis and Alejandro Torres to study the power stability of three research buoys used by the CREST CAChE and how to extend their battery life.


Samiris Suleiman – University of Puerto Rico

An environmental science major, Suleiman spends a lot of time in and around the ocean with her father’s non-profit environmental organization, Sociedad Ambiente Marino. She looks up to her father and credits him as her inspiration to follow her passion to help protect the ocean. She worked alongside Dr. Alex Mercado to study how food quality impacts the physiology of mosquito fish. Suleiman measured how different types of foods impact mosquito fish growth, reproduction and survival.


Harbria Gardner – Florida A&M University

Gardner, an environmental science student, has always enjoyed science courses in school because of how she was able to apply what she learned. During the REU, she collected water samples throughout South Florida to study the presence of micro-plastics, including how much is found in aquatic environments and what types of plastics are observed. Gardner worked with Dr. Piero GardinaliSteven Landeweer and Brian Ng. She aims to use her research as her senior thesis.


Kai Scarangella – Hamilton College

An environmental science undergraduate with a focus in chemistry and a minor in biology, Scarangella first discovered a passion for protecting nature when her mother took her on a hike to White Mountain in New Hampshire. She worked in Dr. Michael Ross’s lab with CREST CAChE graduate student, Melinda Paduani, detecting and quantifying microplastics in soil samples from different mangrove sites in South Florida. Scarangella hopes to later compare the results she collected in Miami to others she will collect in New York. Ultimately, she hopes to earn a PhD and become the director of a research institute.


Jonathan Chapman – University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo

A marine sciences major, Chapman previously worked in broadcasting before seeking out organizations where he felt he could make a difference. He worked at the Aquatic Ecology and Ecotoxicology Lab with Dr. Jone Corrales and former CREST CAChE REU student, Rose Santana. He looked at prey-predator interactions and physiological components of fish when they’re exposed to concentrations of copper. One of Chapman’s main goals for the summer was to expand his horizons, gain a great amount of lab experience and assist with writing a publication that can help scientists in the future.


D’Shaunique Walters – University of the Virgin Islands

Majoring in biology, Walters has always been drawn to the outdoors and to science. Her passion led her to study biology, and this summer she studied “green infrastructure” and how phosphorus in mangrove ecosystems are influenced by anthropogenic stressors. Working with Dr. Tiffany Troxler’s Wetland Ecosystem Research Lab and with CREST CAChE graduate student, Marbelys Garriga, Walters gained extensive research experience.


Harrison Mancke – Florida International University

A marine biology undergraduate student, Mancke says she was inspired by marine biologist Sylvia Earle. Mancke hopes to contribute knowledge to areas of our oceans where there is still a lot to be learned. She worked in the Aquatic Ecology and Ecotoxicology Lab with Drs. Todd Crowl and Jone Corrales, as well as with former CREST CAChE REU student, Rose Santana. Mancke is working alongside another REU student and will be continuing a study that looks at prey-predator interactions and physiological components when they’re exposed to concentrations of copper.


Joshua Linenfelser – Florida International University

An REU student with the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research (FCELTER) program, Linenfelser likes to spend much of his time in the ocean. He worked with Dr. Jennifer Rehage’s lab and with CREST CAChE graduate student, Cody Eggenberger to study trophic dynamics and how the movements and diets of recreational gamefish are affected by changes in Everglades habitats. He plans on earning a PhD in marine biology.


Andreina Contreras – Florida International University

A biology undergraduate and REU student with the FCE LTER program, Contreras has always loved understanding how things work. She realized early on that science could help provide the answers to many of her questions. Contreras worked with Dr. John Kominoski’s lab and with CREST CAChE grad student, Matt Smith, to look at the decomposition of leaf litter in the Everglades and measure the rates of change in response to saltwater intrusion. She hopes to have a positive impact on the environment in the years to come.


For more information about the NSF Coastal Ecosystems Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site and information about applying for the next cohort, visit the webpage.