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COA Student Receives Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Posted March 30, 2012, at 2:44 p.m.
Last modified March 30, 2012, at 3:11 p.m.
Kate Shlepr, COA third-year student, banding a chick on Great Duck Island, one of COA's two island research stations
Kate Shlepr, COA third-year student, banding a chick on Great Duck Island, one of COA's two island research stations

BAR HARBOR, Maine—Katherine Shlepr, a third-year student at College of the Atlantic, has received a Goldwater Scholarship from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. The scholarship is given annually based on academic merit to second- and third-year college students planning careers in science and math. Shlepr, who comes from Greenville, WI, and is a graduate of the Hortonville High School, is one of only three students at Maine institutions receiving this honor.

The award is considered the most prestigious given to United States undergraduates working in the sciences; competition is intense. Goldwater Scholars receive $7,500 to offset costs for each remaining year of college. Rachel Sullivan-Lord, a second-year student from Wakefield, RI, and a 2010 graduate of Wakefield High School, received an honorable mention.

Shlepr plans to obtain a PhD in conservation biology. Her goals are to supervise a small lab conducting field research on northern forests. She has been studying the common sea gull and the possible connections between the decrease in sea gull populations by 60 percent from 1996 to 2008 and the success of bald eagle protection.

In her application essay to the Goldwater foundation, Shlepr wrote, “I am a scientist because I am curious about the world, and I am an ecologist because I want to protect the places I love. A year ago, I walked toward the water’s edge at Frenchman Bay, Maine, admiring the ocean’s slate gray and shivering against the winter wind. When I finally focused, I was able to pick out the birds that drifted inconspicuously among the waves. I realized that—like many others—I fail to notice what is always in front of me. This realization is how I became interested in herring gulls.”

Shlepr spent last summer assessing the impact of eagles on the gull colony at Great Duck Island, one of COA’s two island research stations. This summer she will continue the work, coordinating with other researchers along the Maine coast. The research, she says, “represents the beginning of my planned career as a field ecologist.” It is also a start for this young woman to “make a real change in the state’s management of gulls and eagles.”

This quiet determination to make a difference is no surprise to John Anderson, COA’s William H. Drury, Jr. Chair in Evolution, Ecology and Natural History, who said, “It was obvious from the first day of the field season that Kate is a born field ecologist with an intuitive grasp both of her subjects’ behavior and of appropriate hypothesis formation and testing. I have been enormously impressed with her abilities, thoughtfulness, engagement with course material, and interest in the relationship between humans and their environment.” Shlepr presented her work to the Waterbird Society conference in Annapolis, MD last fall; the quality of her research netted her a student travel award to help defray her costs.

The Goldwater program was established by Congress in 1986 in honor of former Sen. Barry Goldwater to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to students who intend to pursue careers in these fields. Each four-year US institution can nominate up to four students.

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is, to enabling students to actively shape its future. A leader in experiential education and environmental stewardship, COA has pioneered a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to learning—human ecology—that develops the kinds of creative thinkers and doers needed by all sectors of society in addressing the compelling and growing needs of our world. For more, visit www.coa.edu.

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