Grad Student Profiles

Get to Know Our Current Graduate Students

Gabby is on the beach with some instruments collecting samples.

Gabriela Yamhure Acosta

I am a third year graduate student. My research looks to investigate if barnacle larvae undergo diel vertical migration. I will examine how larvae alternate their vertical position in the water column during a 24-hour period in the nearshore waters of La Jolla, and relate their distribution with the hydrographic and hydrodynamic conditions. I hope to understand how barnacle larvae, specifically cyprids, behave under varying physical processes to control the direction in which they are advected. 

Caitlynn and Michael Scott her advisor.

Abby Bierzychudek 

I am a second year graduate student studying the distribution of mobile fauna along the salinity gradient of Los Peñasquitos Lagoon. I am also interested in how increased amounts of anthropogenic freshwater runoff will affect the mobile fauna communities. I graduated with my B.S. in zoology from Colorado State University. I came to San Diego because of my love for marine biology, and I chose to continue my education at USD because of my advisors and the close knit community. 

Caitlynn and Michael Scott her advisor.

Caitlynn Birch

I’m a third year graduate student studying the effects of changing ocean conditions on the association between yellowfin tuna and tropical dolphins in the eastern Pacific Ocean (ETP). I’m studying the tuna-dolphin association over three temporal scales; seasonally, through ENSO phases, and over the long-term. I’ll mostly be analyzing the spatial distribution of the association and associated oceanography, to determine if changing ocean conditions are causing an expansion of the oceanographic area that fosters this relationship. However, I will also be analyzing how incidental dolphin mortality in fishing nets may be shifting as a result of these changing ocean conditions. I received my undergraduate degree in Biology from University of San Francisco, and spent a year after graduating working at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, as well as the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems lab at UC Santa Cruz. I chose USD primarily for my advisor, Dr. Scott of IATTC, and the opportunity to continue working with marine mammals. USD is a small community with an emphasis on close faculty mentorships and the written and oral communication of scientific results, which has been wonderful for my in-progress transformation into a real scientist!

Caitlynn and Michael Scott her advisor.

Grace Cawley

Hi! I’m a first-year graduate student apart of the BA/MS program here. I graduated in May 2019 from USD with a degree in marine ecology. I am from Salem, Massachusetts, and as a result say “wicked” a lot. My research looks at phytoplankton in marine snow aggregates, and the different characteristics of phytoplankton that influence copepod ingestion. In short, phytoplankton form aggregates, and I want to know what about these aggregates potentially make them tasty! When I am not in the lab (which is not often), I enjoy getting outside and soaking up some Vitamin D, I enjoy anything regarding water, going to farmers markets, exploring San Diego, baking baked goods, and figuring out the perfect vanilla ice cream to root beer ratio! I am also a graduate assistant in the EOSC department. I choose USD because of the supportive and welcoming community; all the professors want to see you succeed and it’s a cool place to live and learn. #PlanktonRock

 Riley stands on the ship.

Riley Henning

I am in my first year of graduate work in the new BA/MS combined degree program. I am originally from Atlanta, Ga, and I finished my undergraduate degree at USD in May of 2019. I am excited to develop my undergraduate research experience into a master’s thesis. My research is centered on marine snow formation. Specifically, I use stereoscopic imaging to track phytoplankton aggregates in 3D. I hope to be able to track collisions and formation of these aggregates to get a better understanding of how marine snow forms, since it is an important part of the carbon cycle and the biological pump, bringing lots of carbon down to the deep ocean. I also work as an instructor at a local art school, and in my free time I like to golf, backpack, and surf. My favorite part about the Environmental and Ocean Sciences department is how close-knit both the faculty and students are. Everyone is always willing to lend a hand and provide guidance, so it is a community that works together very well.

 Riley stands on the ship.

Ravleen Kaur Khalsa-Basra

I am a 2nd graduate student, studying hydraulic variables and geographic influences on the Los Peñasquitos Creek. My study is a quantitative analysis on the baseline measurements for grain size, potential trace metal contamination, organic matter content, and fluvial geomorphology.  The field work included surveying and sampling methods and the laboratory protocols incorporate particle size analysis (sieving and LPSA), X-Ray Fluorescence (for metals), Loss on Ignition (organic matter), GIS (mapping and analysis) and possible future hydraulic modeling. These baseline measurements can provide information for watershed management and for future research for impact on freshwater/wetland communities or even sources of contamination.

I graduated from Towson University (MD) with a BS in Chemistry, worked in Chemistry, Quality and Regulatory Sciences on Personalized Medicines/Therapeutics for 3 years in Maryland and San Diego. I moved to San Diego to pursue Environmental Sciences. I worked as a tech in a laboratory at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and decided I preferred to work with freshwater systems.  The primary reasons I chose USD was because of the small department size, opportunities, the overall community, the cleanliness of the lab spaces and the beauty of the campus!

Angela is on a boat with snow. 

Angela Klemmedson

I am a fourth year graduate student researching the population dynamics of Antarctic mesopelagic fishes in response to environmental variability. I’m using otoliths (fish ear stones) to collect age and growth rate information for the myctophid species Gymnoscopelus nicholsi over the past 20 years. Understanding the population dynamics of this ecosystem component is important for understanding the stability of the Antarctic ecosystem, which is one of the fastest warming regions on the planet. In 2013, after earning my BA in Biology and Environmental Studies from Gonzaga University (Spokane, WA), I moved to San Diego and worked for California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) for three years before deciding to continue my education. I chose USD because of its proximity to marine science resources, including collaborators such as NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In addition to my research, I also work for the EOSC department as a Physical Science Graduate Assistant, responsible for prepping geology labs and desert field trips. I am happy to be a part of the USD community and the small size of our EOSC program provides increased interaction and support from faculty and other students.

Sam has a hat on and stands in front of some trees.

Samantha Leander

I am a second year graduate student, studying size and sex composition of Delphinus spp. schools in Southern California with Lisa Ballance and John Durban at NOAA SWFSC. My research aims to better understand school structure in common dolphins, which can then aid in answering questions regarding susceptibility to anthropogenic disturbance and habitat preference of the species. I received a Bachelor's degree from UC Santa Barbara, where I majored in Biology through the College of Creative Studies. During my undergraduate studies, I was a part of the McCauley lab and completed an internship with elephant seals at Point Reyes National Seashore. Since graduating, I have worked as an ecology tech at Cabrillo National Monument and SPAWAR and a marine science instructor at SeaCamp San Diego. I chose USD because the EOSC faculty have a wide array of backgrounds and work with many different institutions, which has been instrumental in shaping me into a well-rounded scientist.

Stephanie stands by the ocean holding a sea hare.

Stephanie Nemeth

I am a second year graduate student studying rockfish at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center with Dr. Nick Wegner. In particular, I am examining rockfish tolerance to low oxygen, or hypoxia, and how this tolerance is affected by barotrauma. Rockfish are a commercially important, deep dwelling species that experience barotrauma when they are fished from depth.  The quick reduction in pressure causes the gasses in the swim bladder to expand, injuring the fish.  Understanding the relationship between hypoxia and barotrauma can therefore improve catch and release success, assisting in management of this over harvested species.  
I graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 2016 with a BA in zoology and environmental science with a minor in neuroscience.  I then worked for two and a half years at SeaWorld San Diego where I was an associate trainer at Shamu Stadium as well as an animal trainer at the Pets Rule show.  Having pursued my childhood dream of training animals for a few years, I then decided to make a return to the science world by pursuing my masters degree at USD.  It is wonderful to be back in the academic world, and the EOSC department is the perfect place for me to earn my degree.

Marisol on a boat.

Marisol Palomares

I am a third year graduate student and I am studying algal wrack community composition on a sandy beach here in San Diego. I am interested in community abundance and diversity of wrack associated macrofauna within algal wrack over time. Algal wrack makes up the majority of organic material on sandy beaches, and is used as a food source and habitat for a variety of organisms. The practice of beach grooming removes algal wrack, which is detrimental to the sandy beach ecosystem. I hope to increase understanding and awareness about the importance of algal wrack over time on beaches. I'm from central Texas, and graduated from Rice University in Houston in 2015 with a B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology. After traveling and living abroad, I decided to attend USD since they offered the program I wanted and the proximity to the ocean. I currently work as a graduate assistant for the science building manager, and as a graduate assistant for the EOS department, where I feed and maintain the aquariums. I really enjoy working with my adviser, Dr. Drew Talley, and I appreciate the small size of the program and the department. 

Lisa stands on a boat.

Lisa Robison

I am a third year graduate student researching the life history and site fidelity of the California Killifish in Southern California by studying the trace metals in their otoliths (ear stones). I hope my research will help to determine the strength and limitations of otolith microchemistry, and improve our ability to use this methodology to study the habitat connectivity and movement of wetland fishes. As Southern California wetlands face increasing fragmentation, it is imperative to understand how the fishes that rely on these environments will be impacted. I received my B.S. in Environmental Systems (Ecology, Behavior, Evolution) from UC San Diego in 2015. After earning my undergraduate degree, I began work at the Clinical Whole Genome Sequencing Laboratory at Illumina, where I continue to work while in graduate school. I chose to pursue my Master’s degree at USD because of its small class sizes and supportive faculty. The EOSC program provides opportunities to connect with the larger scientific community in San Diego, and I appreciate the passionate faculty and staff in the department.


Rachel is on a boat in the ocean

Rachel Steinberg

I am a third year graduate student researching the dive patterns and movements of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). Whale sharks are now included on the IUCN’s list of endangered species; it is therefore essential to study their movements and what habitats they live in in order to best protect them in the future.

I graduated from University of Miami in 2014 with a BA in Marine Affairs. After graduating, I moved to San Diego and worked at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) for two and half years, first as an administrative/aquaculture assistant, then as a fish technician. USD allowed me to apply with Dr. Brent Stewart, a Senior Research Scientist at HSWRI, as my thesis advisor, who I had already interned with for several summers during undergrad. USD offers exactly what I was looking for in a graduate program; a close community where you can get to know other students and professors in the department as well as great resources and support for your own research. Being able to study in San Diego is also the best added bonus.   

James stands by the ocean.

James Wright

I am in my fourth year in the program and I am researching arsenic transport and mobility; currently focusing on stormwater transport in an ephemeral drainage adjacent to a historical mining site.  This work is significant as arsenic is toxic and its transport from former mine sites has the potential to impact human and ecological health. I received a B.S. in Environmental Chemistry from UCSD in 2006 and currently, I am a research assistant with the EOSC department working on arsenic bioavailability. The primary reason I chose the EOSC master’s program at USD was for the research opportunities and my favorite aspects of this program and department are the faculty-student working relationships and willingness of everyone to help each other out.