Our Interns

Student Spotlight - Summer of 2017

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Team Boca de Tomatlan in Mexico consisted of Shelli Hendricks, a Ph.D. candidate at Fielding University and Kelly Scammon a Marine Biology major at Roger Williams. They snorkeled 18 transects at Los Arcos marine reserve and documented illegal fishing activities to determine the faunal assemblage and threats. Shelli is using successes and lessons learned from The Science Exchange’s 62 interns for her social science dissertation.

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 Kylie Blattman, a biology major at San Diego State studied the sand temperatures at Boca de Tomates nesting beach in Mexico. She found a significant relationship between high sand temperatures which can kill sea turtle eggs and sea level pressure which is expected to increase with climate change.

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Dylan Garbarini is a Biology major at St. Michael’s college and worked at Majahuas sea turtle camp in Mexico. His project was to determine the predation rates of sea turtle nest by mammals in the bordering jungle. He used two methods, footprint traps and motion detector cameras.

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Justine Thompson at Florida Gulf Coast University majors in Environmental Studies. She worked with Ph.D. candidate Beth Whitman to characterize fibropapilloma virus outbreaks on green sea turtles around Abaco, Bahamas.

Student Spotlight - Summer of 2016

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Team TSE Abaco, Bahamas includes: Laura Thorton from University of Miami y, Liberty Boyd at Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University, and Ryley Parent, a recent graduate from San Diego State University (from right to left). They spent their days going out on the water and snorkeling to collect data for a Ph.D. thesis under former Science Exchange intern Beth Whitman. Laura presented at the 2016 Biosciences conference and 2017 North American Echinoderm Conference. Ryley gave an oral presentation and Liberty a poster at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in Las Vegas 2017.

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Our first high school interns, Tim and Darby Gaffney (middle)  accompanied their parents during a three week study of tourist and turtle interactions in Akumal, Mexico.  Click here to see their poster  presented at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in Las Vegas.

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Team Mayto, Mexico at right consists of Jordan Pares-Kane at Cornell University and Shelley Martinez at University of San Diego. They are repeating the sand temperature and elevation studies started in 2014 by former interns Jay and Jake (below).

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Elizabeth Kocek started out as an intern in San Diego while finishing her masters program at UCSD in Global Policy. After graduating she became our Development Officer. Major accomplishments include a white paper on the benefits of studying abroad for STEM majors which she presented at a UCSD graduate student TED talk contest. She also helped develop a financial strategic plan for our non-profit organization. She has lived in many countries and speaks multiple languages.

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Jourdan Thomas, a dual major in fisheries and wildlife and forestry at the University of Missouri lived with Kara (right) at the open air Mayto camp in Mexico. The repeated elevation surveys of the nesting beach done in 2014. With the data they calculated rate of change over time and made predictions about sea level rise in the area. Jourdan returned to Mexico to live the next year. She works part time as a NOAA fisheries observer.

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 Kara Hiebert, a biology major at Bethel College worked with Jourdan on the sea level rise research. She got into vet school at the University of Illinois! Read her published her work with Jay Shaker from 2014 in the Journal of Global Ecology and Environment.

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Susana Najera majored in biology at SDSU received the MHIRT grant in 2015. She tested surface and ocean waters for E. Coli and collecting data on ambient indicators in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico. Susana presented her poster at the Student Research Symposium at SDSU. Check out her poster here! She was accepted for a research position at Harvard medical school!

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Megan Malone majored in public health at SDSU and received the MHIRT grant. With Susana she tested surface and ocean waters for E. Coli. Megan presented a poster at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Seattle. Susana presented her poster at the Student Research Symposium at SDSU. Check out her poster here! She is going for a masters in global health at University of Washington.

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Left to right – Jeremy Zaida is a biology major at SDSU, Jose Santana is a marine biology major, and Regine Troissou is a sustainable tourism major at the Instituto Technologico de Bahia de Banderas. They make up a trinational team from the U.S, Mexico, and Haiti (respectively). With the help of the Waitt Foundation and Sea World Conservation Fund, they are performing baseline NOAA protocol trash surveys in 3 different land use zones, and using the SWOT protocol to estimate the sea turtle population.

Student Spotlight - Summer of 2014

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Sara Amour (right) attended SDSU in biology and was the MHIRT grant recipient for 2014. She worked closely with Regina Valentino (Stonybrook University, Biology) in Sayulita, Mexico on the first ever Characterization of E. Coli in recreational waters of the Riviera Nayarit, Mexico and possible implications for human and marine ecosystem health study. After graduation, Regina went to La Flor Nicaragua to work on an olive ridley arribada nesting beach.

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Jay Shaker (left) attends Rensselaer Poly Tech and majors in Engineering. Jake Cecelski (UNC Wilmington, Biology) were “Team Mayto”, in Mayto, Mexico. They lived and cooked under palapas, and after monitoring for sea turtles on 14 km of pristine beaches, they implemented a comprehensive climate change study. They profiled sand temperatures and elevations, along with their predicted levels in 2100 for their study area. Jay was accepted at Carnegie-Melon Engineering graduate program and published a paper with Kara Heibert. Click here to see the article.

Claire Andrews (right) was a recent San Diego State graduate in Biology and chose to enrich her resume by doing research with Ashley Comerfield, a biology student at Oregon State. They implemented the same pollution study that former intern Julia Ramos (2011) and others have carried out on Costa Rican nesting beaches – characterizing the type, size, and density of pollution for NOAA, and correlating the densities with turtle activity for wildlife managers. Ashely continued her conservation work as an intern in the Galpagos Islands.

Claire Andrews (right) was a recent San Diego State graduate in Biology and chose to enrich her resume by doing research with Ashley Comerfield, a biology student at Oregon State. They implemented the same pollution study that former intern Julia Ramos (2011) and others have carried out on Costa Rican nesting beaches – characterizing the type, size, and density of pollution for NOAA, and correlating the densities with turtle activity for wildlife managers. Ashely continued her conservation work as an intern in the Galpagos Islands.

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Beth Whitman (second from left) was an intern for the Science Exchange in San Diego. She became a Ph.D. student at Florida International University and does sea turtle research in the Caribbean. She is now on the Advisory Board of and one of our top supervisors at the Science Exchange! Click here to watch a short video about her research.

Student Spotlight - Summer of 2013

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Juan David Roulliard  was an Environmental Science major at Westminster College, and was trained to implement the first ever strip transect in time survey on the olive ridley mass nesting beach at Isla Canas, Panama. However, the arribada never occurred so the team performed pollution surveys and helped protect eggs and nesting turtles from poachers who previously took 100% of the eggs. He now works as a Biotechnition at a a lab in Salt Lake City.

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Brett Birdwell (right) was a Bio Major and MHIRT grant recipient at San Diego State University. He lived with a host family on Isla Canas, Panama  Click here to see the poster presented at_ISTS_in New Orleans 2014. Brett went on to intern with Accion Verde in Colombia and work at a sea turtle project called LAST in Costa Rica and now works as an Agricultural Inspector for the County of San Diego.

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Tammy Wilson at left (was a Bio major, UC San Diego) partnered with Karlee Weiler to her right (Mass Communications major, Colorado University) at Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica. They repeated the NOAA Marine Debris study performed the previous year and compared the results over time, as well as creating a social media project to get the word out about how pollution effects nesting beaches we what we can do to help. Click here to see Karlee’s project! Tammy secured a position at the sea turtle lab at Scripps Institute and now works at a Biotech lab in Los Angeles.

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Makenna Martin (Bio major, UC Santa Cruz) partnered with Cori Cramer  (Bio major, Univ. of Michegan). They rotated between 3 different nesting beaches in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, protecting turtles and implementing the NOAA pollution surveys. Cori got into the Masters program in Ecology at SDSU and Makenna is getting her Masters degree at Florida Atlantic University! Cori and Makenna both presented at the ISTS 2014 in New Orleans. Click here to see their poster! 

Student Spotlight – Summer 2012

Alyssa Giffin (Australian national attending Hawaii Pacific University as a Marine Biology major), Kristen Zemaitis (Bio Major, Grand State University), and Lizette Guzman-Zaragoza (Bio Major and MHIRT grant recipient at San Diego State University) were implementing the first ever country-wide WWF climate change impact analysis on 3 sea turtle nesting beaches in Costa Rica. They collected data on beach parameters using the same equipment during the same study period and predicted the impacts of rising air temperatures on survivability and female/male sex ratios of future hatchlings. See their poster from the International Sea Turtle Symposium 2013 and click here to see Kristen’s poster presented at the Western Michegan Student Research Sysmposium. Liz and Alyssa got into graduate school and are preparing a manuscript for publication of the data from the 2012 cohort. Kristen landed a job as AmeriCorps Research Technician at Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

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Lauren Piorkowsi (Marine Science major, Kutztown University), Kari Gerhke (Marine Biology major, San Francisco State University), and Emily Kuzmick (Environmental Science major, Ohio University) implemented a similar ground-breaking study on the effects of beach pollution on 3 sea turtle nesting beaches in Costa Rica. Their research questions were what types and sizes of pollution are found on the nesting beach, what is the rate of accumulation, and is trash density correlated to nesting activity? Emiliy became a Teaching Assistant while getting her MS in Environmental Studies and doing research with the BIOS department at Ohio State. See Kari’s ISTS Presentation from 2013. Kari and Emily got into graduate school, and Lauren worked at Padre Island NS Division of Sea Turtle Science & Recovery.

Ricardo Espino (Biology major at SDSU and also a recipient of the MHIRT grant recipient) was stationed at Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica and worked capturing turtles from boats. Once back at the “beach hospital”, the team took blood and tissue samples, turtles were measured and tagged, and returned to sea. He mapped turtle foraging habitat with GPS. He is now an Educator at Sea World! Jennifer Cheatham (International Business Major, SDSU) was fulfilling her required international business internship credits on 3 beautiful beaches in Costa Rica! Her project was to interview sea turtle camp stakeholders and develop a business and marketing plan for a start-up sea turtle camp. She now works as a Systems Analysts for an Defense and Space company.

Student Spotlight – Summer 2011

Gabriela Ponce, a Biology major at SDSU was supported by the MHIRT grant from National Institute of Health. She worked in Punta Banco Costa Rica where she helped monitor nesting sea turtles at night, and measured the physical aspects of the nesting beach such as sand humidity and grain size as a baseline for future global warming studies. Gabi is an Ecology masters student at San Francisco State!

 Veronica Pollan was an Environmental Studies major from Florida International University working in Quintana Roo, Mexico where she snorkeled transects of Akumal Bay recording the turtles, their behavior, their habitat and tourist interactions with GPS. She also helped monitor nesting sea turtles at night.

Marielle Livesey was a Conservation Biology masters student at Antioch University doing her thesis on global warming effects on the sea turtle nesting beaches at Akumal. She analyzed female nest site preferences and the relationship with hatching success. Click here to read her published paper!

Kim Valma was a Biology major at SDSU and was also supported by the MHIRT grant from National Institute of Health. She worked in Punta Banco Costa Rica where she helped monitor nesting sea turtles at night, and measured the slope of the as a baseline for future global warming studies related to sea level rise.

.Julia Ramos (far right) is a Biology and Women’s Studies major at Chapel Hill University. She was in Costa Rica doing the first NOAA protocol plastics survey of her nesting beach, where she also monitored the female turtles who come ashore nightly. She published in the  Marine Turtle Newsletter July 2012. Also  Check out the poster from ISTS 2012!  Julia subsequently volunteered in Africa and got into John Hopkins medical school.

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Student Spotlight – Summer 2010

Nicole Gabriel, a psychology major, worked in Quintana Roo, Mexico where she monitored sea turtle nesting activity at night, protecting nesting females, informing tourists about sea turtle conservation, and recording data on the nesting activities. During the day she administered a survey of tourists’ and locals’ understanding of sea turtle protection. Click here to see her poster presented at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in San Diego in 2011. She now works at Ashford University.
Nick Furst, a biology major at SDSU, helped on night patrols translocating sea turtles nests to the hatchery. During the day he took slope measurements of the beach and temperature readings of the sand and air near the hatchery and at different nesting locations. His work was presented at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in San Diego. Click here to see their power point.

Allie Baxter was an Environmental Science major performed the same sand temperature study as Nick but on the East Coast, using a hygrometer/thermometer for the ambient air conditions and thermometers in the sand at various locations. She is also co-published with Nick at the Symposium in San Diego and at The SDSU Undergraduate Student Research Symposium in 2011.


Cody Smith, a biology major at SDSU, interviewed locals near his camp  on their knowledge of sea turtle poaching  and helped monitor nesting females at night in Jalisco. He is now in medical school at Arizona State!

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Student Spotlight – Summer 2009

Monica Rosquillas, an International Security and Conflict Resolution major, worked in Quintana Roo, Mexcio. Monica monitored sea turtle nesting activity and led tours during night-time nesting patrols. During the day she snorkeled for one hour taking photos of tourists interacting with turtles in the bay ,and administered a survey of tourists’ understanding of sea turtle protection.  Her work is published in the proceedings of the 2010 International Sea Turtle Symposium held in India. Click here to see the poster! Monica was the environmental education coordinator at I Love a Clean San Diego and currently is a travelling blogger see “Girl for a Clean World.”

Sonia Woodbury, a masters graduate from Audubon University in MA, worked for 3 months in La Paz, Baja California Sur with UABCS. She helped with sea turtle tracking and net-capture projects and also mapped sea grass and algae foraging habitat while SCUBA diving in Ojo de Liebre, Magdalena Bay, Punta Abreojos, Laguna San Ignacio, and Isla Espiritu Santos. She published an article in Spanish in a local La Paz newspaper on previous UABCS Marine Lab research. She helped rescue sea turtles during the BP oil spill.

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Jeff Treister, a Geography Major, worked in Costa Rica. He helped on night patrols translocating sea turtles nests to the hatchery. During the day he took slope measurements of the beach and interviewed local residents on beach morphology changes over the last 10 and 20 years.

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Student Spotlight – Summer 2008

Daniel Soares (far right) graduated from SDSU with an Environmental Science major. His internship involved taking slope and sand grain profiles to try to predict sea level rise effects on the nesting beaches of concern at San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. His research was published at the 2009 Grupo Tortuguero conference and in 2010 International Sea Turtle Symposium held in India. Click here to see their poster! Daniel went on to work at the National Forest Service and the USGS in HI.

Sarah Maxey – Biology major at SFSU – took sand temperature and humidity at different beaches and elevations to try to determine the impact of rising air temperatures on sand temperatures, and subsequently, the survival of sea turtle eggs that are deposited. Sarah’s work was published at the Sea Turtle Network of the Californias Conference in 2009. She helped rescue sea turtles during the BP oil spill.

Jeff Weaver – Environmental Science/Environmental Engineering major at SDSU- took slope and sand grain measurements, and, in addition, collected and classified trash found on the beach. Jeff continued on to work saving wolves in Colorado. He now has his own non-profit for bees! habitathoney.org

Chris Hurtado – Business major/Art minor at SDSU- measured the relationships between air temperatures and nest temperatures.

Click here to see our interns on U TUBE

Listen to a group radio interview with the University of Guadalajara 104.3 FM (skip to minutes 1:13 – 1:35).

Student and Parent Comments

Click on our many ratings and reviews at GoOverseas.com and GoAbroad.com

The placement was challenging in itself in terms of the isolation of camp from civilization, which gave me another opportunity for personal growth…I was able to see and learn so much about the wildlife that surrounded us and I felt very connected to the conservation work we were doing. The internship was overall a wonderful experience. – Julia

Sitting on the beach, alone, the peace of that beach and the tranquility was amazing. The people in town were also very friendly… this experience has truly changed my life. Chris

The friendships that we made were probably my favorite part of the experience… the Spanish instructors taught me more Spanish than I learned in the previous 10 years of Spanish classes. – Jefe

Everyone treated us like one of their own, showed us their culture, taught us everything we know about the conservation of sea turtles, and I can not wait to see them again! – Chris

My favorite part was releasing babies, watching nesting females, working on the beach was beautiful! – Sarah

I can better dissect information for critical thinking.-  Jeff

My language skills greatly improved. – Cody

This trip made it easier to talk to people who don’t speak English as a first language, I learned to adapt. – Sonia

I would recommend The Science Exchange to others, it was a great experience! – Monica

I would highly recommend this internship to anybody. – Daniel

A completely different style of life and culture. – Jeff

The entire trip was exciting from the beginning when I left the U.S. – Allie

I didn’t realize the amount of content and expertise to perform these tasks and do them well. But now I have a much better idea of what it takes to be a biologist and ecologist. Thank you once again  for giving me this experience of a lifetime.Ricardo

See more intern comments under “Ratings and Reviews” here.

Parent Comments

[My daughter’s] experience has helped her grow and expand her global awareness in ways that would not have been possible without the support of the Science Exchange and the SDSU opportunity. I visited the site for a week to see the work. I found her be exceedingly respected by her peers and mentors as well as responsible and accountable for the work she did each night with the turtles. I greatly appreciate the mentoring you have provided. Her writing and statistical calculation skills have improved as she edited the abstract over several months and she is certainly inspired to excel in her classes and put this passion for the environment to work.

Thank you for all you do to support her and the other young aspiring environmentalists and biologists.