Becoming a respected scientist can be a challenging process, but it’s a process that Emily Seelen ’13 seems to be excelling at. After gaining valuable experience in the research labs at Gustavus, Seelen is now pursuing a PhD in oceanography at the University of Connecticut, and was recently awarded a prestigious graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
This is not the first time Seelen has been awarded a fellowship as she also received a Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 when she was a junior at Gustavus. A native of St. Cloud, Seelen graduated from Gustavus with a double major in biology and environmental studies.
“Emily is an incredible individual. She’s brilliant, creative, works hard, and she loves so many aspects of science that, during her time here, she was involved in research projects in three different departments,” said geology and environmental studies professor Laura Triplett. “Receiving a NSF graduate fellowship is a really big deal and I’m thrilled to see her career take off like this.”
The fellowship will provide Seelen with a three-year annual stipend of $32,000, a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, along with opportunities for international research and professional development.
Seelen’s research at Connecticut will focus on methylmercury, a compound generated from inorganic mercury that is highly toxic to fish, human consumers, and other aquatic wildlife. Her methodology will include manipulating marine sediment samples from Long Island Sound to study how different environmental factors, including climate change, impact the propagation of methylmercury in the food web.
At this time, Seelen is unsure of where this research and her PhD will eventually take her career, but she is sure about one thing.
“My goal is to continue to do research that is applicable to human and environmental health,” Seelen said. “Whether that is conducting scientific research to give to policy makers, advising communities on their environmental impact, or becoming a professor to pass my knowledge onto young, eager scientists. I try to keep my options open and take each adventure as it comes.”
Seelen’s adventure with science started at Gustavus where she says she discovered her true passions, both in and out of the classroom.
“Honestly, I would not be who I am today without Gustavus. I gained self-confidence and became more globally aware during my four years there. My eyes were truly opened to all the possibilities life has to offer, and I was given the courage to follow my dreams no matter how wild they might be,” Seelen said. “While I may not always be successful, Gustavus taught me not to be afraid to try, especially when I had such a great community to fall back on. Most importantly, I learned that every person has a voice and I can choose to use my voice in any way that I like to stand up for what I feel is right.”
Seelen achieved that level of self-confidence by working closely with Triplett and fellow Gustavus professor Jeff Jeremiason. One of the advantages of attending a private, liberal arts college like Gustavus is the opportunity students have to collaborate with world-class faculty on research projects as an undergraduate. Seelen took full advantage of those opportunities.
“Working in Jeff and Laura’s labs was amazing. They gave me so much freedom to trust myself in the lab and conduct experiments without constant supervision, but with plenty of guidance,” Seelen said. “This allowed me to develop my problem solving skills and granted me a ton of self-confidence. Without my undergraduate experience, I think I would be lost in grad school. I am definitely taking everything I have learned about working on an independent project and applying it to grad school.”
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