Karissa Lear, of Seattle, named Marsh-Mosakowski NOAA Fellow at Clark University

Senior is studying vital eelgrass at Puget Sound

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Karissa Lear of Clark University

WORCESTER, MA (07/17/2012)(readMedia)-- Clark University student Karissa O. Lear, of Seattle, is studying estuary eelgrasses, based at Padilla Bay (WA) National Estuarine Research Reserve, thanks to a partnership between two Clark institutes and the federal agency charged with watching over the health of our skies and oceans.

Lear is one of only five students to be named a 2012 Marsh-Mosakowski NOAA Fellow. The fellowship program, which includes generous summer research stipends, was established this year by Clark's George Perkins Marsh Institute and Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise, in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lear's research entails monitoring the eelgrasses that thrive along the mouth of the Skagit River at Puget Sound. The reserve is managed by NOAA and the Washington State Department of Ecology. According to the Padilla Bay Reserve website, eelgrass is "valuable because it is habitat for wildlife and commercially harvested animals. Eelgrass is used as a nursery by salmon, crab, perch, and herring. Eelgrass is also home for millions of worms, shrimp, clams, and other invertebrates that are food for great blue herons, eagles, otters, seals, as well as humans."

Lear is assisting the Reserve's monitoring team with a number of ongoing monitoring projects, including water quality and plankton monitoring. The goal is to track changes in the density, biomass, and species composition of the eelgrass over time. She has been collecting cleaning and weighing samples of eelgrass from several sites. "I am learning a lot about how biomonitoring works and about the ecosystems in Padilla Bay," she writes. "I am excited to get out in the field again and to start the next big survey."

Professor Deborah Robertson of the Biology Department at Clark is Lear's faculty mentor.

"I am thrilled to be part of the first round of joint Clark-NOAA interns," Lear says. "This fellowship will give me practical experience that will be valuable for my academic career at Clark and beyond."

Lear, who majors in biology, will be a senior this fall at Clark, where she is also a Traina Scholar and recipient of the 2012 Jefferson Prize. She is also active in club soccer, Simphonia (Clark's chamber orchestra) and is a Peer Advisor as well as Peer Learning Assistant for the Introductory Biology class. She graduated in 2009 from Garfield High School, in Seattle.

At a spring-semester reception for the 2012 NOAA fellows, Mosakowski Institute Director James Gomes noted that their work illustrates the perfect union of research and practice. The partnership, he said, was the result partly of a visit to Clark last year by top NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who spoke about strides that have been made, as well as the ongoing challenges, in developing a sustainable future.

Professor Robert Johnston, director of the Marsh Institute, said the NOAA partnership links Clark students with scientists and peer-to-peer researchers from around the country. Johnston noted the program is emblematic of the University's adoption of Liberal Education and Effective Practice, which deepens students' education by combining classroom learning with real-world engagement. "This is the sort of thing that LEEP is all about," he said.

Founded in 1887 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Clark University is a small, liberal arts-based research university addressing social and human imperatives on a global scale. Nationally renowned as a college that changes lives, Clark is emerging as a transformative force in higher education today. LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) is Clark's pioneering model of education that combines a robust liberal arts curriculum with life-changing world and workplace experiences. Clark's faculty and students work across boundaries to develop solutions to contemporary challenges in the areas of psychology, geography, management, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. The Clark educational experience embodies the University's motto: Challenge convention. Change our world.