College of Science & Mathematics
Master of Science in Marine & Environmental Science

Current Students-2019 Cohort


Kayla Budd - Kayla grew up in the small town of Hymera, Indiana and earned her B.S. in Ecology and Environmental Biology from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. There the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program encouraged and enabled her to participate in several undergraduate research projects. Through these experiences, Kayla discovered a passion for marine science and fisheries-related research. She hopes to work towards finding effective solutions that work both for the environment and for people who depend upon it. Kayla is currently a graduate student at the University of the Virgin Islands where she is working with Dr. Richard Nemeth to understand whether home ranges of the critically endangered Nassau Grouper differ across a coral reef health gradient.


Kaya Carrion-Banuchi - I was born in Puerto Rico where I was raised to love boats, fishing, and diving. I completed my BS in Florida International University where I was fortunate enough to learn about fieldwork and a research career in marine biology while working in a seagrass ecology lab focused on monitoring seagrass meadows through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Although I loved my time in Miami and the Keys, I still missed life in the Caribbean Islands which led me to St. Thomas. Here in UVI, I am working as a research assistant for Tyler Smith’s lab on ciguatera fish poisoning, a marine food-borne illness caused by the consumption of reef fish containing toxins produced by dinoflagellate species of the genus Gambierdiscus. For my thesis, I am assessing if increased abundance of Gambierdiscus silvae. (exceptionally toxic) drives fish toxicity along a depth gradient. My goal is to protect local fish consumers by informing the public of ciguatoxic fish prevalence across as wide a depth gradient as possible. 

Maksym Cohen - Hello! My name is Maksym Cohen and I graduated from the University of San Diego with degrees in Environmental and Ocean Sciences and International Relations. I spent much of my undergraduate career surveying coastal areas for microplastic density and assessing its impacts on local marine life. My background is in physical oceanography and ocean circulation which has led to my interest in the work of Dr. Sennai Habtes. My research at UVI will be centered on the impacts of wave and current action on Red Grouper larval distribution. I hope that work in this field will create opportunities for myself in fisheries in the future.
costa2 Sophie Costa - Hello! My name is Sophia Costa, and I am originally from Austin, Texas. Growing up in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, I spent countless summer days enjoying the beauty of the lakes and river systems in central Texas. My passion for marine biology grew when I began diving at the age of 11. After graduating from Rhodes College with a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Sciences and minor in Spanish, I moved to Belize in order to pursue a career in marine conservation biology. Since Belize, I have lived in Key Largo, Florida, where I worked as a biologist at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I will be completing my Master’s Thesis working with Dr. Nemeth looking at the effects of the invasive seagrass, Halophila stipulacea, on juvenile yellowtail snapper populations. If you have any questions feel free to contact me at:

Stephanie Hibberts - Since growing up in the middle of the Pacific in the Marshall Islands, I have been passionate about coral reefs and climate change. I graduated from Clemson University with a B.S. in Geology and a minor in Biology while researching paleostorm records in Dominica using foraminiferal assemblages and grain size analysis. I also worked on a project stemming from an internship that used immersive technology to convey impacts of climate change on coral reefs to children in the Marshall Islands. Lastly, I was able to join a research group that studied coral transplants in the Florida Keys. I’ve enjoyed participating in research and science communication efforts and look forward to doing more while at UVI! Contact:

Long Alexys LongMy name is Alexys Long,and I am from southern Maryland, right outside of Washington, D.C. I loved watching documentaries about the ocean when I was a child, which piqued my interest in marine science. I graduated with a B.S. in Biology from Norfolk State University in Spring 2019, where I played four years of Division I college basketball. Through an internship with UCLA during my senior year, I studied the effects of herbivory and nutrients on different size classes of the tropical macroalgaTurbinaria ornata. As a student at UVI, I am eager to learn more about marine ecology and how anthropogenic factors and phase shifts affect ecosystem efficiency and composition on coral reefs.I will be workingin Dr. Tyler Smith’s lab to determine the effects of herbivory and nutrient enrichment on the invasive macroalga Ramicrusta sp.I enjoy community outreach programs and beach clean-ups (especially ones where I get to dive!).
millermad2  Madyson Miller - Hey everyone, my name is Madyson! I'm from Florida and received my undergraduate degree from the University of West Florida with a B.S. in Marine Biology. While at UWF I conducted my own research project looking at Mysid Ingestion of Microplastics from the Great Lakes, study abroad in Indonesia, and experience a 2-day expedition on the R/V W.T. Hogarth with Florida Institute of Oceanography. I'm excited be working in Dr. Cruz-Rivera's lab for my thesis, genotyping seagrasses! My favorite things on island are hanging with the bats (Greater Bulldog Bats are my favorite) and participating in local beach clean ups put on by VI-EPSCoR! 
Olive Danielle Olive - Hi! My name is Danielle Olive and I was born and raised here in St. Thomas, USVI. I graduated with my B.S. in Biology in May of 2019 from the University of the Virgin Islands and chose to further my education here at UVI as well with the MMES Program because of my love for my home and all the exquisite natural resources and organisms we are surrounded by. My previous research experience ranges from exploring current regulations protecting deep-sea coral in U.S waters, the effects of hypoxia on the clearnose skate, as well as hermit crab personality. I have also been involved with various local marine activities through VIMAS such as an assistant instructor for the swimming program and a camp counselor for the Youth Ocean Explorers Program. For my thesis, I will be investigating life history traits and population connectivity of the Mutton Snapper with Dr. Richard Nemeth. I am also particularly fond of shark and ray research and conversation, and in my free time I enjoy snorkeling, photography, reading, and gardening.  
Savage Annie Savage -  Hi I’m Annie Savage. I’m from Arkansas and received my undergraduate degree from Arkansas State University for Environmental Science with a minor in Marine Science. I knew I was interested in Marine Biology since I was a little girl. I loved books on fossils and dinosaurs and was a big fan of nature documentaries. My passion for these convinced me that I wanted to pursue a career where I could spend all day in nature. Of all the places on the planet, I found the ocean to be the most mysterious and interesting and I knew that I wanted to spend my time learning all I can about the it and the creatures that live in it. Currently, I’m a master’s student in the MMES 2019 cohort under the joint advisor ship of Dr. Paul Sikkel and Dr. Marilyn Brandt. For my thesis, I plan to explore how the arrival of Stony Coral Tissue Lost Disease and its impact on St. Thomas coral reef communities has altered the amount of fish ectoparasites within the reef systems. While here in St. Thomas, I look forward to exploring the island better and to getting to know the local community better through outreach and volunteer opportunities. 
Vaughn Kelsey Vaughn- I am from Fayetteville, Arkansas. I graduated from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science with a concentration in Equine Sciences. I worked as a research assistant in the Animal Science department and uncovered an interested and affinity for research. From a young age I have always had a deep passion and interest in animals and a love and curiosity for the ocean. My interest in marine biology then led me to an internship at an aquarium and rehabilitation center in North Carolina. As a first year MMES student, I have decided to pursue my passion for sea turtles. My thesis project will focus on the relationship between total wave energy and other oceanographic effects on sea turtle bay use and selection in the bays of St. Thomas. 

Matthew Souza - Hi, I grew up in Massachusetts with the ocean an hour drive to my east and the mountains to my north and west. My childhood was spent camping, hiking and spending time on Cape Cod.  I received my B.S. degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in marine science and minors in biology and environmental anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. While there I worked as a laboratory assistant in the Byrnes Laboratory and assisted in a study looking at the impact of rising sea levels on salt marsh zonation.  My undergraduate research project examined factors influencing crab species abundance and distribution in Nantucket seagrass beds. After graduation, I worked as a teaching assistant at Shoals Marine Laboratory in Maine. My research interests include the interaction between anthropological impacts and the coastal marine habitats. At  UVI I will be studying the impacts of the invasive seagrass (Halophila stipulaceaon) on the queen conch (Lobatus gigas) under the mentorship of Dr. Edwin Cruz-Rivera.  I enjoy teaching and am currently a teaching assistant in the undergraduate class, Natural World:The Caribbean. My hobbies include skiing, biking, hiking, and anything on the water. 

2018 Cohort - Current Students

arrington pic Brad Arrington - Hi I’m Brad Arrington! I grew up in Minnesota and got my undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota in Scientific and Technical Communications. My interest in marine biology arose when I first got certified to scuba dive in Mexico at 13 years old. I’ve loved diving ever since and decided that with Climate Change impacting the reefs I should do more than just complain in Minneapolis, so I joined the MMES program to make positive impacts on the environment (and escape Minnesota winters!). I will be looking at how coral recruitment is affected by sponges and macroalgae with Dr. Marilyn Brandt. Contact:
Diana Olivia Diana - Good Day! My name is Olivia Diana. I am originally from Massachusetts but finished my undergrad at Virginia Wesleyan University with a B.S. in Biology. Three months later I moved to Saint Thomas, USVI to pursue my masters and work with Dr. Cruz Rivera on comparing beaches for microplastic density depending on the sargassum density. I completed research on using death assemblages as indications of environmental recovery and presented the work at the International Crustacean Conference 9 (ICC9) in May 2018. I decided to study in the Virgin Islands after study away trips to both Belize and Costa Rica taught me about the ecological importance of protecting the tropical coasts. Contact:
Courtney Courtney Gomez - I am a native of Colorado and absolutely loved growing up here. I received my bachelor's degree in Accounting in 2012 and always knew I wanted to return to graduate school so after a few life events that pushed me in that direction, I'm here. I am in the MMES program to work on my masters in marine science as the ocean has always been my love. I just received my certification for scuba diving and I can’t wait to go diving around St. Thomas! I spend a lot of time with kids doing anything we can outside. I'm very excited to be a part of the University of the Virgin Islands community and look forward to meeting everyone! Contact:
Naomi Naomi Huntley - I grew up in Flint, Michigan, and graduated from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor with a B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science. At UVI, I am working as a Research Assistant in Dr. Tyler Smith’s lab on the Ciguatera fish toxin project. My interests include coral-algal-microbial influences on reef ecology, microplastics, coral diseases, and epigenetics.For my thesis, I studying the microbial interactions between coral and Ramicrusta species to understand what is giving Ramicrusta it’s competitive edge over coral. Outside of school I enjoy growing succulents, crafting, rock climbing, horse riding, and exploring with my mini-dachshund, Ellie.

Jessica Levenson - I am originally from San Diego, where earned my BS in biology from University of California, San Diego. My background is originally in ocean stewardship and education, however to diversify my scientific interests outside of the Pacific Ocean, I chose to attend UVI. I taught Marine and Ocean Science for over 5 years which reminded me that I was not yet done being a student. Under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Jobsis, I will be focusing on evaluating local population genetics of the endangered green turtle and critically endangered hawksbill turtle. In my free time I enjoy swimming, diving and traveling. Contact:


Sonora Meiling - Hello, my name is Sonora Meiling and I’m in my first year of my Master’s in Marine and Environmental Science. I’m currently researching the effects of microplastics on coral disease transmission with Dr. Marilyn Brandt. Before coming here I graduated from Oregon State University with my Bachelor’s in Zoology where I worked for various labs researching everything from coral bleaching in French Polynesia to crab behavior off the coast of Oregon. I love diving and am excited for the field work opportunities UVI has to offer. Contact:

Dan Mele - Dan grew up in Maryland, outside of Washington D.C. He holds two undergraduate degrees, one in film production and the other in biology. His love for the ocean, led Dan to focus his studies on coral reefs where he eventually became enthralled with coral restoration. Upon finishing his biology degree, Dan spent two years working at the Mote Marine Laboratory, where he learned microfragmenting techniques for restoring coral reefs in the Florida Keys. Currently Dan is a graduate student at the University of the Virgin Islands, where he’s working to build off his prior knowledge in coral restoration. Contact:


Jessica Michael - From the mountains of Virginia, I received my BS in Biology from Hollins University where I participated in multiple research trips to St. John, USVI to study tropical fish and coral reef ecosystems. I fell in love with marine science and have continued to pursue it. I spent a summer working for US Fish and Wildlife in Georgia with nesting sea turtles. This past summer, I worked with Sail Caribbean teaching marine biology and sailing around the BVI. For my thesis, I am going to be working with Dr. Jobsis to do a study of sea turtle densities across the USVI and BVI. Contact:

Kaleigh Kaliegh Schlender - I was born and raised in York, Nebraska, a small agriculture community with little exposure to the ocean. My passion for the marine biology began when I first visited the ocean in second grade, and although I originally pursued psychology, I could not ignore my drive to pursue marine science.  I received my Bachelor of Science in psychology with two minors, one in family studies and one in biology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and I spent the last part of my undergraduate program studying marine biology in the USVI and the UK.  During my master’s program I will be studying invertebrates, particularly jellyfish. Contact:

Amanda Long - I graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL, with my B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Marine Biology in 2015. My undergraduate research focused on zooplankton biology. After graduating, I spent the next three years as a Science Educator at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium where I was in charge of all of the STEM education programs for girls. I absolutely loved working in informal education but I am excited to continue my education at the University of the Virgin Islands. I will be studying parrotfish herbivory with Dr. Richard Nemeth. 

Previous Cohorts - Current Students

  • Manouchehr Afshar - I hail from the west coast, where I have spent years working with Marine biology in the field and in academia. I received my bachelors of science from Oregon State University in 2015. I have worked with the National Park Service in St. Croix as an intern for the Buck Island Sea Turtle Research Program, and am continuing to work with NPS on my Master's thesis focusing on sea turtle nesting habitat on Buck Island, St. Croix, USVI. 
  • Antonio Farchette - I'm a born and raised Virgin Islander which played a large role in interests in the ocean due to growing up on the beaches. I received my Bachelor of Science from the University of the Virgin Islands in Marine Biology and began focusing on coastal ecosystems, specifically seagrasses. I have done work with both our native seagrasses, and the Indo-Pacific invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea. I am interested in seeing how these species interact with one another and the management implications.
  • Kristine Funk - Starting fall of 2017, I have been playing dual roles as a student in the Master of Marine and Environmental Science program and a working professional at Coral World Ocean Park. I have worked at Coral World for over eight years and am currently the Assistant Curator of Marine Mammals and Birds. I am excited to bring marine mammal research to Coral World and share what we are learning with our visiting guests. My thesis research will involve training the sea lions to tell us when they hear changes in the volume of alternating sounds. This will allow us to determine what the minimum difference between the two sounds is before the sea lions can no longer detect the difference. This is called their difference threshold. Since there is currently no information available about how well South American sea lions can hear, this research will fill an important gap in our knowledge about an important biological function for this species.
  • Karli Hollister - I grew up on the Lake Erie shoreline and have always loved the water, but it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Fiji that I discovered my passion for coral reef conservation. Since then, I have pursued coral reef research and volunteer opportunities in Fiji, Costa Rica, and the US Virgin Islands. In addition to coral reefs, my two biggest passions are traveling and scuba diving. While at UVI, I look forward to advancing my scuba certifications and working with Dr. Tyler Smith studying coral competition with a rapidly emerging red alga, Ramicrusta sp.
  • Amber Packard - My interest in marine science has led me to many beautiful places across the U.S. and beyond.  I graduated from Portland State University with a B.S. in Biology. I've spent several years in sea turtle conservation in Bonaire, Boston, and St. Croix. Recently, I have switched my focus from charismatic mega fauna to charismatic MICRO fauna and will be studying a parasitic isopod common to St. Thomas coral reefs and their interaction with settling damselfish.
  • Martha Raymore - I graduated from University of Washington with a Bachelors degree in environmental science and minor in marine biology. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest  the natural world and environment has been a staple of my daily life and I'm super excited to branch out into more tropical ecology. I have studied different types of plant animal dynamics within changing environmental climates and with increased urbanization, although here at UVI I am looking at waste culture and behavior for my thesis.  I have had a long career working as a licensed veterinary technician and always find that animals play an important part of my daily life and I even work part time at the humane society here on the island.  In my free time I enjoy jogging, SCUBA, singing, and hanging out with my dog Morgan.
  • Carolyn Courtien - After working in New York Real Estate for a number of years, I am now pursuing a Masters in Marine and Environmental Science. I love so many aspects of the field that it is going to be very difficult to narrow things down for study, and I am so excited to continue this journey with the University of the Virgin Islands! 
  • Jan-Alexis Barry - I hail from the island of St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands and I am a Masters student in marine biology at the University of the Virgin Islands Masters in Marine and Environmental Science Program. I am the eldest of five, the first in my family to graduate from college, and I’m an easy going guy who loves trying great food, traveling, and gets really excited about fish or pretty much anything fish related. My proposed thesis project involves the parasite Anilocra chromis and its interactions with the host fish species Chromis cyanea and Chromis multillineata. My interest stems from personal observations on the parasite being found on one species in St. Thomas, but being on the other species while it is further up the Caribbean. What is peculiar is the fact that both hosts occur in the same areas. I want to figure out why this is and I am taking a genetic approach to the question by trying to figure out if they are the same species, because when the parasite was first described genetic analysis did not exist and so it may be a new species that was mislabelled simply due to an old classification method.
  • Hema Balkaran - Hema was born on the island of Trinidad, where she completed high school and then moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands. She achieved a B. S. degree in Biology at the University of the Virgin Islands in 2012. During her undergraduate, she was a MBRS-RISE scholar which granted her many research opportunities. She travelled to several universities, where she conducted research mostly in the genetic field. Hema has also conducted research at UVI, most of which was done with Dr. Alice Stanford, where she looked at the allele variation in a number of differing banana varieties.  After graduating from UVI, she was positioned as a research analyst for Geographic Consulting, where she worked with Brian Daley on St. Croix on studying the growth of native trees on a variety of soil types. She’s now a graduate student at UVI obtaining a masters’ degree in marine and environmental science. Her research includes looking at the genetic population of the velvety free-tailed bat, Molossus molossus, among St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John for conservation of their species. She love animals and believes that they are so awesome!!!