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Education: Garden Club of America Wetlands Scholarship

Leanna Heffner, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, Rhode Island.

Leanna HeffnerGrowing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was lucky to have a family and school community that fostered in me a strong connection with the natural environment. I spent much time outdoors, camping and hiking, as well as working on community projects related to environmental issues. In college while majoring in biology, I began my career in ecological research, and was fortuitously paired with Dr. Marshall Pregnall, a coastal marine biologist, for my first research internship. For two years we studied the dynamics of macroalgal blooms and nutrient pollution in coastal lagoons, which ignited my strong interest in coastal nutrient pollution, a major world-wide issue. Dr. Pregnall also introduced me to the coastal marine scientific community and I have since been extremely active working with the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation as well as their New England regional society. Since that initial research experience I have been extremely fortunate to participate in many research, educational and outreach experiences. I spent time working with Dr. Ivan Valiela in the Boston University Marine Program on nutrient pollution in a Cape Cod estuary, and later with Dr. Rich Ambrose at UCLA on a restored salt marsh monitoring project.

I am now at The Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island (URI) pursuing my Ph.D. with Dr. Scott Nixon. For my dissertation research I am studying the effects of nutrient pollution on nitrogen cycling in salt marshes. In addition to doing research and working within the scientific community, I am also passionate about bridging scientific communication with the public, the media and decision-makers. During my first two years at URI, I participated in the NSF-funded Coastal Institute IGERT Program Fellowship, which trains Ph.D. students to use interdisciplinary approaches to solve coastal issues. It was a fantastic experience and through it I worked with the Nature Conservancy on protecting estuarine waters and the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve analyzing nutrient data in Narragansett Bay. More recently I worked with the Coastal Resources Center at URI, collaborating with local scientists and decision-makers on a project regarding climate change in Rhode Island’s coastal areas. I have also spent the past three years working for URI’s marine outreach program, the Office of Marine Programs, to teach school-children about the marine environment.

Through all of these rich experiences, I am all the more excited about and committed to pursuing a career in coastal and salt marsh research, while working in an interdisciplinary setting to educate the public and work with decision-makers to protect these important ecosystems. Many thanks to the Garden Club of America for their support of my dissertation work!

Proposal - Nitrogen fixation and denitrification in Narragansett Bay Salt Marshes - University of Rhode Island - Narragansett, Rhode Island