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SFS Presents Distinguished Student Researcher Awards to Five Alumni

Salem, MassachusettsFebruary 29, 2012 - The School for Field Studies (SFS) presented its bi-annual Distinguished Student Researcher Award to five alumni today in recognition of the exceptional environmental research they conducted while studying abroad during the fall semester of 2011 across all SFS semester locations. The winners are Dickinson College junior Christopher Mealey, Santa Clara University junior Justin Covino, Sarah Lawrence University junior Emily Zink, University of St. Thomas junior Luke Nolby, and Wesleyan University junior Caleb Corliss.

Each year, The School for Field Studies honors exceptional students with Distinguished Student Researcher Awards for making important contributions in environmental research. SFS semester students engage in undergraduate research guided by SFS faculty on projects related to the Center's Five Year Research Plan (5YRP). Outcomes of these Directed Research (DR) projects provide information and recommendations to community members and other stakeholders on critical, local environmental issues.

Students are nominated by SFS faculty based on their demonstrated sophistication in research design, field work, and reporting; their leadership skills and teamwork; and their contribution to the Center's 5YRP. The SFS award also recognizes the students’ leadership exhibited while working with a team of student and faculty researchers in the field.

SFS Interim President Jack Waggett and Dean Dr. Robin Sears presented the Award this spring with nominations from the students' DR advisors:

  • Mealey's advisor Dr. Allison Candelmo, Lecturer in Natural Resource Management at The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos
  • Covino's advisor Dr. Achim Häger, Lecturer in Natural Resource Management at The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies in Costa Rica
  • Zink's advisor Dr. John Kioko, Lecturer in Wildlife Ecology at The SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies' field station in Tanzania
  • Nolby's advisor Dr. Shem Mwasi, Lecturer in Wildlife Management at The SFS Center for Wildlife Management's Kenya field station
  • Corliss's advisor Dr. Rohan Wilson, Lecturer in Forest Management at The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies in Australia.

Christopher Mealey, Dickinson College and SFS Turks and Caicos

Mealey’s research project, Ontogenetic habitat shift of Pterois volitans and their increasing invasion of South Caicos, overseen by Dr. Candelmo, examines the positive correlation between size and depth of the invasive lionfish species in regards to their migration into new, deeper habitats. In a broader context, the lionfish invasion appears to be escalating on a year-to-year basis and therefore needs to be monitored and managed before they out-compete native reef fishes and possibly damage the coral reefs that harbor and provide for a large majority of marine life in western Atlantic and Caribbean regions.

Dr. Candelmo said, “Chris’s analysis of the progression of the lionfish invasion will be useful when designing the focus of future research projects and is important to present to local stakeholders, including processing plant owners, fishers, and community members who rely on the reefs and fisheries of TCI for their livelihood.”

Justin Covino, Santa Clara University and SFS Costa Rica

Covino’s research project, The effect of surrounding forest coverage on tree diversity of shade-grown coffee farms, overseen by Dr. Häger, suggests that while biodiversity levels on farms are ultimately in the hands of farmers who manage the lands, there ought to be more emphasis placed on the conservation of biodiversity through incentive mechanisms such as payment for environmental services and organic certification.

Dr. Häger said, “Justin’s exceptional motivation and commitment to his project, as well as the positive role he played as a team member and leader resulted in an outstanding contribution to our research agenda.”

Emily Zink, Sarah Lawrence University and SFS East Africa

Zink’s research project, Distribution, demographics, and the ecological role of the African elephant, Loxodonta africana, population associated with Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania, overseen by Dr. Kioko, found that the increased rate of rural settlement, agricultural development, and population growth could potentially be insularizing the local elephant population by affecting the ability for the population to disperse into traditional range areas.

Dr. Kioko said, “Emily’s research provides a basis to convince the wildlife management authorities in Tanzania and the elephant research community that SFS can, indeed, do serious elephant research,” and that her community presentation in Tanzania “cultivated a healthy discussion among the stakeholders present.”

Luke Nolby, University of St. Thomas and SFS East Africa

Nolby’s research project, Relating diversity to spatial, habitat, and focal species characteristics in six wildlife sanctuaries, Amboseli Ecosystem, overseen by Dr. Mwasi, assessed the wildlife species richness, abundance, and evenness of six sanctuaries in the Amboseli Ecosystem that are important dispersal areas for wildlife in Amboseli National Park. The research team found that habitat type and the presence of elephants are better predictors of wildlife diversity in these areas rather than the shape of the protected area.

Dr. Mwasi said, “Luke’s research results will be useful to the stakeholders in wildlife conservation in the Amboseli ecosystem, especially to managers of wildlife sanctuaries."

Caleb Corliss, Wesleyan University and SFS Australia

Corliss’s research project, Factors driving patterns of beta-diversity in tropical forest trees at the Robson Creek TERN supersite, overseen by Dr. Wilson, suggests that as the amount of undisturbed land dwindles, understanding the influence of human disruption on the diversity of ecosystems becomes ever more crucial in preserving what remains.

Dr. Wilson said, “His paper focused on past and present factors in explaining some fairly subtle rainforest dynamics, such as the lingering effect of decades-old logging practices.”





Leslie Granese 978.304.6963
Scott Lamer 978.219.5121

About The School for Field Studies For more than 30 years, The School for Field Studies (SFS), the nation's largest environmental study abroad program for college undergraduates, has combined hands-on, multi-disciplinary environmental studies with scientific research to propose sustainable solutions to critical environmental problems. SFS students work with local communities to discover practical ways to manage their natural resources, and in the process undergo a transformational experience that helps them to advance their careers as skilled professionals and to become globally aware citizens. Visit

About SFS Five Year Research Plan and Directed Research Projects
SFS Centers have developed long-term research plans to help identify, address, and resolve critical environmental problems, providing information to assist local, regional and national agencies in resource management decision-making. The purpose of these research plans is to respond to the resource conservation and management needs of the local community, provide a roadmap for the academic and research components of our field programs, and fulfill SFS research requirements and collaborate with other academic and scientific institutions. Directed Research topics are defined by the 5YRP and build on previous research, addressing an environmental problem relevant to the local community.