Indian Creek alumna Alex Morris ’14 loves elasmobranchs, or the family of cartilaginous fish that includes sharks, skates, and rays. This passion for marine life was encouraged while Alex was in the STEM Program at Indian Creek School (ICS). “I spent months doing my [STEM] project on temperature tolerance of oysters in the bay and how that affected their growth rates. Mr. Andrew Colley and Mr. Stephen Roth helped me for hours by measuring them, cleaning their tanks, and feeding them.” As a result of her hard work, Alex was the recipient of the 2014 Indian Creek STEM Research Award.
After ICS, Alex attended American University (AU), where she was a four-year starting goalie for AU’s D1 Women’s Field Hockey team. She graduated from AU with a BS in Environmental Science and a minor in Biochemistry last May. Her undergraduate research focused on the population genetics of sea grass in the Northern Mariana Islands in Guam and Saipan, which she found to be both rewarding and frustrating at the same time. “It gave me a good background in working in a professional lab as well as gaining some valuable field research experience in Saipan. For the past two summers, I was involved in a Shark and Ray tagging program that is run out of Clearwater, Florida called Coastal Marine Education and Research Academy (CMERA). The first summer, I was a student, but this past summer, they hired me as one of their interns, so I was teaching as well as tagging. That really gave me a leg up on applying to grad schools as well as solidifying that I really do want to study sharks and rays.”
In August, Alexe moved to Florida to attend the University of West Florida and begin a two-year Master’s Thesis in Marine Biology. She recently decided on her Master’s thesis topic—Thermal Acclimation Dynamics of Atlantic Stingrays—and she couldn’t be more excited about this because her thesis will be the first paper of its kind studying elasmobranchs!
Indian Creek prepared Alex for this path by giving her an incredibly well-rounded educational foundation. “Not only did the STEM program allow me to do my own research and gain an understanding for how to set up my own project and execute it, but it also allowed me to improve my writing skills and challenged me in subjects that were more difficult than others. A lot of people think they can study whatever they want in college, which is true to a certain extent, but you still have to get the general education requirements done as well as the pre-requisites done for certain classes. Having a solid base of knowledge on a lot of subjects definitely comes in handy.”
Alex found it challenging to pick just one ICS teacher that had the most impact on her which, as she puts it, "is the beauty of the Creek." “Mr. Andrew Colley helped me set up my independent study and my STEM research project. He really taught me the ins and outs of how to conduct science on my own. Former teacher, Mrs. Eileen Mattingly helped me understand that I really did enjoy writing; I just had to dig down a little deeper to understand how I wrote as a student with dyslexia. Finally, Mr. Gerry Connolly believed in me when I didn't think I could understand an ancient language, but he pushed and pushed, and eventually I ended up loving Latin. These are just some examples (of which I could name many), but that's what is amazing about the teachers at Creek: there isn't one that stands out among the rest. They all impacted me in different ways.”
Alex has the following advice for anyone who wants to go into Marine Biology (or even science in general): “Try as many things as possible. Biology is a very broad subject, and it is almost more important to find out what you don’t like to study as much as what you do like. This came to me while spending three years studying sea grass, where I found out that marine botany is really not for me; however, having the opportunity to tag sharks and rays gave me the understanding that I really love working with larger organisms and in the field. Students should dabble in as many subjects as possible to gain a broad amount of experience. If you’re interested, just go for it! Science is filled with struggles and frustrations, but nothing is ever a failure as long as you learn from it and keep moving forward. Also, nothing ever goes according to plan in life. Opportunities come and go, and sometimes the things you wanted so badly and worked so hard for do not come to pass, but that just means something better is coming down the line, so keep your head up and eyes open to all the doors that are opening in front of you!”