NOAA scholarship supports graduate student’s seabird conservation research

Aspen Ellis
Aspen Ellis

Aspen Ellis, a Ph.D. student in ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, is one of seven students nationwide selected by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to receive a 2022 Nancy Foster Scholarship.

The scholarship will support Ellis’s work assessing the impacts of offshore wind energy development on seabirds and evaluating the efficacy of feasible mitigation measures, with a focus on the California Current Ecosystem. Through her research, Ellis hopes to facilitate renewable energy development while ensuring that seabird populations aren’t jeopardized.

This highly competitive scholarship program provides support for master’s and doctoral degrees in oceanography, marine biology, and maritime archaeology, with a particular emphasis on supporting the careers of women and minority students.

Ellis is working with Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor Donald Croll and Adjunct Professor Bernie Tershy, who lead the Conservation Action Lab at UC Santa Cruz. She entered her Ph.D. program with over 10 years of experience working in the field. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan, where she was part of a team that worked on a dataset of 40,000 songbird window collisions to study changes in body size related to climate change—research that has since been awarded the Ecological Society of America’s George Mercer Award for outstanding ecological research published by young authors. As an undergraduate, she also worked with Project Puffin to contribute to seabird research and management in the Gulf of Maine.

Ellis has also worked with Humboldt State University’s Common Murre Restoration Project and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, contributing to long-term monitoring of seabirds at multiple breeding colonies in the Pacific. She carried out research and recovery efforts for endangered and threatened shorebirds as a crew leader for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in North Dakota and for the nonprofit Conserve Wildlife Foundation New Jersey. She also contributed to conservation efforts at Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch in Michigan and Save Our Shearwaters on Kauai. 

Throughout her career, Aspen has taught students of all ages and performed outreach in the communities where she’s worked. As a student with a non-traditional education background, she is interested in finding creative ways to use outreach and pedagogical techniques to improve access to the sciences for students from historically excluded demographics.