2023 GRA: Meet our graduate research assistants!

Since joining the Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistantship program, these graduate students will receive mentorship, training, and fieldwork experience as they pursue their master’s degree over the next three years.



“What made me want to get into marine science is when I got to experience a summer program as an elementary student and I was able to look at coral under a microscope at one of the beaches in Saipan,” said Anela Duenas. “I got to see the coral and how they move and how they’re alive and not rocks in the ocean. That experience inspired me and that made me keep going until now.”

While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Duenas was an NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance fellow as well as a Guam NSF EPSCoR student researcher.

Duenas joined the GRA program to encourage her peers to enjoy research. During her time in the Student Research Experience program, she received mentorship and guidance from a GRA named Justin Berg.

“Working with Justin was really fun and how he helped me as an undergrad encouraged me to help others and do what he did,” said Duenas.

Under the mentorship of Bastian Bentlage, Ph.D., an associate professor of bioinformatics and co-principal investigator of Guam NSF EPSCoR, Duenas is looking into assemblages of Symbiodiniaceae in two coral species – Acropora pulchra and Pavona decussata.

As a CHamoru scientist, Duenas hopes to inspire others within the region to pursue careers in STEM.

“I’ve felt personally connected to the land and the ocean ever since I was growing up, so it’s really cool for me to actually be working in this field and try to better our environment,” said Duenas. “I feel like I don’t see as many local scientists from here and

doing work here, so I hope I get to do some great work and hopefully inspire other locals in this area.”



Diana Noto has always liked the ocean.

“I grew up on Long Island, so I lived in proximity to the water,” said Noto. “They weren’t particularly beautiful or clear beaches, but I always loved it. When I moved to Florida, I didn’t get to be closer to the water, but I got to go to the beach a lot more and get exposed to coral reefs. That’s how I got interested in the marine sciences.”

Noto heard about the program through Garret O’Donnell, a GRA who joined the program in 2022.

“Before he joined the program, Garret had also worked at the Florida Museum in the same lab as me,” said Noto. “When I was applying, I heard that Dr. Robert Lasley, who I worked with before, was taking on a student so I decided to just go for it.”

Robert Lasley, Ph.D., is a crustacean biologist and the associate curator of the Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO) Biorepository, a natural history collection of specimens operated by Guam NSF EPSCoR.

“The program’s been really fun so far,” said Noto. “All the other students have been super great. I’ve learned a lot of cool things. Just being near so many cool sites to do fieldwork has been pretty amazing.”



Nikko Galanto’s interest in marine biology was fostered in his junior year of high school.

“My teacher was really influential, and she taught us that Guam is unique and that whatever we do on the island has a huge impact on our surrounding oceans,” said Galanto.

Galanto heard about the GRA program in 2019 while he was pursuing his undergraduate degree. During that time, he became a student researcher as part of Guam NSF EPSCoR’s Student Research Experience and eventually went on to work as a DNA barcoding technician at the GECCO Biorepository.

“I thought that since graduate school was a part of my plans and that I’ve always been a part of EPSCoR, I decided to apply to the GRA program,” said Galanto. “I just hope to become a more well-rounded scientist. I’ve learned now that there’s so much I don’t know and that’s a good thing. “

Under the mentorship of Diego Vaz, Ph.D., a fish morphologist and the associate curator of the GECCO Biorepository, Galanto is exploring the systematics and morphology of blenny fish. Blenny fish are small, elongated fish that can be found on the ocean floor, in reefs, or in burrows.

As someone who grew up on Guam, Galanto said that his perspective as a local scientist gives him a really great insight into both the island’s environment and its community.

“I want to emphasize that we need a lot of representation in the field of STEM,” said Galanto. “I think it’s important to see POC in all walks of science and I think that’s

important because we all have different experiences – especially if we come from different islands and backgrounds. We all have something to contribute.”

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