Six student researchers join Guam NSF EPSCoR 

EPSCoR INCLUDES Family Orientation 2023 1
EPSCoR INCLUDES Family Orientation 2023 1 scaled
Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six undergraduate students from the University of Guam to its 2023 Student Research Experience (SRE) as part of an orientation ceremony held on Jan. 26, 2023, at the UOG School of Business and Public Administration. Photo courtesy of Guam NSF EPSCoR

Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six undergraduate students from the University of Guam to its 2023 Student Research Experience (SRE) as part of an orientation ceremony held on Jan. 26, 2023, at the UOG School of Business and Public Administration.   

The initiative of this internship is to increase the diversity of students who choose STEM careers.  

As part of the program, these student researchers will spend a year receiving mentorship and research experience in fields such as coral genomics, invertebrate genomics, marine microbiology, molecular ecology, marine ecophysiology, and diatom diversity.  

These students include Madeline Gonzalez, Thomas Babauta, Anna Mallari, Merry Ocampo, Cassandra Paule, and Brandon Respicio. 

“It’s a privilege to be able to welcome and work with all of you,” said Terry Donaldson, Ph.D, the principal investigator and project director of Guam NSF EPSCoR. “Do good work and have a lot of fun!”  

These students will also participate in near-peer mentorship programs which will encourage them to share their experiences and learn from participants in the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance along with other programs under Guam NSF EPSCoR. 

During the SRE program, the student researchers will be able to present their research at various conferences such as the National Diversity in STEM Conference held by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics in Science, the UOG Center for Island Sustainability Conference, and the UOG CNAS Conference.   

Graduate student presents at American Society of Naturalists Conference  

Kenzie Pollard Presentation
Kenzie Pollard Presentation
Kenzie Pollard, a University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, presented her research at the 2023 American Society of Naturalists Conference which was held from Jan. 6 – 10, 2023, in Pacific Grove, California. She presented her project, entitled, “Cryptic diversity and population connectivity of the coral guard crab, Trapezia bidentata.” Photo courtesy of Kenzie Pollard

Kenzie Pollard, a University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, presented her research at the 2023 American Society of Naturalists Conference which was held from Jan. 6 – 10, 2023, in Pacific Grove, California.  
The American Society of Naturalists is the oldest scientific society dedicated to the study of ecology, evolution, and behavior. The event was fully in-person and included researchers from physiology, phylogenetics, genetics, and other associated fields.  

This year’s conference focused on what it means to be a naturalist and researcher in the 21st century.  

During the event, Pollard presented her project, entitled, “Cryptic diversity and population connectivity of the coral guard crab, Trapezia bidentata.”   

“It was my first time presenting a talk at an international conference and while I was nervous, it was exciting to share what I had spent the last few years on,” said Pollard. “I even had a professor from the University of Florida reach out to me to discuss my research and our shared interest in pocilloporid corals.”  

According to Pollard, she appreciated being able to attend the talks held at the event.  
“The conference itself was intriguing and packed full of interesting talks,” said Pollard. “The most impactful was the symposium on “Confronting the Legacy of Eugenics in EEB.” A necessary conversation, it raised the voices of underrepresented groups in STEM and focused on the history and impacts of eugenics as well as emphasizing what actions we may take to prevent the perpetuation of these ideologies.”  

During the conference, Pollard was able to make new connections easily.  

“I could meet somebody new at every meal, and coffee breaks between sessions were great opportunities to approach speakers and chat about their research,” said Pollard. “I was fortunate to attend the conference with colleagues from my undergrad and a prospective advisor for my Ph.D. They introduced me to several scientists in their network and it truly helped build my community.” 

NSF Guam EPSCoR graduate research assistantship now accepting applicants

Epscor GRA 1
Epscor GRA 1

Are you a prospective graduate student interested in ensuring the sustainability of coral reefs and the marine environment? If you’re self-motivated, well-organized, and have a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Environmental Science, or related field, NSF Guam EPSCOR has a valuable graduate student research experience for you — and it’s paid!

The Graduate Research Assistantship is a three-year long program designed to train graduates in scientific research. Selected students will benefit from a tuition waiver of up to 3 years or 36 credits for the pursuit of a master’s degree, research training, faculty mentorship, potential travel opportunities, a Guam Green Growth Circular Economy Makerspace and Innovation Hub membership and an $18,000 annual stipend ($1,500 per month).

Selected applicants will participate in Marine ecology, genomics, and oceanography in the field and lab. Depending on chosen specialization, students may learn about DNA extraction and sequencing and/or how to read and analyze data to characterize marine environments. The program may involve hands-on fieldwork to investigate coral reefs or to deploy and retrieve oceanographic instruments while working at the UOG Marine Laboratory or biorepository. Graduate students will also receive support for their individual thesis defenses.

The program seeks to increase the number and diversity of students who choose careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). All qualified students are encouraged to apply, in particular Pacific islanders, LGBTQIA+, women, minorities, and students with disabilities.

The deadline to apply is 12 a.m. CHST on February 10, 2023. Late applications may be considered until the UOG Masters Application Deadline, pending availability of positions. For more information and to apply, visit


The NSF Guam EPSCoR program at the University of Guam is funded by a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program for the Stimulation of Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The program aims to broaden the participation of underrepresented students in STEM fields through developing a research program that helps ensure the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems in the face of environmental change. NSF Guam EPSCoR aims to situate Guam as a premier research and STEM education hub bolstering sustainability, economic development, and informed decision-making by engaging communities in 21st-century science.

UOG students make waves, broaden connections at SACNAS  


More than the experience of attending a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) event off-island, the University of Guam delegation, which included Guam NSF EPSCoR student researchers, also earned accolades, learned more about diversity and expanded their network at the National Diversity in STEM (NDiSTEM) conference in Puerto Rico. 

The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) organized the event from October 27 through October 29. The conference drew thousands of college-levels through professional attendees from historically excluded communities throughout the states and territories.  

The conference seeks to equip, empower, and energize participants for their academic and professional paths in STEM.   

Austin Shelton, Ph.D. UOG Sea Grant and Center for Island Sustainability director, Education Workforce and Development coordinator for Guam NSF EPSCoR and SACNAS board member said the conference is the perfect place to expose students to opportunities in STEM. “This is really an important event for our students at the University of Guam. It is the largest multicultural and multidisciplinary STEM diversity conference in the nation. This year, it is the biggest that the conference has ever been. Over half of that are students and over half of them are professionals, and as important, exhibitors who are bringing in opportunities to students in the areas of graduate school or employment in agencies, in nonprofits, in nongovernmental organizations.” 

According to Shelton, 51 students and faculty from UOG took advantage of these tremendous opportunities at the conference. Aside from immersing participants in STEM research and professional development sessions, the conference also encouraged engagement in and the sharing of multicultural celebrations and traditions. 

Cheryl R. Sangueza, Ph.D. assistant professor of secondary education said attending the conference was a success not only for academic and research opportunities, but also because the Guam delegation left a positive footprint for the island and the university. She believes that the experience “possibly changed life trajectories for the UOG students. 

 “Our students were engaged in professional networking and found exciting academic and research opportunities, they met new friends and explored new places and cultures, and they were successfully immersed in a culture of scientific research. “Seeing and feeling like they belong at a STEM conference combined with connecting with graduate school and research opportunities illuminated new options and choices for many,” she said. 

Sangueza is also the co-principal investigator for the National Science Foundation’s INCLUDES SEAS Islands Alliance Guam Hub and oversees student experience for NSF Guam EPSCoR.  

More than 10 UOG students took part in the poster presentations at the conference. One of the students, Michael Fernandez, received recognition for his undergraduate poster presentation on “Host Tree and Mycorrhizal Diversity of Epiphytic Orchids Native to Guam.” 

Alyssa Calalo, an NSF INCLUDES student researcher, also presented a poster on “Assessing the Use of Pre-germinated and Soaked Seed of Native Plant Species for Badland Restoration: Lab and Field Trials.” 

The UOGundergraduate in biology described her SACNAS experience as inspirational. “It was eye opening meeting scientists with the same culture and values, and it made me feel seen and motivated to keep going! My presentation revolved all around using native plants important to the CHamoru culture to restore badlands that have been affected by erosion. I conducted my research project at Ugum Watersheds. My presentation was a great experience for me, and I was able to connect with people from different labs and cultures – network and share ideas on how to keep the project going!”    

SACNAS fosters the success of underrepresented Americans – from college students to professionals – in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and leadership positions in science, technology engineering, and mathematics, otherwise known as STEM. It is the largest multicultural and multidisciplinary STEM diversity organization in the United States, serving more than 20,000 students and professionals. 



Graduate student studies box jellyfish at Tohoku University 

Colin Anthony Photo 1

Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant Colin Anthony is a Special Research Student in the Graduate School of Agricultural Studies at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. 

As a Special Research Student, Anthony is receiving mentorship from Cheryl Ames, Ph.D., a leading expert in marine biology whose research focuses on jellyfish systematics, genomics, and using environmental DNA to understand marine biodiversity.  

“Many of the leaders in my field are Japanese, so [Dr. Ames and I] thought it would be a good idea for me to do some research, network, teach, and present in Japan,” said Anthony.  

During his time at Tohoku University, Anthony will study the protein differences across different structures in box jellyfish (Alatina alata) along with Ames. Box jellyfish get their name from the cube-like shape of their bell and can be found in the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.  

“We have these [jellyfish] in Guam, but my samples are from the Netherlands,” said Anthony. “It is the only species found all the way around the world. To do this we pair genomic (DNA), transcriptomic (RNA), and proteomic (amino acids) data using various bioinformatic techniques. We hope this provides novel insight into how box jellyfish produce venom-related proteins.”  

During his time at Tohoku University, Anthony has led an introductory coding workshop for the university’s undergraduate and graduate researchers, presented at a joint conference with the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, as well as given a guest lecture on the role of presentation design in effective science communication.  

“The food and people are the best, but my language skills are not very good,” said Anthony.  “So, I look forward to improving my Japanese in order to eat more great food and meet new people.” 

Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomes new associate curator of GECCO Biorepository

Diego Vaz Profile

Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomes Diego Vaz, Ph.D., as an associate curator of the Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO) Biorepository. The GECCO Biorepository is both a physical and cyber warehouse of records operated by Guam NSF EPSCoR.

Vaz was born and raised in Brazil, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and a master’s in zoology from the University of São Paulo. In 2015, he moved to the United States where he received a doctorate in marine sciences from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. Before his current position with Guam NSF EPSCoR, Vaz was a biodiversity postdoctoral fellow at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

“Taxonomy and the evolutionary part of science is the backbone of any field,” said Vaz. “You have to know the organism you have or you cannot move forward. You cannot do any experiments with them and you cannot protect them if you don’t know what you are dealing with.”

As an associate curator of the GECCO Biorepository, Vaz will research the morphology of coral reef fishes – particularly cryptobenthic fishes. Morphology is a branch of biology that deals with the study of the form and structure of living organisms. Cryptobenthic fishes are small fish that live near or within the seabed named for their elusive nature. They contribute significantly to the food web of coral reefs.

“Cryptobenthic fishes are crucial in the production of organic matter in the reef – not because they produce energy like algae, but because their high density and high mortality feed higher trophic levels, allowing the reef to be so diverse,” said Vaz.

Studying cryptobenthic fishes involves a variety of methods. As much as possible, the GECCO Biorepository takes photographs of its specimens as they exist in nature. To examine the organs of a specimen, manual dissections are performed.

When it comes to examining a specimen’s skeleton, Vaz uses a technique called clearing and staining. In this process, specimens are bathed in a digestive enzyme to slowly break down their flesh and muscles, rendering them transparent. After, they are treated with a series of dyes that stain the cartilage and bones differently.

Recently, the UOG Marine Laboratory acquired a Computed Tomography (CT) scanner. A CT scanner allows for the examination of skeletons without modifying a specimen.

“This is particularly important when you want to study rare organisms,” said Vaz. “When it comes to specimens that you can just collect in the field, it’s easier to do an invasive procedure. When it comes to a rare specimen in a collection, no one will allow you to do a procedure because they want to keep them as whole as possible.”

Regarding his experience working on the Guam NSF EPSCoR project, Vaz said that it’s been interesting to see multiple collaborations working together towards similar goals.

“Collaborations can be very challenging,” said Vaz. “Everyone works differently. This project is the first time I’ve seen such a large group of people collaborating effectively. It’s been a very interesting and cool experience to see that.”

Students present at 2022 NSF EPSCoR National Conference

EPSCoR Conference 1

Two students from the University of Guam presented their research at the 27th NSF EPSCoR National Conference which was held in Portland, Maine from November 13 – 16, 2022.  

This year’s conference theme was “Translating Stakeholder Needs Into Impactful Research Outcomes.”  

The event engaged audiences from various sectors, disciplines, and jurisdictions – including state legislators, congressional representatives, as well as EPSCoR committees, scientists, and faculty members.  

During the conference, students had the opportunity to interact with peers, and attend workshops and discussions.  

UOG undergraduate biomedical track major Zaine Benavente along with graduate biology student MacKenzie Heagy presented posters of their research projects.  

Benavente, who is part of the 2022 Student Research Experience program, presented his project, “Genetic barcoding of cryptic massive Porites species in Guam’s reef flats.”    
This was my first time presenting at an off-island conference,” said Benavente. “I didn’t know what I was saying yes to, so it was a big surprise! I didn’t know it was such a small group going. I was the only undergraduate student from Guam at the conference. It was a little intimidating, but I got through it and presented my work.”  

Heagy, a Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, presented her project, entitled, “Coralline Algal Phylogenetics to Better Assess Coral Reef Biodiversity.”  

“I talked about Guam’s vastly diverse marine flora and how my group of interest, Genus Mastophora, is a representation of the many species that have yet to be discovered of the crustose coralline algae,” said Heagy.  

Heagy said that she appreciated the opportunity to talk about the research being done at the University of Guam.   

“It was a privilege to represent some work being produced at the UOG Marine Laboratory while learning about the incredible science EPSCoR has encouraged across the country,” said Heagy. “Facilitating strong research from young scientists, EPSCoR projects ranged from virtual reality fire-wise properties to 3D in vitro models for breast cancer research.”  

Guam NSF EPSCoR talks Near Peer Mentorship at EOD conference 

Emily EOD Conference 2022 1
Emily EOD Conference 2022 1
This year, NSF EPSCoR welcomed representatives from its various jurisdictions nationwide to its first Education, Outreach, and Diversity Conference to learn more about EOD and science communication. Emily Wendte represented Guam NSF EPSCoR at the event as its education and workforce development program associate.

From mentorship opportunities to training programs, Education, Outreach, and Diversity (EOD) is one of the central aspects to any NSF EPSCoR project. This year, NSF EPSCoR welcomed representatives from its various jurisdictions nationwide to its first Education, Outreach, and Diversity Conference to learn more about EOD and science communication.  

The conference took place in South Carolina from September 11 to September 14, 2022.  

Emily Wendte represented Guam NSF EPSCoR at the event as its education and workforce development program associate. As part of Wendte’s responsibilities, she coordinates activities between students, faculty, and project partners.  

Along with Cheryl Sangueza, Ph.D., the student program coordinator for Guam NSF EPSCoR, Wendte presented a slideshow entitled, “Communicating Science Through the Lens of Culture and Identity,” which focused on the Near-Peer Mentorship model that Guam NSF EPSCoR uses to encourage its student researchers to think about science communication and the importance of their work. 

Once a month, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from Guam NSF EPSCoR connect with the program’s undergraduate student researchers as well as those from the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance Guam Hub to talk about their personal experiences as they develop their careers in STEM, advice, as well as better ways to make their research more accessible to the local populace.  

“What’s unique for us is that we’re talking about culture and identity through science communication without losing the integrity of their research,” said Wendte. “They’re thinking about how their work not only makes an impact on a global perspective, but also how it’s important locally and how they’re influencing their local environment and community.”  

For these researchers, talking to each other allows them to be more reflective of their projects as well as support each other.  

“The reception to the presentation was phenomenal,” said Wendte. “The students’ work and what they did really shone through. I talked about how our Near Peer sessions worked and the prompts we would give them to encourage them to talk to each other and relate their experiences to things outside science, within science, and their experiences.”  

Wendte said that after the presentation, representatives from other NSF EPSCoR jurisdictions came up to her to talk about ways they could better serve their students.  

“Guam is in a great position to show the world what we are doing and how it can be done,” said Wendte. “When I was just starting off in education, someone shared with me this important motto: the responsibility of knowing is sharing. I always took that to heart, and I feel that is what Dr. Sangueza and I did with this presentation. We were able to make people think about their programs and what they can do for their students.” 


2022 GRA: Meet our new graduate research assistants!  

Xavier De Ramos

This year, Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six new members of its Graduate Research Assistantship program. Over the next three years, these graduate students will receive mentorship, training, and fieldwork experience as they pursue their master’s degree.   

Grace Jackson 

Having grown up in a small beach town in Southern California, Grace Jackson has lived her life surrounded by water.  

“This instilled in me the love for the ocean and later my scientific curiosity,” said Jackson. “I applied to this program to increase my scientific proficiency where I could learn about a different ecosystem and culture that I have not experienced before. I am so glad to be a part of this program.”  

Under the guidance of Tom Schils, Ph.D., Jackson will study crustose coralline red algae, specifically of the genus Lithophyllum.  

CCRA is a group of marine seaweeds that deposits limestone like stony corals. They serve several important ecological functions on reefs, such as building and cementing reefs together or serving as the preferred settlement substrates for coral larvae, which then further develop into adult colonies. 

Lauren Kallen  

Lauren Kallen applied to the Guam NSF EPSCoR GRA program due to the benefits and support that the program provides to its students. Kallen was born and raised in Illinois and earned her bachelor’s degree in marine biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  

Kallen’s advisor is Sarah Lemer, Ph.D., whose work focuses on the study of marine invertebrates. Over the course of the program, Kallen will conduct research on Drupella snails, carnivorous marine snails that feed on coral. Her research will focus on outbreaks of these snails on coral reefs because in high densities, these snails can quickly decimate a reef.  

I am very excited and grateful to be in this program, it is an amazing opportunity. I am very interested in outreach and giving back to the beautiful community in Guam,” said Kallen.   

Garret O’Donnell  

While looking for potential graduate programs, Garret O’Donnell found out about the Guam NSF EPSCoR program through his mentors from the University of Florida. 

Under the guidance of David Combosch, Ph.D., O’Donnell will study Leptoria, a genus of brain coral. O’Donnell said that he is interested in Leptoria’s population genetics, spawning behavior, and abiotic stress responses to factors such as heat and low oxygen.  

Since coming to Guam, O’Donnell said that he appreciates the UOG Marine Laboratory community.  

“I think everyone there has been super welcoming and super cohesive as a unit and that’s been really cool to see,” said O’Donnell. “Everyone seems to know what everybody else is doing and that’s not something you always see in science. A lot of the time, labs are kind of isolated from each other. I like to see that there’s a lot of camaraderie amongst the students and the faculty.”   

Andrew O’Neill  

Throughout his life, Andrew O’Neill found a love for the ocean. As he pursued his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he wanted to specialize in ecology and conservation. Once he learned about the Guam NSF EPSCoR GRA program, he saw it as a unique opportunity to do research and help the environment.  

During the program, O’Neill will be advised by Atsushi Fujimura, Ph.D., and plans to focus on research the effects of sedimentation on Guam’s reef fish assemblages.  

“In my first semester here, I did some instructing with some of the undergraduate biology sections and through that, I learned the Guam has a huge sedimentation problem,” said O’Neill. “Lots of silt gets washed away from all the rains and the rivers and flows down to the coastal waters. I want to figure out what would be the worst-case scenario if we don’t fix this problem.”  

Xavier De Ramos  

Knowing that he wanted to find ways to help the island, De Ramos earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. 

“Towards the halfway point of my time in college, I started thinking about Guam – my home,” said De Ramos. “I remember having a lasting impression after I went snorkeling and I was just blown away about what I saw down there. That got me thinking about what kind of issues Guam is facing or if there was anything I could do to contribute to research regarding its coral reefs.”  

De Ramos will be advised by Ciemon Caballes, Ph.D., whose research focuses on ecophysiology as well as coral and echinoderm ecology.  

“I feel very excited about learning more through this program and my graduate courses because I want to give back to the island,” said De Ramos. “At the end of the day, giving back to the island is all that matters to me.”  

Graduate biology student attends University of Washington summer research program 

Therese Miller Photo 2

University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR graduate research assistant Therese Miller gained research experience this summer through a course held by the University of Washington. The class was called Biodiversity and Integrative Taxonomy of Invertebrates and was held at the university’s field station in Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island from July 18 to August 18, 2022.  

The course focused on methods for documenting and describing the species-level diversity of invertebrate animals through activities such as field trips to collect samples, dissecting, photography, and genetics work.  

The class was taught by two instructors: Gustav Paulay, Ph.D., a curator and professor at the University of Florida who served as the director of the UOG Marine Laboratory from 1991 to 2000 and has extensive experience in studying marine invertebrate zoology.  

Kevin Kocot, Ph.D., a curator and professor at the University of Alabama, hosted workshops on bioinformatics and studying meiofauna. Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that develops software and tools to understand biological data. Meiofauna are small invertebrates that live on or near the bottom of bodies of water.  

“Together, they not only encouraged our passions for studying marine biodiversity but also equipped us with the tools to further our careers,” said Miller.  

Over the course of the program, Miller worked on a research project that involved describing species of blood stars (Henricia), a sea star found along the Pacific Coast which is typically red-orange in color but can vary from tan to almost purple. 

“Historically, what appear to be several different species are all called the same name in the literature or are left undescribed,” said Miller. “My project entailed collecting about 50 specimens of these sea stars and taking DNA from them to see how closely they were genetically related.”  

During the course, she found two specimens of a species that were the first to be sampled in the Juan de Fuca Island strait. This species had previously been found along California and Oregon.  

Throughout her time in Washington, Miller was able to see cultural aspects of San Juan Island such as various small farms throughout the island as well as a fishing vessel that belonged to the indigenous Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest.   

“It was fascinating to learn about some of the native tribes that have lived in the area for several centuries,” said Miller. “I also relearned the importance of characterizing biodiversity in the anthropogenic age, particularly for marine species, which are largely understudied compared to terrestrial fauna. This is especially important to me living on Guam since marine biodiversity here is so rich and there is so much to research and explore. I felt this course really inspired me to open my eyes more to the world around me and consider what species here have yet to be identified.” 


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