Islander Doctoral Student Earns Prestigious D.C. Internship

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Melissa McCutcheon, a Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Coastal and Marine System Science doctoral candidate, was recently awarded an internship with the Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Acidification Program in Washington, D.C. that runs from July 1 to December 13, 2019. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to an ongoing NSF project titled, “CAREER: The Impact of Hydrologic State on CO2 Flux and Acidification in Subtropical Estuaries,” that is led by McCutcheon’s Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Xinping Hu.

“Melissa has learned a great deal on ocean and estuarine acidification through both classroom studies and her own research project,” said Hu. “This opportunity will expand her horizon and further enable her to connect scientific knowledge and societal needs.”

During the internship, McCutcheon will spend time at Capitol Hill speaking with congressional offices about ocean acidification and help decision makers better understand why ocean acidification is a threat to oceans and oceanic resources.

“I am excited to gain experience outside of academia and get a better understanding of how environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) function to help drive policy based on science,” said McCutcheon. “I hope to come out of this experience with a better understanding of marine policy and whether that may be an avenue I would like to pursue for my career.”

During her internship, McCutcheon will also conduct a research project to synthesize the current state of coastal ocean acidification, including what is known about the interaction of ocean acidification with other human and natural stressors in coastal environments. This project will point out current knowledge gaps and will be used to guide recommendations for future funding appropriations for ocean acidification research. Additionally, she will gain experience in communicating with an array of audiences by creating educational outreach materials to be shared with congressional staff, stakeholders, and public audiences.

“Having studied estuarine acidification throughout my degree, I feel like I will have a lot to contribute to the discussion with congressional offices that are trying to understand this issue,” said McCutcheon.

McCutcheon earned a Master of Science in Environmental Science from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in 2015 and is an Executive Board Student Representative for the Gulf Estuarine Research Society. Additionally, she is the Managing Editor for Third Coast Science For You, a magazine that she co-launched, and works in Hu’s Carbon Cycle Lab.

“By interning at a world-class organization – the Ocean Conservancy, I hope that Melissa’s effort will contribute to better informing the public and facilitating policy making to address the ocean acidification problem,” said Hu. “I thank both the NSF for the financial support and the Ocean Conservancy for offering such a wonderful opportunity to our student.”

Additional Information

McCutcheon was one of only 13 Phi Kappa Phi members nationwide to be awarded a highly competitive 2019 Literacy Grant. She will use the funds to expand the distribution of the Third Coast Science for You magazine to afterschool programs, libraries, and more local businesses. Third Coast Science for You was founded in January 2016 by the Marine Science Graduate Student Organization at A&M-Corpus Christi to increase public awareness on locally important scientific issues.

“The project emphasizes the marine environmental research that is taking place locally to help the community understand the natural environment in their backyard,” McCutcheon said. “This magazine also provides an outlet for scientists to practice science communication to a non-scientific audience.”

The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi – the nation’s oldest and most selective all-discipline honor society – was founded in 1897 at the University of Maine and a chapter was installed at A&M-Corpus Christi in 2014.

Winning literacy projects were selected based on a number of criteria including the project’s scope, student and community involvement, impact, duration and ability to achieve success. This is the second year that A&M-Corpus Christi has won a Phi Kappa Phi Literacy Grant.