Scholarship Creates Hands-On Opportunities for Students to Study at Maine Laboratory
As part of her Bartels Scholarship, Nataly Urgiles ’25, a first-generation student with a passion for conservation, will study at the Isle of Shoals Marine Laboratory in Maine this summer. She’s excited to gain experience in the field that will prepare her to become a scientist and educator.
April 27, 2023
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
When Nataly Urgiles ’25 was growing up, she was fascinated by the differences she saw between where her parents grew up in the mountain villages of Ecuador and where she grew up in New Jersey. She also noticed how people viewed and treated nature differently, depending on where they lived.
When visiting the mountain villages, it was clear to Urgiles just how much people appreciated and respected nature. But, when she visited the port city of Guayaquil, where her father spent much of his life, she noticed more of an indifference toward the environment. Although the communities there heavily relied on the ocean for food and economic reasons, it seemed to Urgiles that they were less committed to protecting their environment. But what she saw also inspired her.
“When I discovered that beaches in the United States were cleaner than those in Ecuador, I was inspired to pursue a career as an educator and advocate for marine life preservation and minority communities,” she said. “Going back and forth between the two countries at a young age, I saw the disconnect between the science community and minority communities.
“This realization turned into passion to protect the homeland of my ancestors,” she continued.
“It also urged me to be an educator who could bridge the scientific community and the public to educate disadvantaged communities about environmental issues. I want to provide them with the tools and knowledge they need to address those issues in an efficient and sustainable manner.”
‘An honor to be chosen’
Urgiles began gaining hands-on experience as a middle schooler, studying aquatic invasive species in the Hudson River area as well as at Sandy Hook Beach in New Jersey. She’s brought her passion and her career goals to the University, where, as a first-generation student, she is studying marine biology and pursuing a minor in race and ethnic studies.
Urgiles’s commitment has now gained her recognition and support at the University, as she was recently named the 2023 recipient of the Bartels Scholarship. The award enables a student studying marine biology or marine affairs to study at the Isle of Shoals Marine Laboratory, a seasonal marine field station located on Appledore Island, Maine. It’s an opportunity Urgiles is thrilled to have.
“Receiving this scholarship has not only allowed me to feel that my hard work is valued, but it is also an honor to be chosen,” she said. “I see it as a steppingstone to show students like myself, who believed that they would never be able to do what I am going to do, that it is, in fact, possible to navigate higher education.”
‘Make life-long connections’
At the laboratory, Urgiles will attend lectures and gain hands-on experience in the field and in the lab. She looks forward to the opportunities she’ll have to make new connections with other students and scientists while she’s there, and she hopes it will advance her goals of supporting climate advocacy and educational outreach.
“This will allow me to personalize what courses I take and can learn from, providing me with more hands-on field experiences,” she said. “It will give me space to collaborate with other students who come from diverse backgrounds and have different perspectives. This experience will also challenge me to become a better scientist and will give me the knowledge and wisdom I need to continue to fight for our oceans.”
Supported by the Bartels family, who are among the University’s most generous benefactors, the scholarship has created exciting opportunities for Chargers for many years. Jennifer Vela ’23, who received the scholarship in 2021, says it enabled her to gain hands-on experience – something beyond what most students take part in while in college.
“This scholarship program is also very important because it allows students to make life-long connections with others in their field,” said Vela, a marine biology major. “I still talk to people I met during my first summer at Shoals!”
‘A great opportunity’
As an award recipient, Vela had the chance to take a hands-on course exploring the anatomy and physiology of marine vertebrates. She enjoyed the unique opportunity to spend time on an island surrounded by wildlife and marine habitats. She went on a whale watch, visited a seal colony, learned about data recording for a tern-restoration project, and assisted in necropsies of marine mammals and sea turtles. Vela also completed a research project exploring seal jaw biomechanics, which, she believes, strengthened her data analysis and presentation skills.
“The Bartels family was very generous and gave me the financial support I needed to return to Shoals for a second course in the summer of 2022,” she said. “I completed the marine mammal biology course, which built on the knowledge I gained in my marine vertebrates courses at both the University of New Haven and Shoals Marine Laboratory. It also put a greater emphasis on critical ecological interactions in the Gulf of Maine and the way marine mammals interact with each other and their environment.”
Urgiles will take the two-week course on marine mammal biology this summer. She’s excited to learn about whales and seals, and she’ll also explore pertinent topics such as conservation, species diversification, and management of threatened species. She’s confident that what she learns will help her to excel in her career.
“This is a great opportunity,” she said. “By being able to identify and explain the adaptations that species in the Gulf of Maine had to develop, understanding the impacts of anthropogenic threats on them as well as how seasons impact reproduction and resource availability will prepare me when educating the public and advocating for marine life.”