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Alexandra Elizabeth Sinno

(She/Her/Ella)

Undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island

Graduate School of Oceanography: Menden-Deuer Plankton Laboratory/The Beinart Lab

 2022 NOAA Hollings Scholar

AAUS Scientific Diver

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Hello!

My name is Alex and I am currently an Undergraduate marine biologist at the University of Rhode Island. Even though I have not graduated yet, I have gotten the opportunity to participate in some wonderful research opportunities and I would love to share more about them! 

What I love the most are the small things. Symbionts, microbes, and bacteria fascinate me. I one day strive to conduct a PhD. decertation, researching the microbial community of different organisms. 

Intellectual Autobiography

​When the screen turned a deep blue as bubbles floated up from the ocean, I was immediately captivated. As I turned up the volume to better hear the narrator of “Chasing Coral”, it all came together perfectly. I kept watching at the edge of my seat, my emotions were building like lava erupting from a volcano. My eyes got teary as I learned more about how the fate of corals could be sealed if nothing is done. In that moment I found my calling.

 

I was homeschooled starting in the 4th grade when I was diagnosed with dyslexia. The decision for me to be homeschooled was probably the wisest decision that we could have made. I started working with a tutor to address my dyslexia three to four times a week, which extended over seven years. I can confidently say that without my tutor I would not be where I am today. As a homeschooler I had to be accountable for the completion of my own work. This was very challenging at times, but it instilled in me extraordinary time management and organizational skills. This was the foundation of my love for learning. There were days that having dyslexia felt like a curse. However, I can say with certainty that having dyslexia is what shaped me into the driven, hard-working person that I am. It is the reason I know how to solve problems, think outside of the box and explore new ideas. Having dyslexia is a gift, and I would not trade it for anything.

 

Being homeschooled also gave me the flexibility to participate in 250 hours of required community service. I had a very diverse set of experiences with community service, from indigenous land clean ups, wildlife rehabilitation and tree planting to being an assistant teacher for classes in public speaking and dance. All of these experiences have shaped my love for serving people and the environment. The most impactful community service experience that I participated in was cleaning up indigenous land in Mahwah NJ with the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization, which is fully youth-led. Their mission with this ongoing project is to fully clean up the site, which is full of car parts, tires and trash and donate it back to the indigenous people that once used to live, hunt and reside there.

 

My struggles with dyslexia continued through high school. After taking dance lessons starting at age 2 and voice lessons starting at age 12, I found a home in musical theater and I am very proud of how much time and effort I have put into it. Over the course of 4 years I participated in 9 productions, with my favorite leading role being Gertrud McFuzz in “Seussical the Musical”. Acting, singing, and dancing have all had a huge impact on how I have managed my dyslexia. In spite of my dyslexia, I took community college courses in my senior year and received a 4.0 GPA- I had only dreamed that this was possible. I also completed a required senior capstone project where I decided to merge my love for the arts and for science into a visual arts project. I spend over 260 hours creating a clay sculpture of coral. Seeing it fully completed and receiving the feedback from my adviser showed that the hard work was worth it. I graduated high school with 3.89 GPA. While my journey to the University of Rhode Island had been a bit rocky, I knew I could not have picked a better school.

 

I had started at Unity College, an environmentally-focused school in Maine, but because of the COVID 19 pandemic, they permanently switched to an online format. Although I did well in the online classes, I needed more of a connection to my schoolwork and the professors. I transferred to URI because it has one of the best Marine Biology programs around and I was very excited when I finally received my acceptance letter and started at URI in spring 2021 as a Marine Biology major with a minor in Cell and Molecular Biology to broaden my knowledge and career options.

I plan on focusing my career researching coral microbiology. To begin, over the summer of 2022, I participated in a paid research internship at Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch, where I studied coral colony size and recruitment patterns of Oculina diffusa and O. varicosa in the Indian River Lagoon, under the mentorship of Dr. Andia Chaves-Fonnegra and one of the world's experts in Oculina spp. John Reed.

I spent the fall 2022 semester on URI's study abroad program at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences where I had the opportunity to perform a research project studying the differences microbial abundance and composition of ex situ and in situ coral. The reason why I performed this research is because coral health studies are often preformed within simulated ocean environments which typically only contain the coral, seawater, and light. However, flourishing reef environments encompass a diverse system, including many other factors that dictate coral health. The results of this study showed that corals ex situ exhibit a significantly lower microbial abundance compared in situ corals of the same species. If this is true for corals in all ex situ environments, this means that coral researchers need to take this difference into account when studying coral health within lab environments.

 

Over the summer of 2023, I continued my research with coral communities with the National Oceanic Atmospheric and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the 2022 Ernest F. NOAA Hollings scholarship. I traveled to the Northern Mariana Islands as a CNMI Coral Restoration Scholar for a 10-week paid NOAA internship where I ended up researching coral damages from Typhoon Mawar. After the conclusion of that research opportunity, I presented my research findings at the NOAA Scholars Symposium and am planning on presenting at two scientific conferences.

After graduation, I plan to pursue a Master of Science in coral reef Microbiology. After completion of the MS, I eventually hope to earn a PhD and conduct research in the microbiology of coral reefs through a nonprofit organization or a government agency where I can work on conservation efforts as well as outreach. Through all these experiences, I am currently taking action and trying my best improve the conservation and resilience of coral reefs.

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