URI sophomore in marine biology, aquaculture and fisheries science awarded Hollings Scholarship from NOAA

Owen Fleischer is the 42nd URI student selected for the nationally competitive honor in the program’s 18 years

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 18, 2023 – Owen Fleischer, a University of Rhode Island sophomore majoring in Aquaculture and Fisheries Science and Marine Biology, has been awarded the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the most prestigious scholarship awarded to undergraduates in marine sciences.

This is the 15th year in a row that a URI student has been awarded the nationally competitive NOAA Hollings Scholarship. Since the start of the scholarship program in 2005, URI has had 42 students named Hollings Scholars, representing more than $750,000 in scholarships.

“Representing URI and its incredible staff and students, as well as our amazing marine science program, is a huge honor. I’m overwhelmed by the kind words and support that I’ve gotten from URI administration as well as my professors, coaches, family and friends,” said Fleischer, a member of the URI cross country and track and field teams. “I’m very thankful to NOAA for this opportunity and to Dr. Jacqueline Webb and Kathleen Maher for their guidance during the application process.” (Webb is the George and Barbara Young Chair of Biology and director of the URI Marine Biology Program; Maher is the director of the Office of National Fellowships and Academic Opportunities.)

Annually about 120 students from around the country are named Hollings Scholars, which includes $19,500 in scholarship funds and a paid summer internship at a NOAA lab anywhere in the country. The program also provides funding to participate in two conferences at NOAA headquarters and an opportunity to apply for funds to attend two additional scholarly conferences to present the results of their NOAA internships.

Fleischer, from Durham, New Hampshire, says his love for the outdoors is what spurred his interests in aquaculture and marine biology.

“I’m fortunate to have grown up in an outdoors-oriented family and community with easy access to the ocean, rivers, woods and mountains,” he said. “This constant interaction with nature was a perfect prequel to studying marine science and helped me foster a love of and commitment to the environment.”

At URI, Fleischer is pursuing research interests in marine ecology, specifically how predators interact with and shape their habitat, he says. “I believe this area of research can lead to more efficient conservation protocols, the development of strategically located marine protected areas, and the implementation of smarter fisheries regulation.”

Fleischer has worked in Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Brad Wetherbee’s lab on two projects – using photo identification software to identify southern stingrays in the Cayman Islands and investigating migratory patterns and mortality rates of sand tiger sharks in Delaware Bay. 

“In our research groups, Dr. Wetherbee has us do a lot of our own thinking, which I really like,” Fleischer said. “He wants to make us understand what we are doing and why, instead of just assigning us work.”

The Hollings Scholarship will allow Fleischer to take part in a paid internship at a NOAA lab during the summer between his junior and senior years, and he would love to work on a project that deals with marine protected areas (MPAs). “NOAA does amazing work designating, studying and maintaining the MPAs that play a massive role in species and habitat conservation,” he said.

Like many of URI’s other 41 Hollings Scholars, Fleischer hopes to eventually continue his education in graduate school, although he’s not sure what path he will take. “I feel very supported by my professors and the people I’ve met at URI,” he said. “I know I’ll be ready when it comes time to take the next step.”