MSI/MACO Advancement Awardees

The Marine Studies Initiative (MSI) / Marine and Coastal Opportunities (MACO) Advancement Award supports cultivating interdisciplinary collaborations, including through focus on human dimensions of the ocean and coasts; expanding and enhancing educational opportunities at the coast; and further strengthening inclusive excellence in marine-related programs. * The MSI Advancement Awards were established to advance OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative. Coming soon! Marine Studies Initiative is becoming Marine and Coastal Opportunities, MACO. Learn more at

View the 2024 Advancement Awardees and learn more about their projects below.

Congratulations to the Advancement Awardees for the 2024 calendar year!


This new course is FW 568 and will be offered for the first time in Summer 2024.

Project members: Lisa T. Ballance (project lead), Selina Heppell, Tara Whitty, Renee Albertson, Mauricio Cantor

Human Dimensions in Marine Mammal Conservation, a 4-credit, 3 week intensive course, uses principles of Design Thinking to teach collaborative approaches to address conflicts associated with use of natural resources that bring humans into conflict with marine mammals (and other components of marine ecosystems). Skills and core values needed to understand human dimensions of resource use (empathy, mindfulness, creativity, and optimism) are introduced and developed through exercises where students develop (and test) solutions to these conflicts. Transdisciplinary work is at the core of solutions where collaborators must be able to work together across disciplinary and sectoral barriers.

This course is open to all graduate students at OSU, and globally (including through Ecampus in the future). It is the sole required course for OSU’s new Marine Mammal Graduate Certificate. Its principles and approach are deeply relevant to anyone who strives to find solutions to problems associated with human-wildlife conflict.


Project members: Madison Bargas (project lead) and Cheryl Barnes

My master’s thesis addresses an important informational void by quantifying the life history traits of black rockfish (Sebastes melanops) across their natural range, spanning from central California to Alaska. Length, weight, maturity stage, and age data will be collected to assess reproductive health and to gain a comprehensive understanding of stock structure. To collect data within such an extensive range, we will use a transdisciplinary approach for collaboration. I will work with local fishers, scientific agencies, and undergraduate students to collect samples in each region and across the size range of black rockfish. This entails participating in fishery-independent surveys and salvaging carcasses from recreational and commercial fisheries. Utilizing an assortment of sampling methods allows for the collection of specimens from different size classes, which is necessary to estimate growth and reproductive rates for a given population. This project fosters robust collaboration among scientific agencies, fishery stakeholders, private anglers, and the University. Using this approach to collaboration, we plan to foster trust, effective communication, and a shared understanding of an important resource.

Photo: Collaborative science in action: Partnering with the Oregon South Coast Fishermen group in Brookings, OR embodies the goal-oriented and collaborative nature of this project. Engaging with local anglers offers valuable insights into Oregon’s recreational fisheries, fosters trust, and enhances a shared understanding of an important resource.


Project members: Andrew Myers (project lead) and Michael Boonstra

Creative Coast is a four-credit, five-day intensive experiential learning studio art course that focuses on the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, the Hatfield Marine Science Center and the surrounding Central Oregon Coast. The places will serve as outside studios and the people, history, ecology, and immediate sensory experiences the inspiration for creating site responsive artworks. Five days and four nights will be spent camping on site at Cape Perpetua, interacting and learning from the people and places associated with the area with the goal of creating artwork informed by these immediate site-based interactions. Guided by USFS rangers and others through talks and walks through the area, we will learn about and explore the unique ecosystems consisting of rocky intertidal zones and old growth forests, while also considering the history of human interaction with the landscape. Visiting artists, scholars and scientists will join us throughout the week.

As part of the experience, each student will produce a portfolio of site observations through sketches, photography, video, sound recording and/or writing.

Photo: Visiting artist and researcher Lisa Schonberg works with Creative Coast student Ellie Lafferty recording the sounds of Cape Perpetua.

The virtual field: Bridging Gaps and expanding accessibility to field stations, marine labs, and field research

Project members: Itchung Cheung (project lead) and Dwaine Plaza

The primary goal of this project is to expose students to an array of ecosystems, real-world exploration and marine research through the lens of innovative camera technology. By utilizing GoPro and GoPro Max 360 cameras, students will not only learn to document their observations but also engage in immersive experiences that mimic on-site field experiences and research settings. The project aims to foster observation skills, instill a deeper appreciation for careers in research, and enhance science communication abilities among participating students.

Building upon the development of (TVF) platform and leveraging partnerships with the National Association of Marine Labs (NAML) and the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), we would like to pilot several of the activities (Ecosystem Exploration, Live From the Field, and Virtual 360) with two OSU transdisciplinary courses, the OSU GO Faculty-led spring break program, Aruban Environment, Culture and Society and the OSU Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) course, Coasts Compared: Aruba and Oregon. Co-taught by Professor Dwaine Plaza (Sociology) and Assistant Professor Itchung Cheung (Integrative Biology), the OSU GO course will take 20 OSU students to the island of Aruba to study the cultural, historical and sustainable development of island ecosystems and natural resources on the Caribbean island country of Aruba during spring break. In addition, video content created by the course will be used in the spring term for the OSU COIL course, Coasts Compared: Aruba and Oregon. Areas of focus: socioeconomic and environmental resources connected to human activities in coastal areas, specifically the Caribbean island country of Aruba. Cross-cultural communication skills and global understanding. Introduction to a network of field stations and marine labs (NAML, OBFS) offering education, research, and career opportunities.

Photo: Students in the Coasts Compared: Aruba and Oregon field course.

OSU GO faculty-led service learning in puerto rico - resilient coastal communities/natural resources education

Project members: Wanda Crannell (project lead), Shawn Rowe, Susan Rowe, Kate Field, Rachel Jones, Renee O'Neill

Island communities are often changed by limited natural resources, narrow-based economies, large distances from major markets, and vulnerabilities to external shocks, such as natural disasters, all of which can affect economic growth, increase poverty, and lead to a high degree of economic volatility. During this 8-day program, we will visit research sites, meet USDA researchers, PR Sea Grant faculty, and Puerto Rico faculty and students. We will work in and with a local school. Key topics and issues that we will cover include food security and production, climate change adaptation, protected area management, biocultural conservation, sustainable forest management, watershed management, sustainable development, coral reef and fisheries management, population genetics, biodiversity measurement methods and ecosystem restoration.

Photo: Students walking on a path in Puerto Rico, 2022

Oregon sea grant marine education and outreach internship

Project members: Tracy Crews (project lead), Renee Fowler, Lindsay Carroll, Cait Goodwin, Stacia Carpenter

With support from MACO, Oregon Sea Grant (OSG) is launching a new program that will allow undergraduate students the opportunity to explore a variety of marine-related careers, strengthen their collaboration and communication skills, and support excellence in marine education. Students will work with the OSG educators and undergo training in youth safety,effective outreach and interpretation techniques, program development and implementation,and exhibit design. During this program, they will have the opportunity to participate in and support a variety of education and outreach activities for youth and the public. With the guidance and mentorship of our education staff, students will also participate in our Exhibit Team, providing valuable input into the development of future interpretive exhibits, and will create and lead a hands-on, ocean-themed educational activity on a topic of their choosing.

Photo: Oregon Sea Grant educator interacting with visitors at the Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitor Center

building a user friendly research tool for marine research and education

Project members: Drummond Wengrove (project lead), Kelly Lawrence, Matt Blume, Leif Rasmuson

In every corner of the world marine research utilizes underwater video technology to observe, study, and protect the species and habitats that make up our world’s oceans. Cameras are a nonextractive sampling method and allow researchers to study previously inaccessible habitats, making them a critical marine resource management tool. While some underwater video products are available off-the shelf, it is more common for researchers to be part of designing and building customized video tools to suit their research needs. This is the case for the Fisheries Research Team at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, who have been developing and deploying underwater video tools for over a decade. The Fisheries Research Team’s current stereo camera system requires a high level of expertise to operate, and the camera technology is becoming outdated; so, they have collaborated with OSU’s Innovation Lab to build an updated underwater stereo video system that will continue to fulfill their current research needs but with upgraded technology and a more user-friendly design. The objective being, a new camera system that will be easier to operate, allowing it to be used for a larger variety of projects, as well as include more research participants (collaborators, students, volunteers, interns, etc.).

reducing small-cetacean bycatch in srilankan gillnet fishery

Project members: Joshua D. Stewart (project lead) and Shanta Shamsunnahar

Gillnets, which were developed as long-lasting and affordable fishing gear, have been actively promoted since the 1960s, resulting in increased bycatch in coastal and marine cetaceans across the world. Extensive research has been ongoing for the past 30 years to identify cetacean bycatch mitigation strategies with limited success, due to their widespread popularity among small-scale fishers. Additionally, due to the nature of the fisheries (small, numerous, often with no requirements for license or registration, and typically lacking predictable landing areas) many bycatch management tools, such as observer programs, are ineffective.

A recent study found that floating, subsurface gillnets positioned 2 meters below the surface might reduce cetacean bycatch substantially. Professor Joshua Stewart, PI on a project that collaborates with fishermen in Sri Lanka, is testing this technique and its economic implications.

Shanta Shamsunnahar, a graduate student who works closely with Dr. Stewart, will assist him in conducting semi-structured interviews with fishers in Sri Lanka to determine their socioeconomic status, fishing effort characteristics, intensity perceptions, species composition, spatiotemporal distribution, and the economic costs and advantages of bycatch. This initiative will provide information on fishers' perceived barriers to using modified gear or procedures to minimize bycatch risk maximizing its real-world conservation impact.

Photo: Gillnet and fishermen in Sri Lanka

thinking with oceans

This course is MAST 406 and will be offered for first time in Summer 2024.

Project Leader: Rebekah Sinclair

Thinking With Oceans dives into marine issues of scientific and moral concern through the lenses of Western science, environmental feminism and philosophy, and Traditional Ecological Knowledges. Together we will explore what it means to relate to oceans ethically in both science and society, in ways that reflect the ocean’s own fluidity and movement. The course takes place on the figurative shores where scientific, philosophical,and creative/artistic inquiry meet, and on the literal shores of the Oregon Coast (at Hatfield Marine Science Center), where students will spend four days exploring ways to improve and reimagine our connection to marine lives and spaces. While at Hatfield, the class will host talks and interactive experiences led by a number of special guests: biologists challenging colonial histories and ontologies of Oregon dune management, philosophers studying Native Hawaiian ocean feminisms, tribal members preserving coastal Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and even a local artist whose work resists the stagnation and objective distance typical of scientific representation,and instead focuses on depicting marine beings in their individuality, personality, fluidity, and agency.

assessing social and ecological enabling conditions for effectiveness in oregon mpas

Project members: Jenna Sullivan-Stack & Kirsten Grorud-Colvert (project co-leaders); Lindsay Aylesworth, Sarah Klain, Katy Bear Nalven

This award will support a collaboration between two teams of interdisciplinary scientists -- at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Reserves Program and The MPA Project at Oregon State University, along with other collaborators on a recent tool for understanding and tracking marine protected areas (MPAs) internationally called The MPA Guide. The work will contribute to a growing understanding of integrated ecological and social aspects of effectiveness in Oregon’s MPAs. Through its link with The MPA Guide, it will also contribute to international conversations about effectiveness of MPA outcomes for biodiversity conservation and human well-being, bringing insights from Oregon to global audiences. Funding will support an undergraduate student to help complete research and coordinate collaboration to better understand how the requisite conditions for effective MPAs outlined in The MPA Guide are met in the Oregon system of marine reserves.

Photo: ODFW 2022. Marine Reserves Program Synthesis Report: 2009-2021. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Newport, Oregon.

integrating local students into gray whale and coastal ecology research in port orford

Project members: Leigh Torres (project lead), Allison Dawn, Celest Sorrentino

Two research teams, TOPAZ and JASPER, are blended in this unique project that integrates research with STEM education by bringing together a team of graduate students, undergraduate students, and high school students for a six-week intensive field season each year where students conduct research, hone teamwork and leadership skills, and build their STEM identity.Overall, the program strives to connect the community with their local ocean ecosystem, impact the career trajectories of students, increase ocean literacy and appreciation, and gain important data on the ecology of marine predators and their prey.

TOPAZ: Theodolite Overlooking Predators and Zooplankton (gray whale foraging ecology)

JASPER: Journey for Aspiring Students Pursuing Ecological Research

Photo: The TOPAZ/JASPER team after the community presentation. From left to right: A. Covey, N. Webster, Tom Calvanese (station manager), J. Lewis, L. Torres, A. Dawn.

Blue Religion: Humans, Oceans, and Spirituality: REL/PHL 478; MAST 406

Project leader: Amy Koehlinger

*pending course scheduling in Academic Year 2024/2025

"Blue Religion" interrogates how and why religion differs in maritime environments. We will explore a range of historical and cultural examples of religion in circumstances where humans engage with oceans, including the spiritual cosmologies of coastal indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest, religious pluralism on whaling ships, the effect of sea travel on missionary excursions, the religious elements of the experience of enslaved people in the middle passage, lore around mer-people and other maritime monsters, and the spiritual components of surfing and other oceanic sports. This interdisciplinary course engages with a wide variety of sources, from traditional academic scholarship in history, anthropology, and religious studies to primary historical documents and cultural artifacts like folktales, sea shanties, hand-drawn maps, and contemporary media, including podcasts, documentary films, and musical recordings. The four-credit, Corvallis-based course includes a 3-day coastal experience in Newport to engage in exploration, discussion, and creative activity in the coastal environment around Hatfield. "Blue Religion" builds on and expands the 3-day experiential course "Oceanic Religion" offered spring term 2024 at Cape Perpetua State Park.