Keri Feehan is a native of Lunenburg, Mass., who will graduate from UMaine in May 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in marine sciences, with a concentration in marine biology. She also has been active with the University of Maine Hip Hop Dance and the Darling Marine Center Scuba clubs.
Why did you choose UMaine?
I chose UMaine for its highly reputable marine sciences program. I was really impressed with the program and its student-to-professor ratios. UMaine has some of the leading engineering, environmental and marine science studies and facilities in the U.S. and, to me, that settled the matter.
What do you hope to do after graduation?
I ultimately wish to obtain my Ph.D. in marine biology. UMaine has provided me with all the tools to become successful and follow my dreams. UMaine’s faculty has encouraged and helped me hone my scientific and research skills. Through UMaine’s intense and reputable marine science program, I am confident in knowing I will one day be a leading researcher and educator just like those I’ve had the great fortune to learn from.
How would you describe the academic atmosphere at UMaine?
UMaine has a great collegiate atmosphere. UMaine’s faculty is known for its collaborative work and passionate teaching. The student body overall is curious and hard working.
Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better?
I have been so fortunate to work with multiple inspiring and brilliant professors at UMaine. They have truly shaped my view on life and inspired me to realize that “hey, you can do what you love everyday,” and for that I will be forever thankful.
Without (Associate Professor of Oceanography William) Ellis, I wouldn’t have known about the amazing hands-on May Term course offered at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole. Without (Department of Physics and Astronomy Research Scientist George) Bernhardt, I doubt I ever would have fallen in love with physics. (Professor of Oceanography Emmanuel) Boss’s energetic attitude inspires all marine science students and, without him, I would not have successfully built my own remotely operated underwater vehicle. If it weren’t for (Darling Marine Center) Dive Safety Officer Chris Rigaud, I would not feel completely at ease while 80 feet under the sea, or have the ability and confidence to rescue an unconscious diver. Through (Professor of Marine Sciences Kevin) Eckelbarger, I have explored and become immensely passionate about invertebrates and histology. I wouldn’t be where I am today without (School of Marine Sciences Research Assistant Professor) Rhian Waller, my senior capstone thesis adviser, or (Frederick) Birdie Sawyer of the School of Performing Arts dance faculty. Professor Waller has opened my eyes to the world of invertebrate reproductive biology, encouraged me and fueled my passion for marine science. Her work is fascinating. I am also lucky to have received a John Dearborn Scholarship through the School of Marine Sciences, which allowed me to intern in the lab at the Darling Marine Center last summer. Professor Waller has been a great inspiration to me and I hope I will be able to collaborate with her on future projects. Birdie Sawyer was one of the first people I met at UMaine through the UMaine Hip Hop Club and dance program. He is one of my greatest role models; he’s talented, hardworking and passionate. I have been blessed to dance along side of him for four years, as well as being a TA in the Dance 297 course.
Have you had an experience at UMaine that has changed or shaped the way you see the world?
Obviously everyone grows up, especially within the four years of college. This is the time you define yourself, your work ethic and what’s really important in your life. UMaine has helped me do just that; I am my own advocate and I know what I want out of life. Most importantly, I have the confidence and passion to pursue it.
Have you participated in any internships, fieldwork or co-ops related to your major?
I have participated in multiple research experiences, as well as spending seven months at the university’s marine laboratory at the Darling Marine Center. I have had field and laboratory experience in reproductive ecology, microplastic analysis, phytoplankton and North Atlantic invertebrate identification, nutrient analysis and ecological surveys via scuba. Through these experiences, I have learned that vital techniques such as histology, analytical skills and understanding are key to identifying North Atlantic invertebrate taxonomic groups. The Dearborn scholarship allowed me to spend the summer researching the reproductive ecology of cold-water corals in Professor Waller’s lab. Cold-water or deep-sea corals are important bioengineers, providing habits for thousands of species. We are just now starting to study and understand them, although it might be too late, due to the severity of bottom trawling around the world. Some species of cold-water corals can live up to 4,000 years –– one of the oldest living animals on the planet — and document ocean chemistry in their growth rings like trees. Cold-water corals can provide vital paleo-oceanographic data for climate change research. During my internship, I primarily focused on researching the fecundity and egg size in the Antarctic coral Fungiacythus marenzelleri. I hope the implications of my research will help provide new understanding of these beautiful organisms, as well as help lend credence to their need for protection. Through the internship, I also became a scientific diver-in-training, which allowed me to go with Professor Waller to collect sea anemones for a future reproductive ecology capstone project. The internship was pivotal in my marine science career, and allowed me to discover more specifically the answers to questions in marine science that I wish to focus my future studies on –– reproductive, developmental and invertebrate ecology. Because of my experiences as a scientific diver-in-training and the scientific diving course at the Darling Marine Center, I have been asked to participate on multiple scientific research diving projects.
What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine?
The most interesting classes would be engineering physics and Physical Scientist I and II, and scientific diving. Physics with Professor Bernhardt was as fascinating as it was difficult. I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to be able to take a double integral to determine the strength and direction of a magnetic field; it’s really neat stuff. Scientific diving was one of my favorite classes because the academic portion covered a variety of topics, from human physiology to the ideal gas laws. As for the hands-on portion of the course, what is better than diving every class? I doubt any class will ever compare to what I learned or experienced in scientific diving. The most engaging classes I’ve taken are engineering literacy, marine ecology and biology of invertebrates. The way Professor Boss presents the material in engineering literacy makes you feel as if you can take on the world. Engineering literacy is primarily hands-on learning about programming, soldering and ultimately building moving, working, programmable robots. Marine ecology, taught by (Professor of Marine Sciences Robert) Steneck, gets you out in the field every class. This allows you to learn vital field-research skills, and the lectures are packed with the tools to learn the language of ecology. The marine invertebrate course also has you out in the field every day collecting animals and identifying them. It’s really neat that after a few weeks you can go diving or walk along the intertidal zone and be able to identify almost everything you see.
Have you gained any hands-on or real-world experience through your coursework? If so, tell us about it.
Through integrative marine science courses –– May Term at the Darling Marine Center and Semester by the Sea –– I have had an enormous amount of hands-on experience. I would highly advise all marine sciences students or any student interested in the ocean to take the May Term or Semester by the Sea courses.
What are UMaine students like?
UMaine students are a lively group. We’re diverse in interests, engaged in everything from Division I sports to international cultures and theater. I’ve found that UMaine students are curious young adults excited about taking the next step in life. Also, in Maine, almost everyone loves the outdoors, whether it is Frisbee on the Mall, rugby or whitewater rafting; UMaine students are game.
What surprised you about UMaine?
I was surprise by how friendly everyone at UMaine is. It was a pleasant surprise coming to visit UMaine. Everyone opens doors for one another, smiles and says good morning.
Describe UMaine in one word.
What do you do outside of class?
Outside of class, I am almost always dancing; on average, I dance 20 hours a week. I am either with the UMaine Hip Hop Dance Club, collaborating on choreography with Professor Sawyer, or getting together with the Pandemonium Master Dance Crew. I have been the copresident of the UMaine Hip Hop Dance Club for two-and-a-half years. Originally, the group was made up of 15 dedicated students who wanted to spread the love of dance through dance, and since then we have grown to more than 50 members strong. We strive to have fun and teach hip-hop to all levels, from people with two left feet, never dancing a day in their life to dancers with 15-plus years of experience.
On the off chance I’m not there or studying in the Bear’s Den with a peppermint hot cocoa or dancing, I am diving with the Darling Marine Center Scuba Club. As the vice president, I actively plan and regulate diving procedures. One of our last trips was a night dive at Sand Cove Beach in South Bristol, Maine. It was a chilly 30 degrees out, but the moon was full and the water alive with bioluminescence as we swam. It was one of the most amazing natural experiences I’ve ever had.
Favorite place on campus?
The Class of 1944 Hall dance studio. It’s my home away from home and my piece of mind. When I enter that room, nothing else matters. I’m either there alone or with a group of people that’s as close to me as my family doing what I love most –– dancing.
Favorite place off campus?
The public parks along the Stillwater River. I love sitting and watching the sun set or rise over the river; it’s always bright with golds, pinks and purples –– the perfect way to start or end a day.
How’s the food? What’s your favorite thing to eat on campus?
The food is pretty good; I have celiac disease, so I am on a completely gluten-free diet. Being gluten-free on campus is 10 times easier now than two years previously. The culinary staff is accommodating and helpful to people with special dietary needs and they also provide multiple vegan and vegetarian options. My favorite thing to eat would have to be the chicken stir-fry in the Union.
What is your favorite UMaine tradition?
The International Dance Festival. It is held in the Collins Center for the Arts (CCA) every February, and all the multicultural groups on campus come and put on a dance from their native cultures. The UMaine Hip Hop Club always participates, and to me, it is the most fun performance opportunity on campus.
What is your most memorable UMaine moment?
My most memorable UMaine moment is more a collage of moments –– being on the CCA stage for the first time; climbing a 400-foot mountain face with the Maine Bound Adventure Center; going to my first UMaine hockey game; becoming president of the UMaine Hip Hop Dance Club; my first open water scuba dive; receiving the blue ribbon award in the Bio 100 laboratory; and, of course, the countless memories with my college friends.
What was your first year like?
My first year was exciting. It was so fun meeting new people and making friends. I also love to learn, and even as a first-year student, I had almost all marine science classes. I was so engaged and interested in my work, it didn’t even feel like work half the time.
What is your favorite memory of living on campus?
My favorite memory of living on campus has got to be sophomore year living in Kennebec Hall. There was a great group of people in Kennebec that year, plus a majority of my friends. There also is a studio in the basement of Kennebec. I could go down the stairway and crank out some choreography for the Hip Hop Dance Club –– without walking 15 minutes across campus.
What is there to do in Orono, Maine?
Orono is beautiful all year-round with classic college-ivy brick buildings, the river and an adorable downtown. Its beautiful attractions also provide tons of fun activities for students. The river is great for kayaking and canoeing; students are always seen swimming on hot early fall and late spring days. The downtown hosts many favorite local restaurants, bakeries and bars only a mile from campus. The campus offers countless clubs, intramural sports, a state-of-the-art fitness center and the Maine Bound Adventure Center, complete with an indoor climbing tower.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
College is really what you make, no matter where you go. There are so many amazing opportunities at your fingertips, whether you’re into nutrition, sports science or politics. Go out and take those opportunities to discover your passion. Go to that paintball or ice-climbing club simply because you’ve always wanted to try it.
There will be no other time in your life when you can ask one of the world’s leading experts in a favorite academic discipline anything you want, or to participate in countless recreational actives for free.
Go out, have fun, discover yourself, and help give back to the university so programs can prosper for future students. Be bold, be curious and be your own advocate.
Image Description: Keri Feehan