Muscat fourth student in four years to be named prestigious NOAA scholar

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has named Abigail Muscat a 2020 Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholar.

Muscat, a rising third-year marine sciences major and international affairs minor at the University of Maine, will receive a two-year academic scholarship, a 10-week paid summer internship opportunity and funding to participate in two national science conferences. 

“It is an honor to be selected for this opportunity, and to represent my college in the program,” says Muscat. “I look forward to expanding my knowledge and networking with the NOAA team and other scholars.”

The Bass Harbor, Maine resident is one of 123 Hollings Scholars nationwide this year.

Muscat, who attended Ipswich High School in Massachusetts, is a research assistant with Maine Sea Grant and a lab assistant in the Klemmer and Jayasundara labs at UMaine. 

For Maine Sea Grant, Muscat creates summaries, blogs and social media posts for projects. “It’s helped me with translating ‘sciencey’ language so it’s understood by the general public,” she says.

In the Klemmer Lab, which examines food web interactions — often across ecosystem boundaries — Muscat identifies and sorts invertebrate species found in rockweed samples.

And in the Jayasundara Lab, which investigates ecological and human health implications of chemical pollution and climate change, she analyzes impacts of mixed well water contamination on the behavior of zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos.

For as long as Muscat can remember, she’s been interested in marine sciences. Growing up, she interned at the New England Aquarium in Boston and with, the world’s largest nature network. She chose her minor to understand how international policies are created. 

The Honors College student also facilitates the Honors course Currents & Contexts. Muscat says she’s experienced considerable personal growth in this role, including understanding how courses are organized and how to communicate more effectively.

Muscat recently earned her scuba diving certification. She enjoys hiking, skiing, and most outside activities, including horse riding as a member of the UMaine Equestrian Team. And the Marine Science Club vice president thoroughly enjoyed attending the release of a rehabilitated seal at Popham Beach. 

She’s the fourth UMaine student in four years to receive the prestigious scholarship. Prior Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate scholars are Brynn Yarbrough (2019), a marine sciences major and Honors College student; Grace McDermott (2017), a marine sciences major; and Brianna DeGone (2016), a bioengineering major and salutatorian of the class of 2018.

The Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship was established in 2005 in honor of the U.S. senator from South Carolina who supported ocean policy and conservation.

“NOAA welcomes the 2020 class of outstanding scholars,” says Louisa Koch, director of NOAA Education. “These students bring new skills and abilities that will help us better understand our changing world.”

Muscat plans to attend graduate school and is looking forward to combining her interests in marine science and ornithology by examining the interactions of marine environments and birds. 

In Bass Harbor, Muscat and her parents, Stefanie and Tyrone share their home with a zebra finch, bearded dragon, fish, turtles, and West Highland white terrier.

Muscat says she’d like to have a career at NOAA or a similar agency, conducting research that influences the creation of policies. 

William Ellis, School of Marine Sciences undergraduate coordinator, supported Muscat’s application, as did the UMaine Office of Major Scholarships and faculty members who wrote recommendation letters.

To learn more about this and other prestigious national merit-based scholarships, contact Nives Dal Bo-Wheeler, director of the Office of Major Scholarships.

Contact: Beth Staples,