Local biology major says ‘yes’ to NOAA

Carlee Scott Dunn of Monroe is looking forward to 10 weeks of immersive oceanic education this summer.

Carlee Scott Dunn earns scholarship, looks forward to 10 weeks of immersive oceanic education



For as long as she can remember, Carlee Scott Dunn has loved marine biology. Fond memories of childhood trips to the beach are tinged with an awed fascination fueled by devouring book after book about the oceans that dominate the planet.

And with the recent news that the Monroe Township resident has been offered an appointment to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Education’s prestigious Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program, she hopes to translate that passion into action.

“When I was little, I read all kinds of books about the ocean, anything I could get my hands on,” Dunn said. “It’s always been a big part of my life, for sure.”

That enthusiasm stayed with her as she grew up. After Dunn graduated from Monroe Township Middle School in 2015, she attended The Marine Academy of Science and Technology in Sandy Hook, which offers students the opportunity to focus on marine technology and science. She credits her parents’ support for allowing her to attend summer camps at The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, where the southern New Jersey town’s proximity to the ocean provided an interactive education in preserving and protecting coastal ecosystems.

And it was all the assurance she needed that she was on the right path.

“That was all about salt marsh ecology and environmental science,” Dunn said. “You learn about all the different things that live there and the ways that all these things are connected, and that was it for me. I knew that was what I wanted to study when I was older. I just find it fascinating.”

Dunn, currently a dean’s list biology major at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, is among a fraction of applicants who will receive academic assistance through the program’s monetary award for the next two school years.

She’ll also be pursuing an internship at one of NOAA’s nationwide facilities next summer for an immersive dive into oceanographic research, climate, marine biology and more. Though it’s still to be determined where she’ll be working, Dunn is already thrilled that devoting herself to 10 weeks of full-time, hands-on work in a field she cares deeply about is on the horizon.

“I’ll get to be involved in research projects another scientist is doing, which is really exciting,” she said. “Being able to do some meaningful research that has an impact on the world is really important to me. I can’t wait to make new connections and meet new people in this field.”

Dunn said that applying for the NOAA program was an involved process. The application itself was lengthy: She was required to provide information about her grades, extracurricular activities, campus involvement and research experiences, as well as write a personal essay and procure letters of recommendation.

And after a few months of waiting, she was blown away when she found out that she would be among the 2021-’23 Ernest F. Hollings scholars.

“I saw the email and I saw the subject line and I was kind of afraid to look at it,” Dunn admitted. “And then I opened it and I was just shocked. I had to read it a couple of times — I couldn’t believe it!”

For Dunn, the opportunity gets her one step closer to her post-college dreams, giving her a new way to frame what her education has revealed to her as she endeavors to help others understand why what happens to the oceans profoundly affects life on land, and vice versa.

“I rely a lot on fun facts,” she said with a laugh. “I try to focus on interesting things that people might not know to get them to see the ways that we’re connected. If you can convince people that what they do affects the oceans and what happens to the oceans affects them, it’s much easier to teach them that we’re not that removed from those consequences. We’re all a part of nature and we should care about it.”

For now, she’s focusing on her studies — she’s minoring in marine science and considering adding environmental science policy to her academic resume — while advocating for the oceans she loves so much.

“Ideally, I would love to have the kind of job that incorporates a little bit of research with interacting with the public and helping to teach people,” she said. “Teaching people is really important to me: They care about what they know about.”

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