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Jenna Hartley Awarded NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship

Jenna Hartley Awarded NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship
Photo courtesy of Jenna Hartley

Like so many other graduate students, Jenna Hartley is a busy person. She’s a PhD student in the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, a mom, an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and most recently, she was the first person from NC State to be granted the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In her words, she’s “so happy but forever sleepy.”

Awarded by NOAA’s Office of Marine Sanctuaries, the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship program provides $186,000 over four years to women and minorities studying environmental science. The scholarship helps cover tuition, books, health insurance and more. 

According to Jenna, “NOAA is the gold standard in environmental education,” a major focus in her research. After Googling “how to get a job at NOAA” and finding this program, Jenna knew she’d be a great fit.

student cleanup sign
Students from Wrightsville Beach Elementary School participated in a community-wide beach cleanup in April 2019 in Wilmington, NC. Over 300 people were in attendance. Photo provided

Applying Her Research

After teaching science in schools for almost 10 years, Jenna returned to higher education and pursued her master’s and doctoral degrees. She’s currently a PhD student in the environmental education lab at NC State’s College of Natural Resources. 

In a perfect world, Jenna would like to increase accessibility and meaningful connections to nature for all students regardless of their socioeconomic status or background. That vision was matched by others in the college and the lab. 

“I felt like I was at home,” Jenna said. “The College of Natural Resources has totally embraced me with open arms, and I have never felt unwelcome even with my unique family status.” 

Recent research from the lab revealed intergenerational learning, where kids teach adults, can have a large impact on adults’ views on environmental topics such as climate change. 

student trash pickup
Students from Wake County, NC pose with their trash haul from a pickup at Walnut Creek Wetland Center in Fall 2018. Photo provided

Using the concept of intergenerational learning, Jenna’s research examines the role of young students as environmental and community change-agents, specifically on the topic of marine debris or plastic pollution. Through her research, 4th and 5th grade teachers are trained in a marine debris curriculum that thousands of students spend a year going through. The students then host engagement programs where they share their new knowledge with parents, community members and local officials.

In our environmental education lab led by Dr. Kathryn Stevenson, we believe that environmental education is not just the right thing to do, it may be the most effective thing we can do to preserve and protect the environment.

student presentation
Students presented their work on marine debris at Footnote Cafe in Winston-Salem, NC. Foothills Brewery was so inspired by their work, they released a special IPA called “Nautical” with proceeds going to Plastic Ocean Project, an ocean-based non-profit. Photo provided

Sharing Her Passion

The purpose of the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship program is to not only assist students in STEM careers but to contribute to the work NOAA is already doing in marine science. Jenna is the first scholar in the program to have an education and outreach research focus. She hopes her work in examining community-level intergenerational learning on the topic of marine debris will inform NOAA’s educational outreach strategies across the country. 

It’s really exciting to think that my work could inform practices at a federal level.

At NOAA’s scholar orientation this summer, several other Nancy Foster Scholars asked for Jenna’s advice on how to integrate environmental education into their research. “I’m immediately becoming a resource for these emerging scientists that want to build in education to their research but might not know who to ask or how to do that,” she said. 

Jenna said she’s most excited to collaborate with other emerging scientists to examine humanity’s role in both causing and solving the environmental issues our world is facing today. Her passion lies in finding ways to combine environmental education with human health, oceanography and engineering. “Combining these will, in the end, help us reach the end goal of a healthier, cleaner, more resilient environment where humans can coexist with the natural world in a way that is sustainable,” Jenna said.

After completing her PhD, Jenna hopes to pursue a career that combines her teaching and research experience. She said, “I think I could be happy in multiple different career paths, but one that included some teaching and some kids, outreach and environmental science on any level would be great.” 

If you’re interested in learning more about the scholarship program or Jenna’s research, you can reach out to her here

The 2020 NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship is currently accepting applications through December 6, 2019. You can learn more about the program and application process here.