At HWS, academic passions transform into high caliber research and national scholarships. For Jessica Popp ’11, a combined interest in biology, oceanic science and atmospheric science became the basis for close collaboration with Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird. With a well-rounded background as a science student and encouragement from Laird, Popp applied for and has received one of the most prestigious science scholarships in the nation: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship.
Reflecting on Popp’s first-year on campus, Laird explained that, “Jessica approached her first-year here at the Colleges in a truly perfect manner: she had several interests in the sciences, so she took a variety of introductory courses, which became the basis for her interdisciplinary approach to science.”
In the spring of her first year, Popp studied under Laird in his Severe Weather course. “This is the course that first sparked my interest in atmospheric sciences,” she said. “Since then, I’ve come to really enjoy and appreciate them.”
During the fall semester of her sophomore year, Popp furthered her study of the atmosphere with Laird by taking his Applied Climatology course. Then, Popp spent last semester in an independent study on Mesoscale Meteorology working with Laird on one of several projects funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
“Professor Laird has helped me further my interest through his courses and this independent study. He definitely went beyond his role as a professor and has helped me to figure out exactly what I want to do in the future and the steps I need to take to get there,” she said.
Describing Popp as a student, Laird said that, “She is the finest student I have ever had in any of my courses: her strong academic presence, superior work ethic and fantastic maturity all make Jessica an extraordinarily advanced sophomore and a fine example of what we hope science students at the Colleges will be.”
With high regard for his student, Laird explained that Popp was a natural choice for the highly selective NOAA Hollings scholarship. “Jessica’s academic interests that span nearly the whole spectrum of the sciences combined with her interest in public service made her the perfect candidate for this scholarship.”
As a NOAA Hollings Scholar, Popp will receive substantial academic assistance for her junior and possibly senior year; a 10-week paid internship at the NOAA Office of Education; travel funds for scholar orientation and conferences where she will present research with other NOAA Hollings Scholars.
Looking forward to the many opportunities that her scholarship will offer, Popp explained that, “This program provides a great opportunity for me to gain practical educational training experience in oceanic studies as well as with research, environmental policy, outreach programs, and management within the specific NOAA offices.”
She added that, “The continuous guidance that will be available from my individual mentor will have drastic impact on my education. Not only will I gain an immense amount of knowledge during the internship, but I will learn what I should be taking and how I should be preparing for a graduate program in marine sciences.”
This summer, Popp will continue her research on Mesoscale Meteorology with Laird alongside five of the top atmospheric science students from across the country as a part of one of several NSF-funded projects that Laird is working on. Popp will also join Laird, Associate Professor of Geoscience Tara Curtin, Assistant Professor of Biology Meghan Brown and Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Stina Bridgeman in a multi-perspective study of Seneca Lake. Popp’s research will be overseen by Curtin and Brown, focusing on the transport and characteristics of lake-bottom sediments and exotic species in Seneca Lake.
Thinking toward her future, Popp explained that, “My career goal is to work in oceanic research potentially with marine biology and ocean life conservation or exploration. I want to continue to research, trying to understand the complexity of life under the water.”
The photo above features Associate Professor Neil Laird working with Jessica Popp ’11 in a Lansing Hall science lab.
NOAA’s announcement of the scholarship recipients is available on its web site.