Graduate Students


 Sara Schunter         Sara Brehm

 Hello!  My name is Sara Schunter.  I completed my Bachelor’s degree at Jacksonville University and decided to continue my education by working on my Master’s degree with Dr. Dan McCarthy.  Through my undergraduate experiences, I became very fascinated in Palm Beach County’s hardbottom habitat.  My passion for underwater photography has created a focused interest in fish communities.  For my thesis, I have the opportunity to combine these interests by comparing the changes in fish communities on nearshore hardbottom habitats in Palm Beach County, FL from 1990 and 2014




Krystal Dannenhoffer Krystal Dannenhoffer

  Growing up east of Orlando, Florida I had the opportunity to experience many adventures out on the open ocean as well as nearby lakes and rivers. My love for marine science and conservation developed at a young age. From the time I was 5 I wanted to work with marine mammals, specifically bottlenose dolphins. That dream landed me at Jacksonville University in the fall of 2010 where I spent the next four years working towards my B.S. in Marine Science. My passion for marine mammals transformed into an interest in marine communities as a whole. During my time as an undergrad I worked with my advisor, Dr. McCarthy, on a FDEP funded project sorting algal samples and identifying marine invertebrates. From that work I developed an independent study on a comparison of marine invertebrate communities on natural vs artificial reefs in Palm Beach County, Florida and presented a poster at a national conference, Benthic Ecology Meeting. After graduating in the spring of 2014 I continued my education at JU in the Marine Science Graduate Program. I am now finishing up my second year within the program working towards my thesis on benthic assemblages on nearshore hardbottom reefs in Palm Beach County, Florida. My thesis involves evaluating the algal and benthic invertebrate communities that inhabit low-lying nearshore reefs comprised of coquinoid limestone. I will compare my data to data taken in the late 1980’s and factors such as beach nourishment projects and severe storms will be investigated to gain insight into their effects on the dynamic nature of nearshore hardbottom reefs. I have had the opportunity to work extensive hours out in the field and in the laboratory developing my skills as a marine scientist and hope to use those skills working for one of the numerous organizations located throughout Florida, such as FWC, FDEP, or City of Jacksonville to name a few.


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Shelby O'BrienShelby O'Brien

I became a graduate student here at Jacksonville University in August of 2014 after moving from East Tennessee. In 2013, I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Maryville College (GO SCOTS), which sits at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My undergraduate thesis research focused on the effects of increased salinity on gill epithelial tissue and aggression in Betta splendens, however, I was also lucky enough to be able to assist on a NSF research project focusing on nutrient and pheromone sensing pathways in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Here at JU, I am using my microbiology skills to identify different species of Vibrio that exist in water and oyster tissue from Sisters Creek by using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS). Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus are a leading cause of shellfish poisoning in North America and V. vulnificus has become more alarming due to its known involvement in septicemia and death in humans. Although the organism that causes cholera is also classified in this genus, there are many nonpathogenic species and strains of these bacteria that exist in the environment. However, very little is known about Vibrio and their diversity here in the Lower St. Johns River tributaries. When I am not doing research or class activities, I am usually doing some outdoor activity. What I love about the JU graduate program is that it is very similar to my undergraduate experience in that everyone is excited about the science and research that we are doing here. I also love that there are always opportunities to get involved in each other's projects and even study abroad opportunities for graduate students. 







 Matthew Hartfiel





 I am Matthew Hartfiel. I grew up in Northern Kentucky and ironically fell in love with the ocean at a young age. Naturally, at some point I had to move closer to the ocean. I completed my Bachelor's Degree at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I graduated from CCU in May of 2016. My degree was in Marine Science, but I focused on shark biology. I did two independent studies with one of my professors. The first study involved my personal work on tagging sharks through the NMFS and the second was helping with his work on shark rectal glands. I also got to study abroad in the Bahamas at the famous Bimini Shark Lab where I got to swim with 7 different species of sharks in the span of 6 days plus getting taught by world renowned shark experts. I came to JU with the intention of taking my skills in shark biology to the next level and will be working on a thesis.  I have been a graduate student since the Fall 2016 semester at JU.






     Paige Carper





Growing up on Anna Maria Island, Florida gave me an appreciation for marine life at a young age.  As my love for the ocean grew, I decided to pursue a major in marine sciences at The University of Florida.  During my time at UF, I completed an honors thesis on the effects of development on seagrass beds in Tampa and Sarasota Bays.  I also had the opportunity to study abroad in San Salvador, Bahamas, North Queensland, Australia and Viti Levu, Fiji.  This allowed me to partake in a number of tropical marine research projects in various oceans, including the predation and orientation of Echinometra lucunter, the effects of Marine Protected Areas on the Great Barrier Reef, and percent live coral coverage off Beachcomber Island, Fiji.  In 2014, I graduated summa cum laude, earning a Bachelor of Science in Marine Sciences.  

 After graduation, I moved to Oahu for an internship with Sea Life Park, Hawaii.  I worked in animal training and husbandry with Atlantic and Pacific bottlenose dolphin, California Sea Lions, Hawaiian Monk seals, harbor seals and Humboldt Penguins.  After a year, I came back to the mainland and began working as a nature guide for Around the Bend Nature Tours.  Through a variety of activities, such as dip nets, nature walks and environmental games, this company educates local students and private groups about the ecosystems that surround them. 

 I have now found my way to Jacksonville University, where I am pursuing a Master of Science in Marine Science.  Working with Dr. Dan McCarthy, I am excited to perform research on coral reef ecology and restoration in the lower Florida Keys.  I plan to study the survival and growth of transplanted coral fragments and the predation by parrotfish on these corals. 





    Bridgette Ward






Hi!  My name is Bridgette Ward and I have been a graduate student at JU since August 2016.  I am originally from Fort Myers, FL, but received my Bachelor’s in Biology with a minor in Spanish from Florida Southern College in Lakeland where I played four years of collegiate volleyball.  My undergraduate research was carried out on Andros Island, Bahamas, where myself and a few other classmates discovered a new species of parasite in anoles.  My current research involves a survey and analysis of the two new artificial reefs sunk in the St. Johns River with Dr. Quint White.  These are the first inshore artificial reefs in Florida.  Growing up minutes away from the Gulf of Mexico, my passion for the ocean and its habitants started at a young age.  When not working towards my degree, I enjoy SCUBA diving, sports and just hanging out with friends.  After completion of my thesis, I am planning on working for a conservation agency to help preserve and protect marine life.


perry       Nicole Perry

Hello! My name is Nicole Perry. I completed my Bachelor's degree in General Biology at Westfield State University in Westfield, Massachusetts in 2012. I decided to take a few years off from school to work, but then got an amazing opportunity to move down to Florida and pursue my life long goal of becoming a Marine Scientist. My whole life I have always had a high interest in Marine Mammals, especially dolphins. My goal is after I complete my degree I would love to do research and some hands on work with dolphins.



somerville       Rachel Somerville

My name is Rachel Somerville. I was born and raised in Rochester, NY. Ever since I saw Shark Week on Discovery Channel years and years ago I knew I wanted to be a marine biologist. I enrolled as an undergraduate at University of Toronto in Canada where I doubled majored in biology and ecology and minored in anthropology. My undergrad studies focused on conservation and biodiversity. I designed an outreach project for the Royal Ontario Museum regarding Monterey Bay's Seafood Watch Program. I postponed my graduate education to explore my professional aspirations and gain practical experience with my undergraduate degree. I worked with the Aquarium of Niagara in the Marine Mammal Care Department. I also interned with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as a Naturalist. I tried my hand in other fields such as retail management and dental assisting. My life at JU began in August 2016. My thesis will focus on heavy metal toxicity in wild and captive shark populations. I want to examine if there is a difference between the various populations and ultimately initiate policy changes if possible. I want to pursue a career in research and public outreach with a conservation-focused organization such as MOTE, NOAA, or Woods Hole. When my attention isn’t focused on sharks and school, I enjoy being outside, traveling, sewing, baking, going to concerts, and showering my two cats with too much love.






  Carissa Wood







Hi! My name is Carissa Wood. I’ve been a JU graduate student since August 2016. I received my Bachelor’s in Marine Science from the University of Florida in 2014. As an undergrad and recent college graduate I volunteered in a Fisheries lab collecting and cutting otoliths.  I moved to Jacksonville in hopes to find a job in my field of study. Once here, I volunteered with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comission(FWC) in the Marine Science Research Institute to build up my experience in this difficult field. I am now a fisheries biologist for FWC, monitoring fish populations in the St. Mary’s and St. John’s Rivers. After working for FWC for a year I decided that I don’t just want to collect the data used in research, but also analyze and apply what I collect;  the main reason I have decided to go back to school to get my master’s. To further my career in fisheries science, I am focusing my masters in fisheries ecology. I am researching important commercial and recreational species utilizing Valsenaria Americana, commonly known as Tape grass in the St. Johns River. After Graduation I plan to continue studying and conducting my own field research focusing on fisheries and fisheries conservation.



freund    Mary Freund

As a native of Woodbine, Georgia the Satilla River has been a major part of my life. I grew up fishing the St. Andrews Sound with my Dad and exploring the marshes of the river with my friends. I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Coastal Ecology from College of Coastal Georgia in 2015. My undergraduate research focused on dissolved oxygen and associated plankton communities at two different sites on the Satilla River. I was able to do an internship with Satilla Riverkeeper where I collected the majority of my data for the undergraduate project. My internship at Satilla Riverkeeper led me to be able to work on their payroll for two years before graduating and full-time after graduation. My graduate studies at Jacksonville University began in the fall of 2016 where I am pursuing a Master’s of Science in Marine Sciences. My Master's thesis will be focused on determining important food sources of Copepods (a zooplankton) in the St. Johns River Estuary using a stable isotope analysis of Carbon and Nitrogen.







   Jane Ramsey






My name is Jane Ramsey and I grew up outside of Boston, MA.  I received my Bachelor’s in Biology from Smith College in Northampton, MA.  While at Smith, I was afforded the opportunity to intern at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL with their Stranding Investigation Program.  While at Mote, I was able to help with the rehabilitation of many sea turtles, and one 2-year-old dolphin named Edna.  After completing my B.A., Jacksonville became my home as I was placed here by way of Teach For America.  I taught Biology at First Coast High School for two years.  Since then I have worked in the non-profit world, and am now very excited to refocus my interests.  While my research interests include marine mammal behavior, I am planning to study concentrations of marine microplastics in various tissues of cetaceans. 




     Jessica Fair





My name is Jessica Fair and I am a first-year graduate student at Jacksonville University. I am originally from a small town in north east Ohio. I received my bachelor’s degree in Biology with a concentration of ecology from Shawnee State University in southern Ohio.  My undergraduate research involved a study in Lepidoptera diversity at the Caño Palma biological station in Costa Rica. I also volunteered at the biological station to assist in their sea turtle nesting surveys. My family and I vacation to Sanibel Island, Florida every year. This diverse and prosperous beach ecosystem is where I grew passionate about marine biology. My other passions include entomology and botany. I also enjoy playing soccer, Scuba diving, and being outdoors. While studying at Jacksonville University I will be assisting Dr. Dan McCarthy with his research in the Florida Keys, analyzing the affects parrotfish have on Scleractinia (hard corals.). My thesis research will be involving photogrammetry of coral reef systems in the Florida Keys.


manning  Felicia Manning


Hello! I started graduate school at JU in August 2016. My hometown is Stilwell, Oklahoma and I have a Bachelor's degree in Wildlife Science. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma and will always be a proud alumni (Boomer Sooner!). While pursuing my undergraduate degree I studied abroad for a semester in Brisbane, Australia. While I was there I got to take marine classes which included a class trip to the Great Barrier Reef. While I was at the reef I worked on a research project concerning the algae preference of different reef fish. I also worked at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo where I worked in the bird, kangaroo, and koala departments. In July 2016 I did an internship with Oceans Research in Mossel Bay, South Africa. I got to help with a variety of research projects concerning different marine species. However, the main research I assisted with (and my personal favorite) was the research projects concerning the local great white shark population. I have been fascinated with wildlife ever since I can remember. I love both terrestrial and marine wildlife but more specifically terrestrial mammals, sharks, and cetaceans. For my thesis at JU I will be looking at the shark/dolphin interactions in the St. Johns River. I have a passion for wildlife conservation and hope to contribute to those efforts after I graduate.