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Oceans of Knowledge

A Roger Williams sophomore is getting reeled in for an exclusive marine biology program

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When she was a child, Gabrielle Baillargeon caught “Shark Week” on Discovery Channel. She grew up in landlocked Chandler, Arizona, hundreds of miles from the nearest sea, yet those images of underwater ecosystems hooked her. “I was mesmerized,” she recalls. “I always gravitated toward anything in the marine world. My parents would go out of their way to take me to aquariums.”

So it’s no surprise that Baillargeon is now studying marine biology at Roger Williams University, a school known for its hands-on program. But here’s what is surprising: out of 200 applicants, Baillargeon was one of eight students selected for the Ocean Global Change Biology Research Experience for Undergrads (REU) at UC Santa Barbara, where she will conduct original research this summer.

“It was a pretty rigorous application process,” says Baillargeon, who had to write multiple essays about her research and career plans. But her tenacity paid off: at the end of June, shortly after her 20th birthday, Baillargeon will fly to California and attend the nationally recognized program.

Most impressive of all is Baillargeon’s project: she plans to develop a mathematical model for the sustainability of aquarium fish, which are infamously captured from open waters to the point of reproductive collapse. Her work will culminate in a report and symposium.

Baillargeon is surprisingly optimistic about the ocean’s future, especially in the era of ecotourism. Still, she remains deeply concerned about the health of undersea biodiversity. This passion has been an inspiration to her parents, who now live in New Hampshire and have no background in the sciences.

“They always thank me a lot,” says Baillargeon. “I always push them to be more conscientious about the environment. At restaurants, I say, ‘No, you can’t eat the tuna!’ They learn a lot from the information I learn at school. They’re really happy for me. They’ve always known this is the perfect fit.”