On March 25, Dr. Christine Angelini ’03, an ecologist with expertise in wetland, reef, and dune systems, shared her journey from Hotchkiss to her current role as director of the Center for Coastal Solutions at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. Angelini’s research has focused on how certain species can moderate an ecosystem’s resilience to climate change, and influence the integration of contaminants into food webs. Atlantic ribbed mussels, for example, contribute to recovering nutrients and plants in salt marshes following periods of severe drought.
In her research, she collaborates with a diverse and talented group of ecologists, hydrologists, biogeochemists, geomorphologists, and engineers at the University of Florida, other U.S. and international academic institutions, and a broad range of state and federal agencies that are studying how science and engineering can help coastal ecosystems.
Her work has been published in a variety of leading, peer-reviewed journals including Ecology, Current Biology, Conservation Biology, Marine Ecology Progress Series, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Nature Communications.
At the University of Florida, she also serves as an assistant professor of environmental engineering sciences and is a gender equity advocate for students interested in pursuing careers in Science,Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. Her talk for students and faculty was sponsored by Science Connections, a speaker series hosted by the Hotchkiss Science Department. Speakers discuss a range of fun and engaging STEM topics to connect Hotchkiss students with science professionals, help nurture a deep appreciation for the sciences, and educate others about cutting-edge advances in science and technology. (Watch a video replay below.)
Angelini came to Lakeville from nearby Ashley Falls, MA, where she was the fourth of six children in a blue-collar family. Her parents instilled in her a dedication toward having a strong work ethic and a strong connection to the outdoors.
“Hotchkiss was really transformational for me,” said Angelini, who was a star hockey player and excelled in academics. She credits former Instructor in Biology, Jim Morrill P'87,'89, for guiding her interest in science and showing her what it means to be a biologist and environmental scientist. “He took us on ‘botanical forays’ or hikes around the campus,” recalled Angelini.
And, “he had an appreciation for identifying organisms and their niche in the environment,” she added. He also introduced Angelini to experimentation with a memorable project where she learned about DNA extraction and laboratory work. She also participated in a three-week student trip to Antarctica, sponsored by the late Forrest E. Mars Jr. ’49. During the journey, she had an opportunity to observe scientists working in the field studying penguins, which piqued her interest in a career in science.
Looking back at her time at Hotchkiss, she appreciated her talented peers, the School’s environment of excellence, the well-rounded guidance of her mentors, and her exposure to places and cultures beyond New England that led her to become a fearless adventurer.
After graduating from Hotchkiss, she enrolled at Brown University, where she bounced around in different majors, stepped away from playing hockey, and did some deep soul searching. She found a mentor in marine biologist instructor Dr. Mark Bertness, who invited her to become part of his field lab group studying how coasts are organized and how they change. A large percentage of coastal areas have been lost or severely degraded as a result of climate change, including dunes, salt marshes, oyster reefs, mangrove forests, coral reefs, and seagrass meadows.
Angelini went on to earn her graduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Florida, where she did extensive field work in the massive salt marshes along the Georgia coast.
Making discoveries about the natural world has been deeply satisfying for Angelini and has allowed her to collaborate with a host of scientists and students from the U.S. and abroad. More recently though, her work has been focused in Florida, where the shorelines are in peril.
The coast is really important to the economy of the state of Florida, but its health is being ravaged by blooms of harmful algae, she said, noting that algae is just one example of coastal damage. As she continues in her career, she aims to move beyond just studying the coastal environment to being more proactive in finding solutions to the large and complex problems impacting it.