Alissa Coonfield


Biology major, Alizza Coonfield, used her VURF travel grant to conduct research this summer at Friday Harbor Labs, a marine research center on San Juan Island, WA.

On her experience: 

"My summer spent at Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island, WA changed the future of my career. Friday Harbor Labs is a wonderful marine research center established through the University of Washington. For 8 weeks, I was immersed in a professional scientific environment where I was surrounded by scientists at all different levels of professional development– undergraduate students and researchers, graduate students conducting research to contribute to a thesis, visiting scientists, and some resident scientists that have been there for over 20 years. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, and I found most people I approached were more than happy to discuss their work and hear about my interests!

Not only was the professional environment warm and hospitable; the island itself was beautiful and ripe with opportunity! Friday Harbor is a destination for relaxation as well as ecotourism– being most well-known for whale-watching tours and the flourishing tide pools dotting the coastline. My experience, however, was so much more valuable– I was able to witness first-hand the diversity of the whole island, not just as a tourist, but as an aspiring ecologist. With several biology enthusiasts and professionals bringing me to locations all over the island, I learned so much about the Pacific Northwest and all it has to offer. From the rocky tide pools teeming with anemones, sea stars, limpets, and cancer crabs to the ruffling lavender fields, praries, and lush forests, I was completely immersed and learned to appreciate the natural history of this environment. I had the wonderful opportunity of snorkeling to collect sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) for a fellow undergraduate researcher to use in his experiment. I came face to face with woodland critters and spectacular marine invertebrates on a daily basis. I cooed at a sleepy Pacific Octopus named Gaia while she snoozed comfortably in a dark, quiet aquarium. While knee-deep in the tide I watched a pod of orcas breach outside of False Bay. These are experiences I had previously only dreamt of or heard second-hand, and they became my reality.

What made this experience so fruitful was the academic environment. Everyone, regardless of their standing, aimed to encourage and help those around them succeed. By taking part in this research fellowship, I became a member of a community of scientists who only want two things– to preserve the natural world and to educate others of its importance and beauty. Throughout my research with the maritime earwigs, my scope of interest and concern was significantly widened– I learned to appreciate so much more than I had initially. I was also molded professionally by the researchers around me who provided me with the information I need to succeed. I gained so much experience in both fieldwork and planning and conducting lab experiments, and at the end of 8 weeks I gave a cohesive presentation at a symposium in which I explained my work. I have not had a prouder moment.

The scientists and fellow students at Friday Harbor Labs helped me develop research and professional skills that I will be relying on throughout the rest of my career, and they taught me to ask questions. It is okay to inquire– in fact, it is best that you do! Use all resources available to you, and do not be afraid to open up to others and experience new and exciting things. This summer has easily changed my life, and I cannot thank my mentors and Villanova’s College of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships for providing me with this immense opportunity. "


Contact Information

Center for Research and Fellowships
Garey Hall 38
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085
Fax: 610-519-6623

Michael Westrate
Director, Center for Research and Fellowships & Presidential Scholars Program

Catherine Stecyk
Associate Director, Center for Research and Fellowships

Chelsea Benincasa
Assistant Director, Center for Research and Fellowships & Presidential Scholars Program

Kelsey Fenner
Assistant Director, Center for Research and Fellowships

Sage Milo
Postdoctoral Scholar, Center for Research and Fellowships

Denise Caramanico
Office Coordinator (Part Time), Center for Research and Fellowships