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Kelly Luis' research will focus on the clarity of our ocean waters. (Colleen Locke/UMass Boston)
July 5, 2018

UMass Boston marine science PhD student earns $72K Ford Foundation Fellowship


  • Boston
Award aimed to increase diversity of faculties

Kelly Luis, a PhD student in marine science and technology in UMass Boston’s School for the Environment and an IGERT fellow, has won a $72,000 Ford Foundation Fellowship, which will allow her to focus on researching the clarity of our ocean waters and her goal of becoming a professor.

Through the fellowship program, the Ford Foundation aims to increase the diversity of college faculties and increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. This year, 125 scholars were awarded fellowships; Luis, who is Hawaiian, was the only person from a UMass campus to receive the award.

"All throughout college I never encountered a native Hawaiian or native scholar in sciences, specifically in oceanography, and to think that someone thought that I had the potential to share my perspective, it’s unbelievable," Luis said. "To be acknowledged and to be supported, I don’t really have words for it still."

The award means Luis will have funding for the duration for her PhD. She is receiving $24,000 a year for three years.

Luis studies coastal ocean color remote sensing, meaning she looks at satellite images.

"Growing up as a kid in Hawaii, there were a lot of slow-moving satellites that you could see, but I never gathered until I got to college that they were actually collecting information," Luis said. "What is really cool is that all these images are free, and when you are piecing them together you can start to gain information about the environment. I start to piece these images together and then I see if there’s a story among the satellite images."

For one of her current projects, Luis is looking at water clarity across the New England coast and working with citizen science organizations, getting their water clarity monitoring data and comparing it with what the satellite sees.

"I'm looking at dirty water, and I'm looking at how that changes," Luis said. "There's this really wonderful oyster industry we have here that's really dependent on our clarity."

As a professor, Luis hopes to teach courses in oceanography, remote sensing, and geographic information systems (GIS) and share stories from her own upbringing with her students.

"Being able to share stories about how I grew up and how my family grew up, gathering fish from the ocean and the ways that we did that and how we think about the ocean is just another great teaching tool for getting students who are stuck in a lecture hall to connect to the ocean," Luis said.