Natalie Stephens has always enjoyed marine life. Growing up in South Florida, she spent her childhood going to the Florida Keys with family for snorkeling adventures, boating, and kayaking.
“Being out on the ocean has always been special for me,” Stephens said. “I’ve always been fascinated at the opportunity to interact with marine animals. Once I realized marine biology was my passion and I could pursue it through school and my future career, I knew I could never do anything else.”
Stephens found out about CALS from a Gator Gathering held in Broward County. At this event she heard from CALS Dean Elaine Turner; Cathy Carr, CALS Director of Alumni and Career Services; and other staff and alumni speak about what made CALS programs special.
“I was really captivated by the enthusiasm everyone had when they talked about CALS and all the experiences they’ve had through it,” Stephens said. “They took the time to answer my questions and tell me all the exciting opportunities CALS offered. I was drawn to the college’s unique course schedule and especially at the opportunity to get scuba certified through UF’s dive program.”
For Stephens, one of her most memorable experiences was her summer research internship at the Behringer lab. She studied disease ecology during the experience, specifically how diseases and parasites impacted marine and freshwater invertebrates in the Florida Keys and Wisconsin.
“In the Florida Keys I was working with a grad student in Dr. Behringer’s lab and almost every day we were out on the water science diving and collecting Caribbean spiny lobster and Florida stone crab to dissect,” Stephens said. “Then, for the second half of my internship I went to Wisconsin to work with another graduate student doing disease ecology research on invasive and native crayfish species. This was really unique because we went out on 17 different lakes around Wisconsin hand collecting crayfish to bring back to the lab. These experiences really opened up my eyes to the different avenues of marine and freshwater animal research.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Stephens plans to attend graduate school to get her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in marine biology. Within the research field, she hopes to become a field biologist for a governmental agency to design and lead research projects as well as launch campaigns focused on marine animal conservation efforts.
“For any student with a love for marine science, the ocean, and marine animals I say GO FOR IT!” Stephens recommended to current and future CALS students. “Don’t be scared and just dive in! Get involved by joining clubs and speaking with professors about lab volunteer opportunities they might have available. Don’t be afraid to talk to people to get involved both in and outside of class. I highly recommend applying for internships in your field to get experience. Work hard so that you learn as much as you can during your time as an undergrad, and have fun.”
Stephens graduates from UF as a Two-Year Outstanding Scholar, an honor she will receive due to her outstanding academic achievements since transferring to UF.
From oceans to coastal wetlands, marine sciences students learn about marine organisms and their behaviors and interactions with the environment. Marine sciences students study oceanography, statistics, fisheries and aquatic sciences, and invertebrate biodiversity. Students can focus elective courses on ecology, organismal biology, economics, human dimensions, and/or quantitative or professional skills. Find a CALS major that suits your interests by taking our majors quiz. You can also find information regarding our undergraduate and graduate programs on our website.