New program hopes to lure super-skilled math, technology students to UF/IFAS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A program designed to attract top-notch students into the fields of marine fisheries and population modeling is relocating to the University of Florida.

UF researchers recently won a five-year, $1.6 million grant to house the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service’s RTR program.

RTR stands for Recruiting, Training and Research. The program — the only one of its kind in the country — begins with a group of hand-picked undergraduate students from around the country spending a week in the Florida Keys, working with fisheries population dynamics researchers and learning about their research techniques. A handful of the students are eventually offered support to attend graduate school.

NOAA began the program in December 2003 at Virginia Tech as a way to counter a big problem: the federal agency has a growing need for experts to evaluate whether a specific fish species is being overfished or whether a sea turtle species is endangered, for example, but too few students are entering those fields.

“Nationally, there weren’t enough people to do the work and the demand was growing,” said Jim Berkson, an ecologist for the NOAA Fisheries Service and an associate professor at Virginia Tech, who has led the program since its inception. Berkson will move with the program, join UF’s faculty, and oversee the program.

The program has enjoyed much success, he said. In 2010, program officials conducted a survey of the students who had been through the program in its first seven years. Of the respondents, virtually all the students had enrolled in or were interested in graduate school after leaving the program, and half were studying or planned to study marine resource population dynamics.

Micheal Allen, a fisheries and aquatic sciences professor at UF, said the university has positioned itself to become a national leader in fisheries management, having hired three new faculty members to strengthen the program over the past five years.

“We saw years ago that this was going to be a big area of need for management, both within Florida and at the federal level,” he said, “through investments within UF and our partners, we’ve reached a critical mass.”

Allen said he believes having the program based at UF will mean an influx of graduate students with strong skills in mathematics, computer science and biology. It will also form a partnership between the fisheries program at UF and the NOAA Fisheries Service.

The Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program is part of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Berkson said each year, the program begins in the Florida Keys, with a group of about 15 elite college undergraduates from around the country, working with marine resources population dynamics researchers. From that group, about six to eight students participate in a more advanced six-week summer program. And then, the program’s best students are offered support to attend graduate school.

Moving the program to UF will allow it to expand, Berkson said, and will help NOAA better meet its goals for improving sustainability of marine resources and ensuring the health and biodiversity of marine ecosystems.

The program should be in place at UF this fall.


Writer: Mickie Anderson,, 352-273-3566


Micheal Allen,, 352-273-3624



Posted: August 19, 2011

Category: UF/IFAS
Tags: Fisheries, Micheal Allen, NOAA, Students

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