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Ella Ashford BS’25, BA’25 takes passion for ocean conservation to NOAA

by Paul McKean,

Ella Ashford does research on a boat

Growing up on board a sailboat in Hawaii, Ella Ashford BS’25, BA’25 always felt a connection to the ocean.

An Environmental Science and Archaeology double major, Ashford’s studies have already taken her around the world, using technology to map and conserve natural and human-made wonders.

With the support of Willamette faculty and career development staff, Ashford earned the prestigious Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where she will continue her studies of ocean conservation.

Ashford is one of only three students in Oregon to receive this year’s award, which involves a two-year scholarship and a nine-week internship with NOAA researchers. At the end of her internship, she’ll be able to present her original research at two national scientific conferences.

Ella Ashford
Ella Ashford BA'25, BS'25 (second from left) works with students and Professor Scott Pike to study ancient marble quarries in Greece.

“I will have the chance to gain new skills and meet other students who are also passionate about ocean stewardship,” Ashford says. “I am looking forward to finding a good fit that expands on my interests in using technology, such as remotely operated vehicles, to aid ocean surveying and conservation efforts.”

Ashford was first encouraged to apply for the scholarship thanks to the guidance of STEM advisor Geoff Dejanvier in the Office of Career Development. She also credits Professor of Environmental Science and Archaeology Scott Pike and Katja Meyer, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, with helping her craft a more competitive application.

“No one is more deserving of the award than her. She is a student leader, organizer and supporter of all those around her. Environmental Science and Archaeology majors all benefit from Ella’s exemplary student-researcher skills, broad intellect and genuine curiosity,” Pike said.

This is not the first time that Ashford has been able to pursue real-world research opportunities at Willamette. With the help of a College Colloquium Student Research Grant, Ashford studied the impacts of “ghost pots” on marine wildlife using underwater robotics. This summer, she joined Pike in his National Science Foundation-funded research, where she used drones to study ancient marble quarries in Greece.

“Having a life-long passion for the marine environment, Ella has taken advantage of the myriad opportunities at Willamette to grow her knowledge and skills in STEM,” said Pike.

“Through every step of the Hollings Scholarship application, I felt supported by my Willamette campus community,” Ashford says. “These research experiences at Willamette have helped me foster the skills that will undoubtedly be at the forefront of my NOAA internship and future career path.”

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