Recent graduate receives Fulbright student award

By Kate O’Neill 

Parnell uses a drone to view harbor seal behavior from above the water.
Parnell searching for male harbor seals during her fieldwork this summer.
Parnell and fellow researchers in the field Limfjord, Denmark.

Kirby Parnell, a recent UC Santa Cruz graduate, has received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to Denmark in Biology from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Parnell will conduct research at the University of Southern Denmark as part of her project focused on harbor seal communication and reproductive behavior.

Parnell is one of over 1,900 U.S. citizens who will conduct research, teach English, and provide expertise abroad for the 2018-2019 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as a record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.

At the University of Southern Denmark, Parnell will conduct research and enroll in ocean science courses. In July, Parnell began her fieldwork in Limfjord, Denmark with Magnus Wahlberg’s lab. Parnell’s fieldwork this summer consisted of recording male harbor seal underwater vocalizations and filming the seals’ behavior at the surface of the water using a drone, or uncrewed aerial vehicle.”June and July is the harbor seal breeding season,” noted Parnell “so the males are working very hard to attract females or defend underwater territories against other adult males by producing loud underwater vocalizations.”

During June and July, Parnell collected over fifteen hours of drone footage and almost fifteen hours of underwater audio recordings during her fieldwork.”Drones are becoming increasingly important for filming marine mammal behavior, so this is a unique, and novel opportunity,” Parnell explained of the research methods.

While the purpose of the male harbor seal vocalizations is unclear, Parnell is hopeful that the methods they are using will help elucidate the function. Up next for Parnell is reviewing the drone footage and audio to glean insight into the harbor seal vocalizations.

About the Fulbright Program

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has given more than 380,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, professionals, and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Fulbrighters address critical global challenges in all areas while building relationships, knowledge, and leadership in support of the long-term interests of the United States. Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 59 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 82 who have received Pulitzer Prizes, and 37 who have served as a head of state or government.

Fulbright at UC Santa Cruz

The Division of Global Engagement supports UC Santa Cruz students applying for the Fulbright Student Program. Assistance includes hosting information sessions, offering Fulbright advising, and providing application resources.

Within the division, there is a dedicated Fulbright Program Adviser, Krissy Loveman. Loveman is available to advise students throughout the application cycle, which opens in April and ends in October. Advising includes guidance on the Fulbright application process and the requirements. Additionally, Loveman sends a monthly newsletter to applicants to provide application resources and tips.

In addition to application support, Global Engagement hosts information sessions for interested students on campus. During the spring quarter, a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador will come to campus to speak about their experience in the program.

At the end of the application cycle, the Fulbright Program Adviser supports students during the interview process. Loveman coordinates students’ interviews with faculty.

The Fulbright Student Program application will be available on April 2, 2018. The campus deadline is Sept. 11, 2018. All applicants must partake in a campus interview process to allow our Committee members to complete a mandatory evaluation form required by Fulbright. 

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