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School for Field Studies Presents Distinguished Student Researcher Awards to Illinois Alum

Studying abroad isn’t just for the social sciences. The School for Field Studies (SFS) program has, for more than 30 years, presented undergraduates with the opportunity to take courses from Integrative Biology to NRES on the nation’s largest environmental study abroad program. Combining hands-on multi-disciplinary environmental studies with scientific research, SFS works with scientific research to propose sustainable solutions to critical environmental problems. Participants of their programs work with local communities to discover practical ways to manage their natural resources, and in the process undergo a transformational experience that helps them advance their careers as skilled professionals and to become globally aware citizens. “It is a very challenging, intense, unique experience unlike any other study abroad program, and I’d give almost anything to go back,” recalls Courtney Cech, who studied abroad for the fall semester of 2007 on the SFS Turks and Caicos program.

On March 11th, SFS presented its bi-annual Distinguished Student Researcher Award (DSRA) to three alumni in recognition of the exceptional environmental research they conducted while studying abroad during the fall semester of 2012. The winners were: Rebecca Evans of Due West, South Carolina, who is a junior at Davidson College, Ellen Splain of Lincoln, Illinois, who is a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Tayla Levitz of Wayland, Massachusetts, a junior at Reed College.


Each year, SFS honors its most exceptional students with the DSRA for their important contributions in environmental research. SFS semester students engage in undergraduate research guided by SFS faculty on projects related to the Center’s Five Year Research Plan (5YRP). Outcomes of these Directed Research projects provide information and recommendations to community members and other stakeholders on critical, local environmental issues.

Students are nominated by SFS faculty based on their demonstrated sophistication in research design, field work, reporting, and their contribution to the Center’s 5YRP. The SFS award also recognizes the students’ leadership exhibited while working with a team of student and faculty researchers in the field.

SRS President Dr. Jim Cramer and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Robin Sears presented the award this spring with nominations from the students’ DR advisors.

Ellen Splain, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and SFS Turks & Caicos

Splain was nominated by her advisor, Dr. Edd Hind, Lecturer in Environmental Policy & Socioeconomic Values at The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Splain’s research project, Valuing the informal and formal fisheries of South Caicos: Putting a price on the livelihood of a community, answered one of the Center for Marine Resource Studies’ key research questions: “What is the status of commercial fisheries on South Caicos, and are they sustainable?” Her research found that, while informal and artisanal fisheries are an important source of social and economic value to the community, the number of fish caught and brought ashore for consumption were significant, validating the need for increased enforcement, record keeping, and stock assessments, as well as quotas and regulations for the growing finfish and shell fisheries.


“Ellie has expertly described previously unknown aspects of the South Caicos fishery in detail and ably identified management challenges that arise because of her findings,” says advisor Dr. Edd Hind. “Local management agencies should not hesitate to formulate new marine resource management policies based on her findings.”

To read more about other distinguished student research awards for this program, please visit their website:

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