Letise Houser, a doctoral candidate in marine biology–biochemistry at the University of Delaware’s Graduate College of Marine Studies, has received a P.E.O. Scholar Award for the 2004–2005 academic year. She is one of 85 recipients chosen from more than 600 applicants from the United States and Canada.
The P.E.O. Sisterhood is a philanthropic, educational organization committed to increasing opportunities for higher education for women. Founded in 1869, the organization has almost 6,000 chapters in the United States and Canada with more than 250,000 active members. The P.E.O. Scholar Award provides $10,000 apiece to support American and Canadian women engaged in advanced study and research.
Under the guidance of Charles Epifanio, professor of marine biology–biochemistry, Houser is trying to determine whether blue crab larvae can alter their horizontal swimming behavior in the water so that they are transported in “patches” rather than as discrete individuals. The formation and maintenance of these patches are thought to encourage the survival of larval crabs to adulthood.
According to Houser, her work can help explain what causes the yearly variations in the number of blue crabs in the Delaware Bay. However, the results of her research have even broader implications. The population dynamics of any one species, such as the blue crab, has cascading effects on that of other species in the region.
“Letise is doing outstanding work,” says Marilyn Gregory from Chapter B, Delaware, of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, who was thrilled to nominate Houser for the award. “She applied to bypass her master’s degree, and her advisers agreed that the work she was doing was doctoral level. That told me a lot. And the fact that she writes poetry on the side indicates a well-rounded personality and makes her especially interesting.”
Gregory also cited Houser’s participation in marine-related activities outside her immediate research. For example, Houser serves as a student representative on the executive board of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography — the leading professional organization for researchers and educators in aquatic science. Last year, she coordinated educational efforts during the deep-sea expedition Extreme 2003: To the Depths of Discovery, reaching nearly 600 middle- and high-school classrooms around the world.
“Once I earn my degree, I would like to work for a federal government agency or an environmental consulting firm,” says Houser. “This would expose me to developing research, allow me to influence important environmental decisions, and give me a role in disseminating findings to the public.
“I would also like to stay involved in educational activities as a mentor or related contributor,” she adds. “Several individuals and programs have been and continue to be instrumental in my success. Therefore, I want to use the knowledge I have gained to help other students realize their goals.”
Originally from Chicago, Houser matriculated at the College of Marine Studies in 2001, after earning a bachelor of science in aquatic biology and a bachelor of arts in English with honors in creative writing at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. In November 2002, she published a book of poetry titled Mood Spectrum.