To Western sophomore Darby Finnegan, the world hidden beneath ocean tides is extraordinary and unknown. Originally from Grangeville, Idaho, the Honors Program student found an opportunity to learn more about life under the sea through Western’s Marine Science Scholar Program.
“The Marine Biology program is absolutely what made me decide to come [to Western],” Finnegan said. “Shannon Point Marine Center, having that satellite campus where undergrads can do research, was my major incentive for coming here.”
As an incoming freshman, Finnegan was selected along with 20 other students to participate in the Marine Science Scholar Program where she studied things like the ability of an aquatic plant called eelgrass to lessen ocean acidification, and the effects of high temperature and low pH on Olympia oysters.
In the summer following her freshman year, Finnegan worked as a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Scholar at Friday Harbor Laboratories through the University of Washington as part of the National Science Foundation — which is no small feat to win such a competitive scholarship as a freshman.
As an an REU Scholar, Finnegan was able to research the adaptive evolution of sculpin fish and present the results at Friday Harbor Laboratories. She shared the results at the Gilbert Ichthyological Society annual meeting in fall 2017, a Pacific Northwest-based group fostering communication about ichthyology, a branch of zoology dealing with fish.
More recently, Finnegan became an intern in Western Assistant Professor of Biology Robin Kodner’s lab, where she will help prepare sampling kits for the new citizen science program called “The Living Snow Project.” The kits can then be used by alpinists interested in collecting snow algae that can later be analyzed in the lab. Soon, Finnegan will also be volunteering to help out Professor Deborah Donovan’s graduate students with projects related to pinto abalone restoration, which will involve making settlement crates for larvae.
Finnegan has spent much of her education preparing herself for a career in the marine sciences, and even growing up she had a blossoming interest for all the ocean had to offer.
“I had a lot of family in the Pacific Northwest growing up so we would make trips out to the coast and I became more and more interested in how extraordinary the ocean was,” Finnegan said. “There are so many cool things we don’t know and I started learning more about it and really fell in love with it.”
Before coming to Western, Finnegan volunteered with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) in Mukilteo, which exposed her to a marine lab and actual marine research. She also participated in the American Fisheries Society (AFS) as a Hutton Scholar in her hometown where she worked with the Nez Perce Tribe’s Department of Fisheries Resources Management doing restoration projects.
Outside of her academics, Finnegan is also a member of Western’s Surfrider Chapter, which is part of a national organization that seeks to promote clean water, beach access and overall healthier oceans throughout the globe and locally. For Earth Day, she participated in a beach cleanup at Locust Beach.
Once she’s completed her undergraduate degree at Western, Finnegan plans to attend graduate school. More importantly, she wants to continue with research-based work.
“I hope that I can use components of my research and apply it to our efforts to restore and preserve various marine ecosystems,” Finnegan said. “I want to answer some of the major ecological questions that we have.”
When it comes to her future, Finnegan said her broad interests make it hard to decide on a defined career path.
“Working in fisheries is definitely something I see myself doing long term, but I’m also really enjoying these other projects I’m involved with on campus, and maybe aren’t directly related to fish,” Finnegan said. “It’s fun to get a holistic experience, but you don’t have to specialize as precisely as I thought. I have the opportunity to do a lot of difference things throughout my career.”
Whether it’s working with fish, oysters or abalone, Finnegan’s passion for the ocean’s marine ecosystems drive her future plans.
“As long as I’m on the water, I know I’ll be happy,” she said.