Emily Schumacher’s fascination with sea creatures started at a young age.
As her graduation from Millard West High School approached, she began to understand the challenges of studying marine biology in a landlocked state.
"Living in Nebraska, there are no actual opportunities for marine biology so it requires those interested in marine life to look elsewhere," said the Nebraska Wesleyan senior. "When I was a kid I was always interested in water and marine creatures and that never faded, but I also never thought about it as a career path."
She enrolled at NWU with plans to study biochemistry. She stayed on that track until a talk with her sister, alumna Amanda Schumacher ('16), convinced her to follow her passion with marine biology. Her sister recommended she discuss her passion with biology professor Jerry Bricker.
"I went to speak with him and the moment I mentioned marine biology he gave me a list of things to think about and do, and basically put me on the path I needed," Schumacher said.
From there, encouragement persisted. The biology major commenced studies on marine life, got a job in a water lab at the University of Nebraska, and enrolled in Bricker’s “Applied Marine Biology” course, which takes students to Honduras.
Soon after, she was greeted with another opportunity she couldn’t turn down: a summer internship with Oceans Research in Mossel Bay, South Africa. Oceans Research offers research training on marine and terrestrial wildlife along South Africa's coast.
"I don't get many opportunities to travel outside of the country but this gave me the opportunity to travel to another continent and experience a culture different from my own while working with creatures I'm most passionate about."
Soon after arriving to Mossel Bay, Schumacher and fellow interns were thrown into the deep end. The group completed hands-on projects through collective efforts and self-teaching.
"We got to do basically everything," Schumacher said. "A field specialist was there for guidance, but we actually did everything on our own."
"Once we knew what we were doing, we could really have fun and appreciate how much we were going to gain in knowledge, experience, and even the personal relationships we were making with each other,” she added.
Oceans Research leads multiple research projects so interns had a variety of experiences from tracking dolphins to analyzing ocean sectors for species diversity to studying starfish movement patterns.
"We saw a lot of the bad things humans are responsible for in the ocean, and it made me more passionate about the state of our oceans and the precious creatures that reside in them," she said. "I want to be an advocate for them, and I want to be a person that helps conserve and preserve this huge and abundant ecosystem."
Following her graduation in May, Schumacher will head to a graduate school along the coast to pursue a degree in marine biology. She hopes to work in research and marine animal rehabilitation, specializing in marine mammalogy.
Story by Quinn Hullett, public relations intern.