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Island University Student Receives Prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship

May 12, 2016

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A research project studying a parasitic barnacle that affects blue crabs has earned a Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi student a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Joey Reustle, a Marine Biology doctoral student, is the first A&M-Corpus Christi recipient of this award, and one of 2,000 selected for 2016 from an applicant pool of nearly 17,000.

“This is like the holy grail of grants for graduate students,” Reustle said. “I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would get this.”

The fellowship provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period, through a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution. Additional money for research supplies and travel will also be provided.

Fellows also have opportunities for international research collaborations and professional career development with federal internships.

“We are so proud of Joey,” said Dr. Lee Smee, Associate Professor of Marine Ecology and Reustle’s graduate advisor. “The caliber of work being done at A&M-Corpus Christi is incredible, and to have Joey win this award is clear evidence of the quality of students and research we are doing at A&M-Corpus Christi.”

The fellowship award will ease the financial burden of being fulltime students for Reustle and his fiancé, Alex Gittings, who is getting a master’s degree in psychology here at A&M-Corpus Christi.

“I’ll be able to afford my own car to get to class,” he said.

Reustle, 24, is studying blue crabs infected by a specific parasitic barnacle that infects and sterilizes blue crabs, eventually killing them. Blue crabs are a commercial fishery and a key food source for endangered whooping cranes and many recreational fish species such as red drum. Changes in blue crab abundance have profound economic and ecological effects.

Reustle is conducting experiments to determine how the parasites find blue crabs and how they manage to infect them.  

Reustle has been an A&M-Corpus Christi student since fall 2014. He received his undergraduate degree from University of California-Davis and is originally from Vallejo, California.

At A&M-Corpus Christi, he has been a teaching assistant, graduate researcher and is involved in the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. An Oglala Lakota Native American, Reustle said he is dedicated to the idea of research for undergraduate students as a form of active learning, especially for minority students.

“We all approach questions differently based on our culture and our background, the things we’ve been through,” he said. “It’s important we have a wide range of backgrounds and approaches when we tackle these big scientific issues like climate change.”

His career goal is to be a professor and researcher, continuing to mentor students in marine biology research.

“While my contributions as of now may seem small, I will have contact with thousands of promising students throughout my career,” he said. “I wish to impart my passion for science and the scientific process to my students.”

Since 1952, the National Science Foundation has provided fellowships to individuals selected early in their careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. The Graduate Research Fellowship Program is critical to the Foundation’s overall strategy of developing the globally engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.