Alumna Jennifer Ha heads to Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea to expand horizons in marine science
Shortly after graduating with a biology degree from the University of Guam in 2018, 26-year-old Jennifer Ha joined a research cruise with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that influenced an unlikely step in her academic journey: studying marine science in Saudi Arabia.
It was aboard NOAA’s Oscar Elton Sette research vessel, studying the history of Guam reefs and bottom fish with NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Biosampling Program, where she first learned about King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia.
The director of the Red Sea Research Center at KAUST, Dr. Michael Berumen, told her
about the school’s unique dual master’s/Ph.D. programs that would allow her to obtain
a master’s and transition directly into a Ph.D. program to continue her research.
Fast forward to 2022, Ha has applied and been accepted to the master’s/Ph.D. Marine Science program at KAUST. She will be working closely over the next three semesters with Dr. Maggie Johnson, assistant professor of marine science at KAUST, on ocean acidification and the impacts of environmental change on coral reef ecosystems.
“I know moving to Saudi Arabia is a big move with big cultural changes, but this is something so different and untraditional,” Ha said. “I chose to pursue the Marine Science program [there] because it offers an excellent environment to learn and conduct research.”
The marine science program at KAUST takes advantage of its location on the “living laboratory” of the Red Sea and strives to understand marine ecosystems, including the fish and coral communities and how they’re impacted by their physical and chemical environment. Ha believes her time in the program will give her different perspectives that she can apply to reef conservation efforts in Guam.
“I find it so fascinating that something [like coral bleaching] can happen so slowly, yet we do not know what the outcome will be. We know the worst-case scenario, but what about the realistic scenario?” Ha said. “I want to come back and work with UOG as well as government agencies and build a strong relationship — because if the two can come together, there is so much that can be accomplished for the island.”
According to Ha, the College of Natural & Applied Sciences at UOG played a big role in helping her explore the world of research. She said the professors are passionate about what they do, pushing students to succeed and reach their highest potential.
Additionally, all her classes at CNAS included a research component, which helped
her realize that research is something she wanted to do.
“CNAS taught me that marine research does not necessarily mean you will always be in the water. The majority of the time, you’re in the lab in front of the computer,” she said. “But I have come to realize that I thoroughly enjoy that, and the world of science and research is something I genuinely love.”
Ha’s main goal is to finish the program with her master’s and then decide whether to continue on with the Ph.D. program. Who knows? Another research expedition just may influence her toward another new horizon.