Clara Benadon ’23 Wins NOAA Hollings Scholarship

By Rebecca Goldfine
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has awarded Bowdoin sophomore Clara Benadon a Hollings Scholarship.
Clara Benadon
Clara Benadon, holding a spotted salamander during a Bowdoin Naturalists outing. She is a co-leader of the group, which encourages "an understanding of local ecology and the natural history in the greater Brunswick and coastal Maine community." 

Since she was a high school sophomore, Benadon has dreamed of receiving a Hollings Scholarship and working alongside NOAA scientists. "When I opened the email from them, I cried a little," she said.

The Hollings Scholarship funds two years of undergraduate tuition, up to $9,500 a year, and a paid summer internship at a NOAA facility. Benadon is hoping to be matched with a marine scientist doing research in behavioral ecology.

"I am interested in looking at how different species interact in an ecosystem, and how individuals within a species interact with their environment," she said. "The rapidly changing environment will also alter our expectations for those interactions."

While she enjoys learning about terrestrial ecosystems as well, she finds the ocean most compelling. "Just the sheer expanse of it," she said, "and if you look at it from an oceanographic perspective, it's so complex, and still a huge mystery." 

She is also attuned to other facets of the ocean beyond the scientific puzzles it contains.  "You can’t look at it just from an ecological perspective because it is so important socioeconomically," she said. "So many people depend on it, for economic support, cultural significance, and for sustenance."

"The research that excites me the most explores how different players within living systems connect to each other. What tiny clues can lead us to larger ecological truths? I’m interested in marine ecoacoustics, fishery health, ocean exploration and reef imaging, and new conservation strategies." — Clara Benadon ’23

Growing up in a rural part of Maryland, with sheep and chickens at home, Benadon said she has known since she was young that she wanted an environmental and science-based career focused on the sea. "Which is why I came to Bowdoin, to study marine science," she added.

A biology major and math minor, Benadon will intern this summer at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewood, Maryland, an hour from home. She'll focus on both marine invasions and predation ecology research. Next spring, she'll study abroad in the Galapagos Islands with IES Abroad.

At Bowdoin, she counts her pre-orientation Bowdoin Science Experience (BSE) as one of her most meaningful academic experiences so far. 

"I met some of my best friends in that program," she said. "They're kind and amazing, and they uplift me. I can talk to them about growing as students and getting used to college, and also growing as scientists and trying to advance our careers."

Following BSE, Benadon was invited to work in the lab of Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Mary Rogalski.

"I can’t say enough good things about Mary," Benadon said. "Working in her lab was really cool because I was able to develop hard skills, but also see how to approach science from a creative perspective, like how to set up an experiment to get meaningful results."

After Bowdoin, Benadon plans to pursue a PhD in marine biology and work, ideally, at a place like NOAA. "Something that is important to me is to keep an eye on policy," she said. "I love science and will dedicate my career to it, and it's essential to adopt a humanistic perspective to change our actions and the way we manage resources."

"Which is why I want to make my science understandable," she continued. "Communicating my work is very important to me, and also serving as a very open book to policy makers."