Lyla O’Brien ’17 Wins Prestigious Fellowship to Spend the Summer Protecting the Environment
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Lyla O’Brien ’17 Wins Prestigious Fellowship to Spend the Summer Protecting the Environment

Lyla O'Brien '17 taking sediment samples on Martha's Vineyard.

When Lyla O’Brien ’17 applied for a prestigious undergraduate fellowship with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), she hoped, but wasn’t sure, that she’d be one of only 35 students from around the U.S. to selected. “It was really exciting, and sometimes I’m in disbelief that I was selected,” says Lyla. But if “seeing is believing,” Lyla is now a true believer. This summer she is working in Narragansett, R.I. and on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. as a Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellow.

A biology major and environmental studies minor from Milton, Vt., Lyla is the first University of Hartford student to receive the GRO Fellowship, which provides financial academic support for her junior and senior years and funding to conduct environmental-based research over the summer.

Working out of the EPA's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory in Narragansett, Lyla is conducting two research projects. She is placing rolls of coconut fiber, known as coir logs, along a coastal pond in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard to control erosion. She is also testing mussels in salt marshes for levels of nitrogen that could determine long-term water quality.

Associate Professor of Politics, Economics, and International Studies Katharine Owens in the University’s College of Arts and Sciences learned of the fellowship and encouraged Lyla to apply. Lyla appreciates that her professor recognized her individual interests and helped her pursue them. “I think it's important for students to take risks both inside and outside of the University, in order to pursue their goals and interests,” Lyla adds.

When her research is completed, Lyla says she may present the findings at a regional conference or at the University. She says the experience has enhanced her interest in environmental science and she hopes to pursue a graduate degree and eventually a career in biology or environmental policymaking.