This Year’s Staff

2018 Science Mentors & Senior Counselors

 Kyle Amergian

I am currently a master’s student studying biological oceanography. My research is on benthic foraminiferal assemblages on the Springs Coast of Florida and how they may be changing during a time of ocean acidification. I am originally from Maine but have lived in St. Petersburg for the last six years. During my free time I like to garden, paint, and go camping with friends.

Makenzie Burrows

I am a first year Master’s Student in Mya Breitbart’s lab at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science. I’m excited to be studying DNA barcoding of fish eggs. I recently graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a Bachelor’s in Biology. During my undergrad, I worked with a doctoral student (Liz Fahsbender) on sequencing the virus thought to cause tumors in sea turtles. Recently, I finished a project identifying eggs on and off the Gulf of Mexico continental shelf. Currently, I’m working on barcoding eggs off the coast of Cuba and looking for novel spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico. I enjoy sharing my science with our local community via the annual St. Petersburg Science Fest and as a volunteer with Girls Inc.

Cara Estes

I am a first year doctoral student. My research involves using satellites to monitor and predict trends in Florida coral reefs. I believe scientists are responsible for giving the world a voice in politics and teaching the next generation just how cool science is (truly the coolest). Aside from research, I enjoy any kind of food and sport there is.

Liz Viau

I am currently finishing up a Master’s of Science at the College of Marine Science in Marine Resource Assessment. Before I moved to the Tampa area, I lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where I earned a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Marine Biology at Nova Southeastern University. I LOVE fishes and have spent most of my time in school learning about how to protect their populations using Artificial Reefs and Marine Protected Areas. At USF, I study artificial reefs using data analysis and ecological modeling. This branch of fisheries science is very important for the conservation of our essential ocean resources. When I am not in school, I love to spend time outside with my two Australian Shepherds, Chloe and Kaia. I am very excited to share my love for science with each and every one of you this summer!

Carey Schafer

I am a first-year graduate student at the College of Marine Science where I study Geological Oceanography. My thesis research is focused on how sea level rise will impact the range of mangrove and salt marsh habitats, and in turn, carbon storage.  Growing up in Kansas, I never got to spend a lot of time around the ocean which is why it’s so exciting to go to school in St. Pete and be a part of Oceanography Camp for Girls. I can’t wait for a great summer!

Lexi Creasy

I am a 3rd year Masters student at CMS and the focus of my research is on diversity of viruses in the gut of a sea squirt. These viruses are important to understand because they keep their DNA in a structure different from what we normally find and we have no clear idea of who their hosts are though they are found all over. Viruses in the oceans have a large impact on the microbes and organisms they live with. I have previously been a science mentor for OCG and loved the enthusiasm those young women shared for science. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experiences in STEM and am looking forward to another camp. Outside
of my research, I love to
spend time with my 2 dogs and taking care of my garden.

Kate Dubickas

My love for the oceans can be traced back to growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where I too attended a marine science summer camp at the Gulf Coast Research Lab. These opportunities were clearly momentous moments in my path to becoming a Marine Biologist. Following graduation in Mississippi, I attended Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York and interned for a summer in Santa Cruz, CA. During my time at both places, I worked on projects that focused on zooplankton, which paved the way to my current master’s project. Currently, I’m finishing up my work looking at the impacts of the BP Oil Spill on zooplankton. I am so excited to spend this summer with the Oceanography Camp for Girls to pass along the same wonder for our oceans that previous educators and counselors have done for me!


Michael Sipes

As a Tampa Bay native, the ocean has always played an enormous role in my life. The ocean’s mysteries and beauty has amazed and inspired me throughout my life and eventually led me to pursue a degree in Marine Biology at the USFSP. I am an avid fisherman and outdoorsman so I have spent most of my life near or on the Bay and Gulf fishing, boating, or kayaking.  Although I admire and find all marine life amazing, my passion and specialty is fish. I enjoy helping and teaching other about my passion for the ocean–being at OCG will certainly be a rewarding and fun experience once again!

Kelly Vasbinder

I’m a doctoral student and I just finished my third year here at USF College of Marine Science in Marine Resource Assessment.  I am working with Dr. Cameron Ainsworth in the Fisheries and Ecosystem Ecology Lab. I graduated from Florida State University three years ago with a degree in Biological Science and Certificate in Marine Biology and Living Marine Resource Ecology.  I attended OCG in 2007 and have been back as a junior counselor and science mentor, as well as helped found the OCG Alumni Association. Before coming to USF, I worked on projects involving reef ecology, marine invertebrates, and larval fish. My interest in working on questions involving ecology and abiotic factors translated into what I do now!  Here at USF, I work as an ecosystem modeler, which means that I use computer models to answer questions about ecosystems and fish populations. When I’m not working, I enjoy exploring nature, scrapbooking, working out, spending time with family, or heading out with friends to visit the closest beach! OCG was the experience that inspired me to enter the field of marine science and I am excited to be working with OCG again this year.

Ben Ross

This summer will be my eighth working with OCG.  I received my Master’s degree from the University of South Florida and am currently working on finishing my doctoral.  I’m a biological oceanographer, and I am interested in critters of all kinds, even though the ones that I usually work with are tiny.  My current research focuses on the biology of foraminifera which are single-celled organisms with hard shells. I am using machines that let me track their oxygen consumption, fluorescent microscopes to see uptake from seawater, and transmission electron microscopes, which are so powerful I can see the chloroplasts in their plant symbionts.  I want to figure out why they can survive stressful conditions. I have seen them survive exposure to toxic chemicals and have even seen them recover after being locked in the dark with no food for almost a year! I love research, both in the lab and in the field, and always look for opportunities to work outdoors, whether by SCUBA or on research vessels. Hopefully I will get to go on some adventures with you, whether in the field or in the lab!

Dr. Marcy Cockrell 

I grew up in New Jersey and spent my summers at the beach, where I first developed a curiosity and love for the ocean. I started my journey into marine science first as an undergrad at Stony Brook University and then as a Masters student at Northeastern University. I then worked for two years on the rocky shores of New England, performing experiments to help understand community ecology in urbanized coastal communities. I just graduated from the University of South Florida with my Ph.D. in Marine Resource Assessment. My doctoral work involved understanding the response and resilience of commercial fishermen to changes in management and large disturbances, like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

Nora Flower

I am an undergraduate student at New College of Florida pursuing a double major in biology and environmental science with a minor in Spanish Language and Culture. I grew up in St. Pete and spent much of my childhood on the beach. I have been a member of the National Audubon Society since age 7 and have spoken in front of the Pinellas County Commissioners about protecting important coastal habitat on multiple occasions. I am an activist and aspiring scientist and hope to connect more people with nature and reframe their perceptions and relationship with the natural world. When I’m not deeply entrenched in a scientific database or lobbying for renewable energy legislation, I’m most likely hiking, kayaking, gardening, or playing capoeira. 

Alexandra Burns

I am from Michigan where I grew up around many lakes. However, I love saltwater, moved south, and shortly thereafter graduated with a Bachelor’s from the University of Miami in Marine Science and Biology. While at UMiami, I studied abroad learning ecology in the Galapagos Islands (featured in my photo). Currently, I am a doctoral student at USF’s College of Marine Science. My research is in marine biology observing cephalopod respiration rates. In my free time, I enjoy baking, cooking, or sharing strange shark facts with others.