Ph.D. DE COHORT 2021-10-15T10:06:50-07:00

Designated Emphasis Cohort

In Fall 2019 the Coastal Science and Policy Program began accepting PhD designated emphasis (DE) students. DE coursework and requirements emphasizes interdisciplinary scholarship, project-based study, and developing practical solutions to real-world problems.

Meet our DE students below:

Ashley Bae

Pasadena, California

Ashley is an Environmental Studies PhD student with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy (CSP). Her research with advisor Prof. Anne Kapuscinski lies in the practical solutions for a healthier ocean and fish-friendly aquaculture. Relevant (buzz) words that motivate her work include sustainable food systems, integrated agriculture-aquaculture, circular economy, and consumption trends. Prior to coming to UC Santa Cruz, Ashley worked on Adaptation & Resilience strategies (World Bank – Climate Change Group), product-level supply chain emissions analysis (CoClear, CDP), and planning for the Global Climate Action Summit (Gov. Jerry Brown’s office). Ashley holds an M.A. in Climate & Society from Columbia University and a B.S. in Biology from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Her undergraduate thesis investigated landings in a small-scale, rural fishery in northern Palawan, Philippines. Through CSP, Ashley hopes to gain insight into novel strategies for coastal protection, especially through business, and to engage with industry partners. Most of all, she is excited to meet and collaborate with existing and future CSP cohorts!

Wendy Bragg

Omaha, Nebraska

Wendy Bragg is a Ph.D. student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a designated emphasis in Coastal Science and Policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Wendy is collaborating with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe) to examine the impacts of the 2020 California fires and subsequent rains on the rocky intertidal endangered black abalone (Haliotis cracherodii) populations along the central California coast. Her studies monitor how increased sediment influxes from debris flows and mudslides can change habitat availability and directly impact populations in the path of these sediment deposits. This examination pivoted to rescue, husbandry, and plans for outplanting efforts when many areas of the Big Sur coast’s rocky intertidal zone were inundated by sediment and debris flows, burying large areas of habitat and covering many black abalone.

Click here to read more about her efforts

Marshall-Chalmers, A. Wildfire, landslides threaten California’s endangered black abalone. 22 Feb 2021. Earth Island Journal. Available online at:

NOAA Fisheries West Coast. Facebook Post. 6 March 2021.

Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network (SIMoN) Featured News. 16 Feb. 2021.


Bragg W.K., S.T. Gonzalez, A. Rabearisoa, and A.D. Stoltz. 2021. Communicating Managed Retreat in California. Water. 13,781. Available from:

Bragg, W. K., J. D. Fawcett, T. B. Bragg, and B. E. Viets. 2000. Nest-site selection in two eublepharid gecko species with temperature-dependent sex determination and one with genotypic sex determination. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 69:319-332. Available from:

Bragg, W. K., and M. A. Rumble. 1997. Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) parasitism in green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) prairie woodlands in central South Dakota. (unpublished Forest Service Research Note).Bragg, W. K., A. K. Knapp, and J. M. Briggs. 1993. Comparative water relations of seedling and adult Quercus species during gallery forest expansion in tallgrass prairie. Forest Ecology and Management. 56:29-41. Available from:

Julia Cheresh

Santa Barbara, California

Julia is a PhD student advised by Dr. Jerome Fiechter in the department of Ocean Sciences. Her research focuses on ocean acidification and hypoxia, which are among the most urgent climate-related threats facing marine life on the west coast of the United States. Using modeling tools  that simulate the complex physical, biological and chemical processes governing the coastal ocean environment, she seeks to understand and predict how increasingly corrosive and oxygen-poor conditions will affect the habitats of key species in the California Current Ecosystem. With this information, Julia hopes to engage stakeholders interested in how ocean acidification and hypoxia will impact sensitive commercial species as well as broader ecosystem function, and provide tools for management and policy decision-making. Julia received a B.S. in Biology with a focus in fisheries sciences from the University of Washington.

Melissa Cronin

North Reading, Massachusetts

Melissa Cronin is a Ph.D. candidate in the Conservation Action Lab at UC Santa Cruz studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy. Her research focuses on mapping and mitigating marine fisheries bycatch, mainly looking at manta and devil ray bycatch in small-scale and industrial fisheries. She uses an array of approaches including genetic analyses, spatial mapping, economic optimization, and social science methods to characterize problematic bycatch, and to propose tangible solutions to reduce it. She is also interested in science communication, drawing on her background as an environmental journalist covering climate, politics, and wildlife crime. Her work has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Gawker, Grist, VICE, Popular Science, and The Nation. She is interested in how storytelling is part of the scientific process, and the ways in which collective narratives shape how science is perceived and acted upon.

Sara Gonzalez

Silver Spring, Maryland

Sara is a Ph.D. candidate advised by Dr. Pete Raimondi in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy. Her research focuses on the environmental and genetic drivers of morphology and chemical content in giant kelp populations in California and Chile. She became interested in this field following a Fulbright fellowship in Chile where she interacted with artisanal kelp harvesters. Sara uses genetic analyses, field experiments, and chemical analyses on giant kelp to determine the causes and consequences of morphologically distinct groups within the species, known as “ecomorphs.” She hopes that her research will elucidate the underlying factors contributing to morphological and chemical variation in this ecologically important foundation species and commercially valued natural resource. Sara holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Cornell University.

Michelaina Johnson

Ojai, California

Michelaina Johnson is a Ph.D. student advised by Dr. Flora Lu in UCSC’s Environmental Studies Department with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy. Michelaina grew up frequenting the rivers and coastlines of California where she witnessed the interconnectedness of watershed and ocean health. Concerned with the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of unsustainable groundwater and land uses, Michelaina committed her research and career to evaluating the effectiveness of proposed policies aimed at addressing pressing challenges to California’s coastal communities and ecosystems. She employs social science tools and spatial analyses to cultivate sustainable, community-based natural resource management and equitable outcomes. She holds a B.A. in History with a double minor in Conservation and Resource Studies and Spanish from UC Berkeley and has worked for environmental nonprofits (including the World Wildlife Fund), a consultancy, and multiple news outlets. Her publications have appeared in the Ojai Quarterly, Ojai Valley News, California WaterBlog, San Francisco Public Press, and Bay Nature Magazine. In 2021, Michelaina won a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for her proposal, “Towards Equitable Groundwater Governance: A Case Study of California’s Most Critically Overdrafted Coastal Basin.”

Kelly Ann Keen

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Kelly Ann Keen is a Ph.D. student in the Costa Lab studying Ecology & Evolutionary Biology with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy. Her Ph.D. research focuses on developing predictive models to assess how human activities and environmental change may affect the reproductive success and survival of marine wildlife, with a focus on humpback whales foraging along the western Antarctic Peninsula. With this information, she is interested in developing science-based tools to support the development of realistic risk assessments as well as effective wildlife management and conservation strategies. For more than a decade, Kelly has worked as a researcher/scientist for non-profits, universities, and state government conducting field work and evaluating the impacts of human activities on the marine environment. She has a master’s degree from Scripps Institution of Oceanography with a focus on the acoustic impacts of seismic surveys and marine environmental policy, and a B.S. in Psychobiology from the University of New England.

Emily Nazario

City of Orange, California

Emily Nazario is a Ph.D. student in the Williams Lab studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy. Emily’s research focuses on marine mammal diving physiology and diving recovery timelines. She is measuring oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production, and the amount of time these metrics take to recover to resting levels in bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales following different exercise intensities. She hopes to apply this work to wild populations whose energetic costs and recovery timelines are unknown after swimming away from sources of human-caused disturbance. She became interested in physiology following her research in the Friedlaender Lab studying Antarctic minke whale and humpback whale ventilation. She developed a novel metric to measure ventilation parameters and estimate breath-to-breath variability that may one day be used to better estimate energetics in free ranging populations. Emily is still developing her coastal science and policy dissertation chapter research, but is interested in minimizing fisheries bycatch, sustainable fishing practices, and population modeling. She received a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from UC Santa Cruz and was initially enrolled in a combined B.S.- M.A. program. After being admitted into the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, however, she transitioned into the Ph.D. program.

Rachel Pausch

Miami, Florida

Rachel Pausch is currently an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Ph.D. student with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy (CSP). After working for a benthic monitoring team at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, she moved back to the west coast to start her Ph.D. studying the ecology driving coastal ecosystem management. Part of her thesis investigates factors influencing vegetation cover at a newly restored salt marsh in Elkhorn Slough. Other chapters are in collaboration with the California Coastal Commission assessing ecological components of compensatory mitigation, particularly in subtidal habitats. She is advised by Pete Raimondi. In 2020-21 academic year, Rachel served as a co-chair of MARINE (Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education).

Faculty Advisor:

Don Croll

Partner Organizations:

Wildlife Conservation Society

Conservation International

Ando Rabearisoa


Ando has worked with Conservation International, Madagascar, for ten years. Most recently, Ando acted as the Manager for the Marine Conservation Program where she oversees the implementation of social impacts and effectiveness assessments of marine protected areas and marine policy development. Her background and extensive experience in environmental economics has made her a passionate advocate of sustainable development, especially in African countries. She is convinced that an economic system respectful of social and conservation issues is the key solution for the future of our planet. Through the Coastal Science and Policy program, her goal is to find integrated solutions to achieve social development that promote natural resources management because these solutions will alleviate the poverty in Madagascar considerably. Ando is also a 2021 World Wildlife Fund Russel-Train Fellow

Read about Ando's DE work

For her capstone, Ando explored how locally managed marine areas can alleviate poverty in least developed countries.

Indiana “Indy” Reid-Shaw

Hillsborough, North Carolina

Indy is an Environmental Studies Ph.D. student with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy. Indy seeks to better understand the complex drivers of change in coupled human-natural systems through mixed-method fieldwork and analysis. Her current NSF Graduate Fellowship-funded research evaluates a new governance regime in the Micronesian state of Kiribati to understand its effectiveness for creating healthy reefs and healthy people. Indy’s previous research considered similar themes surrounding climate resilience, natural resource access, political ecology, but in the context of pastoral grasslands in Mongolia. Before coming to UC Santa Cruz, Indy worked with multiple stakeholders, including non-profits and local governments, on equitable climate change mitigation efforts in New England. Indy majored in Environmental Anthropology with a minor in Biology at Swarthmore College.

Amanda Stoltz

Washington D.C.

Amanda is a Ph.D. student in Environmental Studies with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy. Her research focuses on coastal resilience and the human dimensions of marine ecosystems. Amanda began her career teaching marine science at The Newfound Harbor Marine Institute in the Florida Keys. This experience led her to complete a master’s in Marine Ecosystems and Society from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science where she interviewed fishers on the impacts of climate change for her thesis research. Prior to coming to UC Santa Cruz, Amanda worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center (NOAA SEFSC) as a fisheries anthropologist. After moving to Santa Cruz, she has continued her work as a marine social scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. She holds a B.A. in English and Marine Biology from Tulane University.

Alissa Takesy

Federated States of Micronesia

Alissa comes from a diverse Micronesian background due to her extensive familial ties throughout this Pacific islands’ sub-region. This meant she grew up in a multilingual household which enabled her to work in the public, civil society, education, and retail sectors for the past twenty years. Through her professional background and interest in biodiversity, this supplied her with the skills in her last assignment with the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) National Government. She oversaw the FSM’s complex institutional arrangement of the agriculture, forestry, biosecurity, coastal fisheries and tourism sectors with its four States of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. FSM, like some of its fellow Pacific Island Countries, is challenged by a limited human capacity to manage its large Exclusive Economic Zone (approximately 3 million square kilometer), consequently the need for agencies and partners to cooperate for a collective outcome. Through CSP, Alissa will try to narrow her research focus on the knowledge gaps between science and policy in the Pacific or Micronesian context.

Rae Taylor-Burns

Boston, Massachusetts

Rae Taylor-Burns is a PhD candidate in Ocean Sciences. She is affiliated with the Physical Oceanography Lab and the Coastal Resilience Lab, and is doing her PhD research through a co-operative agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey. Her research uses numerical modeling approaches to investigate how coastal marsh ecosystems can protect coastal communities from flooding, and spans the fields of engineering, ecology, and economics. She hopes her research, which was developed in collaboration with regional stakeholder groups, will be used to help coastal communities cope with a changing climate. She is also interested in science communication through both writing and art. She has developed science illustrations as an artist in residence for the Norris Center for Natural History in Santa Cruz and has contributed articles to Cape Cod based environmental newsletter for the past five years. She holds a BS in environmental engineering from Yale College, and master’s from UC Santa Barbara in environmental science and management.

Translate! »