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University of Oregon alumna Sandra Dorning heads to Britain to study marine biology, policy.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF OREGON - Dorning is the first Marshall Scholarship winner to come from the University of Oregon since 2011. Sandra Dorning, a 2013 Centennial High School graduate, just landed a prestigious Marshall Scholarship that will pay her way for graduate work at any university she chooses in the United Kingdom.

The University of St. Andrews, in Fife, Scotland, founded in 1413, is Dorning's first choice for possible U.K. colleges.

"St. Andrews has a really amazing marine science program. It's on the coast right on the water," said the 2017 University of Oregon graduate. "I decided when I was 11 I wanted to study marine biology and that never changed."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Dorning hopes to work in marine environmental policy to help make sure the earths oceans stay healthy. Although she loves the research and science of marine biology, she's interested in working on policy issues to make sure oceans are protected and thriving.

She said St. Andrew's "marine ecosystem management program is exactly what I'm looking for."

She would also like to study at the eminent London School of Economics to study more policy and political science issues.

Although Dorning is surprised by the scholarship, others are not.

Dorning "is a bright, hard-working and engaged student who impressed me from the start as a student who was quite determined to make the most of her college education," said Ronald Mitchell, a University of Oregon political science professor.

He said Dorning "created opportunities for herself to bring together environmental science and political science" while at UO, and he expects she will "help improve environmental policy in the years ahead."

The Marshall Scholarships, given to only 40 U.S. students a year, pay for a graduate degree from a U.K college. The scholarship was created in 1953 by an act of the British Parliament and named in honor of former U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall.

Only about 3.5 percent of applicants receive a Marshall scholarship. Graduates of highly-selective colleges, such as Harvard University and Stanford University, dominate the roster of Marshall winners. The last time a University of Oregon graduate earned a Marshall was 2011.

Dorning comes from a home where education is valued. Her father is the dean of students at David Douglas High School and her mom works in the counseling office at Centennial High School.

Many family vacation trips to the Oregon Coast and countless hours of tide pooling, whale watching and just being at the shore gave Dorning a deep love for the ocean and its inhabitants.

When she was in fifth grade at Butler Creek Elementary School she was required to do a presentation. "I chose killer whales," she said, and described an "all-out," well-researched slide show with killer whale sounds playing as she made her presentation. "Yes, I got a good grade," she said, grinning.

At UO she was able to do three semesters of study at the college's Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, a 100-acre marine station in Charleston, at the mouth of Coos Bay.

"It's a really amazing program," she said. "Every day you are out in the field. It's very hands on."

As a winner of another distinguished scholarship, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Ernest Hollings Scholarship, she studied the acoustic behavior of Omura's whales off the coast of Madagascar.

That research was done in the summer of 2016, as an intern at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Dorning, in her waders, had an internship in the summer of 2016 at the renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. She was excited to help perform a necropsy on a grey seal for a project on marine mammal strandings on Cape Cod. "No, I didn't get to actually go to Madagascar. I was processing these audio recordings of their different calls" in Woods Hole, she said. The project was to try to learn more about these newly-discovered whales.

Dorning said if more is understood about how often Omura's call, what characterizes the calls and other vocalizing data, scientists will understand more about where they are swimming, where they are distributed, where they stay all year and other information.

During her years as an undergraduate, Dorning had other research experiences.

In her senior year, she was editor-in-chief for the "Oregon Undergraduate Research Journal." Her thesis for the Clark Honors College involved researching methods to mitigate the spread of an invasive species of sea squirt in the Coos Estuary. She studied jelly fish blooms off the Oregon Coast.

"The massive blooms of jelly fish are a nuisance for fisherman," she said. She looked into why the blooms happen and "what human activity might be contributing to that."

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Dorning measures the water speed in the Coos Estuary to help record environmental conditions in her work to determine what conditions invasive species can tolerate. Professor Mitchell praised a paper on tuna Dorning did for his class that combined science and public policy.

"She evaluated the influence of a treaty regulating the catch of bluefin tuna in the Pacific Ocean to see whether countries caught fewer fish than they would have otherwise, he said.

"Sandra did a superb job of evaluating whether other influences on tuna catch could explain the declines she saw in the data. She combined theory and evidence in a compelling argument about the increasing success of this treaty over time."

Dorning counts herself lucky with all the rich study experiences she has already had.

"I've had great opportunities to work on many (research) projects. They were really eye-opening," she said and added that she wants to use the information to address "all the threats to marine environments."

By better understanding the competing demands on the oceans, she wants to help answer the question "how can we decide to divvy up resources so we can create sustainable fisheries, so we can support the world for years to come."

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