Taijym Deloney, Wittenberg class of 2023, has always taken an interest in aquatic life. Growing up he loved fishing and spending time at the lake, so the chance to study at the Duke University Marine Lab (DUML) in Beaufort, North Carolina, this fall semester is like a dream come true for the senior, who is pursuing research in ecology and conservation while there.
Albeit a stressful process, Deloney says he is “beyond blessed to have received this opportunity to study at the lab for free.” The biology major and marine science minor from Richmond, Indiana, earned a scholarship to attend the Duke Marine Lab.
“I love science, and I've always been fascinated with aquatic life, specifically fish. Whether it was spending the day at the lake or fishing, I was always around the water,” Deloney said. “Even at home, the only pets I ever had were fish. I had several exotic species of freshwater fish including spotted gar, redtail catfish, pacu fish, and many more. Then when I was in high school, I took AP environmental science and learned about how we humans affect terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. I decided then that I want to pursue a career in marine science.”
While at the DUML, Deloney is conducting an independent study, working with David Gill and his Ph.D. student.
“I’m helping them with their research about how conflicts such as war, fatalities, climate change, etc., affect marine fisheries, and how we can better prepare for this in the future,” he added.
Wittenberg has a partnership with the DUML where students who are interested in marine science or environmental science can attend the lab for a semester. Deloney heard about the scholarship through his advisor and Professor of Biology Kathy Reinsel, the George C. Greenawalt Endowed Chair in Biology at Wittenberg, who received her Ph.D. and conducted her dissertation at the DUML.
“One of my favorite things about Wittenberg is the opportunity to work with students throughout their four years,” Reinsel said. “I met Tai on his first day at Witt, and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with him and watching him grow and mature as a student ever since. He’s such a hard-working student, and I’m so proud of his accomplishments. It’s been extra fun this semester to be on sabbatical at the marine lab, and especially to get to share in his excitement as he dives deep into his passion for studying marine science and conservation. It will be exciting to see how his journey continues after Witt.”
The DUML scholarship is usually given to a non-Duke student who identifies with a group that is racially/ethically underrepresented in marine science, anticipates pursuing an advanced degree, and has an interest in marine science and its impact on society. Deloney learned that he was the recipient of the scholarship last spring, making him the third student from Wittenberg to receive the distinction. Taylor Adams, class of 2021, received it two years ago, and Jasmine Evans, class of 2021, received it last year to pursue a post-baccalaureate.
“This experience will help shape my future goals related to marine science and what pathway I want to follow,” Deloney said. “I have a huge interest in sharks, fish, and marine fisheries and conservation because I grew up having a passion in fish species in general. The goal will be to attend grad school and further my career related to fish and marine fisheries conservation. College experiences like this will help me strive for my career goal because of my ability to communicate with others and build connections.”
Some of the opportunities that Deloney has enjoyed so far this semester while at the DUML include participating in a shark fishing survey and dolphin necropsy, working at the Duke oyster farm, kayaking, and going to the beach, aquariums, class trips, swimming, and fishing. Looking ahead to graduate school, Deloney feels confident that the DUML opportunity and a recent summer research experience for undergraduates (REU) he discovered with Reinsel’s help will help his resume stand out. Last spring, Reinsel and Deloney investigated summer REU programs through the National Science Foundation.
“We found two that I was extremely interested in – an REU at Southern Mississippi University and an INFISH program in Maine,” he said. “I applied, was accepted to both, and I chose to go to Mississippi for a 10-week program doing fiddler crab research.”
Deloney also traveled to Panacea, Florida, as part of the internship to conduct his own research project on how temperature and female presence affect surface and burrow durations of fiddler crabs. Additionally, he helped another student with her research on blue crabs.
“I was setting out traps to catch blue crabs, and once we retrieved them, we completed measurements and tagged females before releasing them,” he said. “This internship had a major impact on my future in marine science. I worked with some amazing grad students, and my boss was very helpful. I enjoyed every bit of this internship. I was able to ask a lot of questions about my next steps and their experiences when they were in my situation. Also, this internship helped me visualize what grad school would be like – the friendships I will build, the helpful resources and connections I can make, the workload, and what my focus will be when I attend grad school.”
After graduating from Wittenberg this May, Deloney will most likely be at home working and applying for graduate schools or completing another internship program to gain more experience and build more connections for his next step in marine science.
“A final career trajectory for me would be doing something with fish and sharks, whether it’s research, working in an aquarium, teaching kids about marine life and how to help protect it, or swimming with these fish/sharks as an underwater photographer or a vessel skipper – I can’t wait.”
At the same time, Deloney, who is involved in several clubs on campus including the Marine Science Club, the Witt Hoops Club, Outdoors Club, and Fishing Club, said he will miss Wittenberg.
“I have enjoyed every bit of Wittenberg and couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said. “I’ve met outstanding people, whom I can call my lifelong friends, and the faculty have been very helpful throughout my four years at Witt. I struggled during my sophomore year because of COVID. My grades were horrific because online learning is not my forte; I’m more of a hands-on learner. But I have matured and grown as a student and have come to understand that studying, time management, and being vocal with your professors/advisors is very important. I now feel more prepared for the next step in my career interests in marine science because of my ability to communicate with others, the connections I’ve built with my professors, and my ability to persevere through tough times.”