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Small World, Big Ocean for Kristina Confesor: A Ph.D. Student Returns for More Research at ODU

By: Jefferson Huddle


Kristina Confesor is a current Ph.D. student in Old Dominion University's distinguished

Ocean & Earth Sciences program. Her research interests lie in biological oceanography; more specifically, how microbes interact within our oceans. Such research is what led Confesor to ODU, even before she was accepted into the graduate program.

Confesor was born in the Philippines. "We moved around a lot when I was younger in the States, but we eventually settled in Tiffin, Ohio," said Confesor. She attained her U.S. citizenship the second year of her undergraduate studies in Ohio. It was during that time that Confessor made her first research visit to ODU where she participated in a National Science Foundation Program for Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) directed by the department of Ocean and Earth Sciences. It was during her REU experience, that Confesor first worked under her current ODU graduate advisor, Associate Professor Dreux Chappell. Small world, big ocean!

"I was introduced to using molecular microbiology techniques with field samples from the West Florida Shelf (WFS) - I really enjoyed the work and wanted to learn more," said Confesor. "Dr. Chappell has done extensive research along the WFS with current awards for more.

After graduating with a B.S. in chemistry from Heidelberg University, her move to Norfolk and ODU's graduate program was quite the change of pace in lifestyle and curriculum. "Moving to Norfolk has been the first time I've lived in a big city on my own so it has been quite the adjustment these past three years!"

"When I joined the oceanography graduate program, I wanted to expand upon what I did during my REU, thanks to the support allowed from that grant."

The research brought her to the Sunshine State of Florida, where she could conduct hands-on research along the West Florida Shelf beyond the preserved samples, she used from her REU experience. During the summer of 2022, Confesor took part in a research cruise in Florida thanks in part to funding she earned from the Kelley Endowed Scholarship to cover the costs of travel and handle sample processing for this particular trip. "In mid-June, I was on the R/V Weatherbird II for a week collecting filter samples with other scientists from ODU and the University of South Florida." Unfortunately, she became severely seasick the first two days of the trip. "Luckily, another ODU graduate student from Dr. Chappell's lab was there to help me get caught up," said Confesor. After receiving prescription seasickness medicine, Confesor carried on with her research full steam ahead.

Her current research focuses on linkages between two major families of Trichodesmium, Karenia brevis (a dinoflagellate which causes red tide blooms), and seasonal signals along the West Florida Shelf. "Now that I'm back on campus, I've been working on DNA/RNA extractions of those samples and will eventually be doing qPCR to get the gene abundance of Trichodesmium clades at each station." Upon completion of her research, Confesor is working towards a published paper regarding her research findings. She hopes to use collected environmental data as a statistical analysis involving any correlations.

Research is a pillar in the College of Sciences, and Confesor has thrived because of her hands-on experiences. "Research is important to me because it's not only learning more about the world we live in, but also finding ways to protect or better the lives of others and our surroundings with that information," said Confesor. "I think putting meaning and purpose into what we do is what us humans do best, and for me, looking at ocean microbe gene expressions and their impacts in the ocean- and in turn us- is what makes me feel fulfilled."

According to Confesor: it's the people which make the research experience so special. "I chose my particular program because of how supportive the faculty (especially my advisor) have been, even before I returned. I was able to go to my first OSM (Ocean Sciences Meeting) conference with the financial support of the department after my REU. That meant so much to me, and I am forever grateful for that opportunity.