Alum Olivia Hughes: Saving the World One Turtle at a Time

By Brooke Schultz

Student Life Writer

After leaving Washington College with a major in biology, a minor in chemistry, and a concentration in Chesapeake Regional Studies, Olivia Hughes, class of 2015, was hired at National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) as a marine turtle biological stranding associate, which could lead to a possible concrete position with the association. Hughes is responsible for saving the lives of sea turtles in Hawaii. She assesses their conditions and either rehabilitates them or takes them back to the lab for necropsy.

“I seriously love my job,” Hughes said. “It is both a desk and in-the-field kind of job where every day is interesting and exciting.”


As a student at WC, she had the chance to intern with NOAA working with T. Todd Jones, the leader of the Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program, doing analyses of different dietary elements for loggerhead, leatherback, green, and hawksbill sea turtles.

“This is centered around a technique using oxygen bomb calorimetry to process the different items to determine their caloric content,” she said. Hughes used the data she collected as an intern for her Senior Capstone: “An Energetic Analysis of Reproduction in Chelonia mydas.” She’s planning on working with Jones to turn the work into a publication.

Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Jennie Carr was Hughes’ thesis advisor, and had Hughes in ecophysiology in the fall of 2014. Dr. Carr said because of the class size she was able to get to know everyone really well and found Hughes to be a hard-worker and avid contributor to classroom discussion.

Hughes releases a sea turtle back into the water.
Hughes releases a sea turtle back into the water.

“She would often work beyond what I expected at each senior capstone experience deadline, which was a great sign of maturity and potential to succeed in the SCE process as a whole. She also had this uncanny knack for finding very obscure resources, including literature from journals that I had never heard of or papers that were older than many of her professors. It really added a lot of dimensions to her thesis,” she said.

Though Carr said Hughes had a tough time figuring out the exact path she wanted to go down after graduation, Hughes always had an interest in NOAA.

“I have always felt that working for an organization like NOAA was a dream career goal. There are so many opportunities to learn and to grow as a young scientist, especially working with some awesome researchers here at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center,” Hughes said. She is technically a state employee, working with Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR), but she works with all of the NOAA staff and hopes to someday be an employee of NOAA.

During her time at WC, Hughes was a member of the women’s club volleyball team, participant in the Chesapeake Semester, and as a student worker at the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) lab.

Hughes started working at the GIS lab her freshman year because she knew knowledge of GIS would be beneficial to someone entering the environmental biology field. She spent her time with the program working on different projects but was able to do environmental work like impervious surface mapping for Cambridge and the Choptank Project where the team provided maps of land use and watershed, which gave the Chesapeake Conservancy a better idea of what was going on in the river.

Hughes and her fellow collegues work to transport injured sea turtles and get them to safety to recover.
Hughes and her fellow collegues work to transport injured sea turtles and get them to safety to recover.

GIS Program Coordinator Stewart Bruce said that Hughes had a great work ethic and was the “gold standard” for GIS interns. “The whole time [she had] a great attitude and willingness to help younger interns learn the trade craft of GIS. She was also very good when dealing with our customers who are very important because they are the ones who fund us to do projects which is how we have money to pay interns,” he said.

Dr. Bruce was impressed with Hughes’ new job. He said, “I wish I could be in Hawaii working with turtles. How cool is that?”

Currently, Hughes is working on a spatial temporal analysis of threats to sea turtles using skills she gained from working at GIS. This will be the first time an analysis will be done using a large data set that has been collected over many years, and she’s excited to inform the public and protection authorities to keep sea turtles safe.

Dr. Carr is happy for Hughes’ success. “I think her new position in Hawaii is a great blend of her interests, academic strengths, and previous experiences gained through internships during her time at WC. I couldn’t be happier for her.”

Hughes feels that her classes and professors at WC helped her better understand field and lab work and communicate with the public, and being knowledgeable with in her field. She said, “I am so eager to learn new things, and I have an excellent foundation of knowledge that really started from everything I learned in my classes at WC. GIS was a big reason I got this job,” she said. “I am currently working on some maps for publications as well as making some maps and doing data analysis for my own prospective publications at my job using existing data.”

One thought on “Alum Olivia Hughes: Saving the World One Turtle at a Time

  1. Olivia is going to be on East Island this summer and there is a job opening to go with her and
    survey the Turtles during their laying season.

    Here is the link to the job posting:

    And a link to the google maps location of East Island:
    Zoom in, check out the pictures or even walk around with google streets.

    So proud of my little girl and the amazing education she received at Washington College!

    Olivia’s father,
    Wally Hughes
    Round Hill, Virginia

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