Marine biology program producing successful graduates from IPFW’s Fort Wayne campus

Students gather information about a sea turtle as part of a research program organized by Professor Frank V. Paladino of IPFW. The university's marine biology program has trained about 50 people, many of whom have gone on to build successful careers in the field. (Courtesy of Professor Frank V. Paladino of IPFW)

When you think of students graduating from IPFW, it’s typical to think of them entering fields such as education, business, health care and engineering. But the university also is a hub for successful marine biology graduates.

Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, which will separate into Purdue Fort Wayne and Indiana Fort Wayne programs on July 1, is located along the St. Joseph River.

But how does an otherwise landlocked, Midwestern university offer a successful marine biology degree? Through its biology department faculty.

The key figure has been Professor Frank V. Paladino, the Jack W. Schrey Distinguished Professor of Biology at IPFW and the president of the nonprofit organization The Leatherback Trust, which based in Fort Wayne and works to save leatherback and other sea turtles.

During more than 35 years of teaching at IPFW, Paladino has been involved in educating 45 master’s degree students, three doctorate degree students and four post-doctorate fellows, he said via email.

“I attracted students from all over the world — Greece, England, Spain, Costa Rica and, of course, the USA, because of my work with marine turtles,” he said.

He also involved other IPFW faculty in research in Costa Rica, where much of his sea turtle research is focused, he said.

“There are six other professors that have been authors from here on my publications,” he said. “Thus I created a group that had the interest and attracted the students.”

Students get hands-on marine biology research experience offered mainly during spring break trips to the Caribbean region.

“We have a 10-day trip to Costa Rica and a nine-day trip to the Bahamas that students sign up and pay for through IPFW,” Paladino said.

Students work hard and publish their results in top science journals, which has helped them build successful careers, he said.


Students who have received an advanced degree from the marine biology program at IPFW include:

• Callie Veelenturf, a 2017 alumnus, now works as a research marine biologist for the Turtle Island Restoration Network in California. A photo of her doing research next to a leatherback sea turtle was named the winner of the science journal Nature’s 2018 #ScientistAtWork photo contest.

• Thomas Backof, a 2013 alumnus, worked in Greece studying loggerhead sea turtles and now is a biological science technician at the National Park Service’s South Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. His work has focused on the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, a critically endangered species.

• Lauren Cruz, a 2016 alumnus, now is working as a research biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex near Warsaw, Va., where she works with nesting sea turtles and seabirds along the coast. She just had her first scientific paper, which examined the effects of light intensity and wavelength on the in-water behavior of hatchling Olive ridley sea turtles, published in the Journal of Marine Biology.


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