Who we are

Dr. Randi Rotjan (she/her/hers) is a Research Assistant Professor and a Senior Lecturer at Boston University in the Biology Department and in the BU Marine Program. She received a B.S. from Cornell University, a Ph.D. from Tufts University, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University; all the while “standing on the shoulders of giants” (see her academic lineage here). She spent 8 years as an Associate Research Scientist at the New England Aquarium, where she simultaneously held positions at UMass Boston and the Smithsonian Institution. She is the co-Chief Scientist of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) Conservation Trust, where she leads the science program for the worlds’ largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a natural climate laboratory and fully closed to all commercial extractive activities. Rotjan is also the founder and co-Chair of the PIPA Scientific Advisory Committee. She is a member of Women Working for Oceans (W2O) and the Explorers Club, and is a Faculty Associate at the Boston University Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. She is a member of the Board of Directors for The Nature Conservancy – Caribbean, and the Friends of the Middlesex Fells. She lives in the Boston area with her two sweet children, awesome husband, and a yard full of native plants. @RandiRotjan 
Isabela Trumble (she/her/hers) recently earned her  B.A. of Marine Science at Boston University (‘20), inspired by her early exposure to marine science at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. Isabela completed undergraduate research in the Rotjan Lab on nutrient sharing in Astrangia poculata. Isabela also participated in three BU Marine Semesters, and was awarded the 2020 Binland Lee Service Award from the BU Marine Program. During her time as an undergraduate, Isabela deepened her interest in aquaria maintenance and husbandry. Now, as a senior research technician at BU, she maintains and cares for aquarium systems in several BU labs with the goal to facilitate research. Out of the lab, Isabela loves to cook, eat, and give belly rubs to her puppy Leia.  .@IsabelaTrouble
Dr. Steve Auscavitch (he/him/his) is a visiting scholar and postdoctoral researcher in the Rotjan Lab. His research broadly seeks to understand ecological patterns and processes in deep-water coral ecosystems, particularly on seamounts. His current project in the lab seeks to identify and describe protected deep-water coral biodiversity, as well as patterns in phylogenetic community structure, in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and surrounding waters. His work leverages data collected from remotely operated vehicles with existing collection resources present in museum archives. Steve is also an active member of the Corp of Exploration on the E/V Nautilus where he has contributed as science lead and science data manager on several cruises since 2014. He received his BS in Marine Science from the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, his MS in Marine Biology at the University of Maine, and PhD in Biology from Temple University. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveAuscavitch and via his personal website.
Dr. Stephanie N. Kennedy (she/her/hers) is a postdoctoral researcher working jointly with the Rotjan Lab and the Kagan Lab (Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital). She received her BSc in Zoology (Colorado State University), her MSc in Marine Science (Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, San Jose State University) and PhD in Environmental Chemistry (University of Alaska). Her first research experience was with Dr. Gwong-Jen Chang (Centers for Disease Control) working on flavivirus vaccine efficacy studies. Her scientific interests, field explorations, and publications span multiple disciplines (assay development, conservation, environmental health, renewable energy, foraging ecology, toxicology, marine drug discovery, host-microbe interactions, and eco-immunology). Her past projects featured various megafauna (endangered Steller sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, California sea lions, Northern elephant seals, sea otters, seabirds, and shorebirds). Currently, her scientific endeavors are focused on coral defenses to investigate unique host-pathogen interactions and innate immunity in corals. Fun facts: Stephanie’s work has taken her all the way to Attu Island, the furthest western point of the U.S. Alaskan Islands in the Bering Sea.
Anna Gauthier (she/her/hers) is a PhD candidate and works jointly between the Rotjan Lab and the Kagan Lab (Harvard Medical School, Department of Virology). She recently was aboard the R/V Falkor in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to collect deep sea microbes for her dissertation work. Her paper on fluorescent E. Coli being vectored into Astrangia poculata corals on microplastic beads was recently published. Come back to learn more about Anna. :-)  @RatherLargeNerd
Brian RC Kennedy (he/him/his) is a third year PhD student in the Rotjan lab. Prior to this, Brian spent 8 years with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research working on board the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. During his time with NOAA he served as NOAA Corps officer and a civilian managing ocean exploration expeditions as well as leading OER’s telepresence efforts. Brian’s research interest are broad, including but not limited to deep sea ecology, ocean exploration and the technology to better access and document the deep ocean, all of whch can be showcased in his first, first-authored paper in Frontiers in Marine Science! Brian has been part of the first deep-sea dives in both the Phoenix and Gilbert archipelagos, in collaboration with Rotjan and others. @BrianRCKennedy    Google Scholar
Jacob Jaskiel (he/him/his) is a 2nd year PhD student studying early life history and population dynamics of tropical Pacific tunas in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). He graduated from BU (’19) majoring in Marine Science and minoring in Environmental Analysis and Policy. Jacob travelled to PIPA in 2018, where he helped the crew collect the oceanographic data and plankton samples that we analyze in the lab (check out the blog on NatGeo Open Explorer!). In the lab, he works with the ichthyoplankton samples from PIPA in order to gather information that may inform future conservation efforts, in collaboration with Jan Witting at SEA. He also co-authored a recent paper on seagrass microplastics. Fun fact from Jacob: I am a huge outdoorsman and I love to kayak, fish, snorkel, camp, and pretty much anything else that allows me to be in nature. @RascalJaskiel     Google Scholar
Caroline Fleming (she/her/hers) is a first year PhD student and an #NSFGRFP Award Winner. She recently graduated from College of the Holy Cross, where she worked on the phenotypic plasticity of Lytechinus variegatus sea urchin larvae in various feeding conditions under Dr. Justin McAlister. An ecophysiologist at heart, Caroline has dipped her toes in population ecology, phylogeography, and epigenetics, and hopes to have found her home in investigating the dynamic energy budget of Astrangia poculata in the Rotjan lab. When not in the lab or riffling through the nearest tide pool, you can find Caroline putting her Art History minor to work, or hiking to the top of just about any peak she can find. @cflemsscientist
Brenna Stallings (she/her/hers) is a second-year masters student. She majored in Biology with a minor in marine science at BU. She is working on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area photomosaics project as part of the 100IslandsChallenge, classifying the coral cover and hoping to look at the changes in sites over time. She is also helping teach and oversee undergrads who are working on the project with her. A fun fact about Brenna: She is learning to play D&D.
Peter Gawne (he/him/his) has a bachelors from Tufts University, and is currently a masters student matriculated through UMass Boston via the UMB-NEAq partnership. He is working on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, examining how iron pollution impacts reef resilience and recovery (in collaboration with Drs. Jessica Carilli and Sangeeta Mangubhai). Pete is also a full-time senior aquarist at the New England Aquarium, and has been working with Randi since 2010, when he first went to Belize with Rotjan in partnership with the Smithsonian Coral Reef Ecosystems Program.
Sarah Speroff (they/them/theirs) is an incoming masters student (September 2020) from Cleveland, Ohio. They graduated from Kenyon College in 2018 with a BA in Biology and Environmental Science. Sarah’s passion for ecology has grown through their time studying with the Sea Education Association where they investigated the population dynamics of the Sargassum shrimp. Sarah also spent time as an intern with the New England Aquarium to assess marine mammals and marine fisheries respectively. Sarah is excited to begin research on the hierarchy of climate change driven stress on Astrangia poculata. Fun facts about Sarah: they were a field hockey goalkeeper at Kenyon and now enjoy taking the pitch with their club rugby team in Boston! They also love coffee, cooking, and exploring new breweries around the city. .@sarahsperoff
Cecelia (Cece) Gerstenbacher (she/her/hers) is a BA/MS Biology student in the class of 2021, specializing in Ecology and Conservation Biology with a minor in Marine Sciences. She is currently volunteering with the photomosaics team to look at coral distribution in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area as part of the 100IslandsChallenge. Fun facts about Cecelia: She grew up between farmland and the ocean in South Jersey and has always been immersed in nature which inspired her to become involved in conservation. She is also a short sprinter on the BU Track and Field team and is almost always running when not doing schoolwork. @cecececewot
Grace Beery (she/her/hers) – come back to learn more about Grace!
Erin Dracup (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023 majoring in Health Science with a minor in Marine Science. As part of the Rotjan Lab, Erin is working with Justin Fogliasso to research wound healing in mixed-symbiosis Astrangia poculata. Fun facts about Erin: She grew up in Ithaca, New York and got PADI scuba certified in Cayuga Lake! When not in the lab, she loves to run along the Charles River and explore Boston with friends!
Alexa Dudek (she/her/hers) is a sophomore at Boston University. As part of her project, Alexa is working with masters student Laura DiRoberts studying how the temperate coral Astrangia poculata takes up various forms of nitrogenShe also helps with other projects around the lab in her spare time. A fun fact about Alexa: She has been snorkeling since the age of three and has loved the ocean ever since. 
Justin Fogliasso (he/him/his) is a senior studying Biology with a specialization in Ecology and Conservation Biology, and minoring in Earth and Environmental Science. Justin is currently researching wound healing in mixed-symbiosis Astrangia poculata, following up from previous Rotjan-lab Ph.D. student, Liz Burmester’s, research. In his free time, Justin enjoys hiking, cooking, and trying new coffee shops around Boston. @JustinFogliasso
Abigail Grassick (she/her/hers) is from St. Petersburg Florida, and is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023, majoring in biology with a specialization in cellular, molecular, and genetics. In the lab, she is a part of the PIPA plankton sorting team. She grew up loving the water and everything in it. When she’s not in class or in the lab, you can most likely find her cheering on Terriers MIH at Agganis Arena. Her other hobbies include hiking, kayaking, surfing, and anything else that gets her out into nature and the water.
Ian Kwit (He, Him, His) is an undergraduate student of the class of 2023, majoring in Marine Science and minoring in Mandarin Chinese. He is a part of the photomosaics team, working to monitor and record the changes in coral growth within the reefs of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Ian also assists the Coral Husbandry team in taking care of the polyps of Astrangia poculata kept within the lab. Ian is a member of the BU running club. When he isn’t in class, you can usually find him running along the Charles River or in the BU Library enjoying the quiet and calm atmosphere.
Anna Lapadula (she/her/hers) is a sophomore from Manchester, New Hampshire working with Sarah Speroff in the Rotjan Lab. Anna has elected to double-major in Marine Science and Earth & Environmental Sciences in order to surround herself as much as possible with nature throughout her education, career, and beyond. She spent most of her childhood outside, and, by this point in her life, Anna and her family have owned over 20 pets! When she isn’t attending to schoolwork, Anna loves to practice languages, try her hand at new recipes, rollerblade along the Esplanade, or explore Boston with friends. 
Deeya Modhwadiya (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023 majoring in biology and psychology. In the lab, she is working on the photomosaic project to record changes of coral cover in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). When she is not in class or lab, you can find Deeya walking along the Esplanade or taking pictures of the amazing views in Boston. Some other hobbies are hiking, playing tennis, and watching TV.
Itasca Motter (she/her/hers) is a second year undergraduate student in the Rotjan lab. She is a Marine Science major at Boston University, and she is working on the Astrangia poculata energy budget project alongside Caroline Fleming. She grew up on the coast of Southern California, where she first discovered her passion for any and all things related to the ocean. Fun facts about Itasca: she has been to 24 different countries at her current age of 20, she grew up speaking both English and Spanish fluently, and her favorite sea animal is the chambered nautilus!
Grace Newsom (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate in the class of 2023, majoring in Biology with a specialization in Ecology and Conservation minoring in Environmental Analysis and Policy. She is currently a member of the PIPA plankton sorting team in the Rotjan Lab.  When she’s not in the lab, Grace enjoys being creative through journaling, sewing, crocheting, and playing ukulele.
Amy Phan (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate in the class of 2022, majoring in Earth & Environmental Science with a minor in Marine Science. In the Rotjan lab, she works with the photomosaics team to look at changes in coral cover in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, as part of the 100IslandsChallenge. She is also a member of the BU Vietnamese Student Association. Fun fact: she is currently learning how to play the ukulele.
Cassandra Swartz (she/her/hers) is a junior at Boston University Academy (BUA), where she is the captain of the women’s soccer and basketball teams. She is taking classes at Boston University in environmental engineering, biology, and Portuguese. Upon graduation she plans to pursue degrees in marine biology and environmental policy. Cassandra is aiding Sarah Speroff on their research surrounding climate driven stressors on Astrangia poculata. In her free time, Cassandra enjoys playing the flute and piano, skiing, hydrofoiling, sailing, and surfing.
Calvin Yu (he/him/his) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023, majoring in Conservation Biology and minoring in Marine Science. In the lab, Calvin spends his day disentangling plankton from samples collected in PIPA and feeding coral. Enamored with the ocean and its denizens, Calvin is right at home there. While he’s out of the lab, Calvin enjoys wandering the streets of the city to find new places to eat.
Valentina Vaney (She/Her/Hers) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2022, majoring in Biology and minoring in both Environmental Policy and Analysis and Environmental Science. In the Rotjan lab, Valentina works on sorting plankton from the Phoenix Islands and coral husbandry. Fun fact: Valentina grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil where she got scuba certified and has been passionate about the environment ever since.
Emily Veninga (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate in the Class of 2021 majoring in marine science with a minor in computer science. She is currently reviewing footage collected by the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to identify corallivory in deep-sea corals in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). Fun fact from Emily: she spends a lot of her time with her cats, Charlotte and Georgie, in her apartment watching crime TV shows or listening to D&D podcasts.
Jacqueline (JC) Wihardja (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023, majoring in Biology with a specialization in Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, and Genetics, and minoring in Marine Science and the Core. In the lab, JC works on sorting plankton samples from PIPA. Fun fact: she has a pet hedgehog, and in her spare time, likes to knit teeny tiny scarves and hats for him.

Recent lab alumni – Boston University

Lab alumni – Boston University

Elizabeth (Liz) Burmester, Ph.D., now a Restoration Scientist at the Billion Oyster Project

Burmester EM, Finnerty JR, Kaufman L, Rotjan RD. 2017. Temperature and symbiosis affect lesion recovery in experimentally wounded, facultative symbiotic temperate corals. Marine Ecology Progress Series 570: 87-99. 

Burmester, E., A. Breef-Pilz, N. Lawrence, L. Kaufman, J. Finnerty, and R. Rotjan. 2018. The impact of autotrophic versus heterotrophic nutritional pathways on colony health and wound recovery in corals. Ecology and Evolution 00:1-12.

Photo of Dr. Liz Burmester by Jackie Ricciardi for Boston University Photography

Lukas DeFilippo, B.S. Boston University, now a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington

DeFilippo, L., EM Burmester, L Kaufman, and RD Rotjan. 2016. Patterns of surface lesion recovery in the northern star coral, Astrangia poculata. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 481: 15-24 

Sara Edquist, B.S. Boston University, now a Ph.D. student at the University of New Hampshire

Edquist, SK and RD Rotjan. 2012. Testing vacancy chain predictions in Pagurus longicarpus hermit crabs: Does ecological gain and behavioral motivation match environmental context? Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 430: 78-86

Lab alumni – New England Aquarium

Allison Kerwin, M.S., Ph.D., now a postdoc at Penn State University

Sharp, K.H., Z.A. Pratte, A.H. Kerwin, R.D. Rotjan, and F.J. Stewart. 2017. Seasonal shifts in taxonomic diversity of the microbiome in the temperate coral Astrangia poculata. Microbiome 5(120): 1-14

Dimond, JL, AH Kerwin, RD Rotjan, K Sharp, FJ Stewart, and DJ Thornhill. 2013. A simple temperature-based model predicts the upper latitudinal limit of the temperate coral Astrangia poculata. Coral Reefs 32(2): 401-409 

Sarah Abboud, M.S., now at UC Merced

Tania Lemos-Eskin, M.S., now at Brandeis University


Recent undergraduate lab alumni – Boston University