A Husker in the Deep
At Nebraska, we’ve said students can make waves where there is no ocean. Recent College of Arts and Sciences graduate Baylie Fadool, who majored in biological sciences, experienced this by chasing her dream of studying marine biology.
Why biological sciences?
Growing up in Gallatin, Tennessee, Fadool had always been interested in the world around her. From watching a ladybug eat a hole in a leaf to hearing the calls of night owls, she was fascinated by why creatures did what they did.
Most of all, she was drawn to the ocean.
“I did not have the privilege of living close to the sea, so going on vacation to the beach was always super special. I would immediately feel home once I was there. I wanted to scratch beyond the surface, though, and know what was underneath. The mystery of what could lie beneath the waves and what little is known about the ocean only made me more eager to get closer to the ocean.
“I knew that choosing to study biology at UNL would bring me closer to this dream and help me learn more about the captivating world around me.”
It all started with a field course at Nebraska. “Without it, I may have never been able to envision myself involved in marine biology,” Fadool said.
This insight about her career path came to her while studying the coastal ecology of the area at Sapelo Island, Georgia, for a week in the spring of 2019.
“Being completely immersed in this coastal environment around like-minded people made me realize that it was the environment I wanted to surround myself in, and I have not looked back since,” she said.
She took additional courses in animal behavior, biodiversity conservation, and ecological interactions that allowed her to create projects surrounding the ecology, conservation, and management of sharks. From these projects, she developed her undergraduate thesis, "Anthropogenic Change on the Distribution of Marine Megafauna and Their Prey."
She had always loved sharks, and after learning more about them, she realized they were what she wanted to study.
“Their importance to entire ocean ecosystems and their looming disappearance from many of these ecosystems due to threats, such as overfishing, made me want to take action and get involved with protecting these magnificent creatures,” she said.
“Receiving a degree from UNL has allowed me to achieve this wonderful dream, and without it, I would never have received this opportunity. It gave me all the tools to succeed, even though it was located miles from the nearest ocean. Because of the relationships established and the vast array of classes offered, I was confident in my abilities to achieve my dreams primarily due to the huge support system that I found at UNL.”
Internship with the sharks
She had known about the shark lab at the Bimini Biological Field Station in South Bimini, Bahamas for six years before she applied—it was her dream position.
“I was thrilled when I received the opportunity to study sharks at a globally recognized institution for shark science,” she said. “I was nervous because I had never been outside of the country and had never actually encountered a shark in the wild.”
She participated in her first dive with great hammerhead sharks and nurse sharks early on. “Once I slipped under the water, all fear subsided as I was immediately immersed in their world,” she said.
Getting to experience these sharks' behavior in their natural environment was truly remarkable to Fadool.
“You become part of their world. I did not realize how much I can learn from them just by observing their natural behavior.”
Fadool struggled to understand how anyone could ever be afraid of sharks. She thinks the media has skewed perception of them.
“I realized that I had to be a voice for these creatures and become an advocate for why our world is so much better with them than without them,” she said.
Her favorite activities revolved around dives with Caribbean reef sharks, lemon sharks, Southern stingrays, and blacknose sharks.
The internship also provided her additional conservation experience by restoring an essential mangrove habitat for juvenile lemon sharks that seek refuge in them.
Back on dry land
As a student equipment manager for the Husker football team, Fadool learned critical teamwork skills in a fast-paced environment that directly connected to the internship.
Faculty members Sabrina Russo and Eileen Hebets have been her strongest mentors in the School of Biological Sciences.
“The mentors and experiences I gained at Nebraska have been so valuable in demonstrating leadership and success in this new role,” she said. “I am so thankful for Drs. Russo and Hebets because they always believed in me and saw my passion shine through. They continually encouraged me, and without them, I would not be where I am today.”
Sabrina Russo and Eileen Hebets
As the leader of the Award Committee of Big Red Integrity, a group that promotes character and integrity across campus, she learned how to interact with a diverse group of people with varying opinions and ideas.
“This has been super important as people from all different backgrounds and walks of life come to the lab to gain experience,” she said, “and these are skills that will continue to be important as I will carry through the industry.”
Navigating what's next
Fadool has started looking for her next options as she continues at the shark lab through June.
Baylie Fadool is a Husker living her dream.
Story by College of Arts and Sciences' Marketing and Communication.
Photo credit: David Palfrey.