Meet the Team

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Tom Potts is the Program Director for the Aquarius Reef Base. He’s been with the program since it relocated from St. Croix, USVI to the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 1990. Upon graduating in 1991 with a masters in Science in Marine Biology from UNCW, he relocated to Key Largo, FL, to help launch Aquarius Undersea Laboratory and its associated science program. He was and aquanaut on the second saturation mission of Aquarius’ redeployment on Conch Reef. In January 2010, Tom began focusing his efforts on leading the next-generation Aquarius Reef Base and has overseen the transition of the program to Florida International University. Tom is a certified IANTD Trimix technical diver, NAUI dive instructor, Nitrox divemaster, NOAA saturation diver, and Deep Worker single-person submersible pilot. He has a number of science and popular literature publications, including authoring a chapter on manned submersibles and saturation diving in university-level textbook, Underwater Research

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Roger Garcia is the Operations Director at Aquarius. Roger is a veteran of 20 years of diving operations with the US Navy and has been with the Aquarius Program since year 2003. He is responsible for overseeing diving operations and assuring the safety of all participants.

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Aileen Soto has enjoyed diving the waters off the Florida Keys from a very young age. She has always been fascinated with the ocean and the life it supports, and truly loves sharing that passion with students of all ages. She received a B.S. in Biology in 1997 and M.S. in Science Education in 1999 from FIU. Aileen helps facilitate FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society’s (SEAS’) broader educational outreach agenda for K-12 audiences and beyond. As the Aquarius and Florida Keys-based Education and Outreach Coordinator, Aileen brings expertise in environmental education and outreach to craft curriculum, train teachers, and design hands-on lesson plans and activities to truly flip the classroom and empower young students to pursue STEM endeavors.

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Otto Rutten worked with the NC Division of Marine Fisheries for seven years before coming to ARB in 1994. He is a diving supervisor and is involved with aquanaut training.

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Mark Hulsbeck served in the United States Navy for five years as an aviation anti-submarine warfare operator and helicopter search and rescue air crewman. He subsequently earned a degree in geology from the University of South Florida. Hulsbeck then joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, in which he served on numerous research vessels. Hulsbeck’s professional qualifications include a United States Coast Guard Captain’s 100-ton license. He is also a professional Association of Diving Instructors Master Scuba Diver Trainer, Divers Alert Network Instructor and a Dive Medical Technician. When not underwater, Hulsbeck (known by the nickname “Otter”) enjoys boating, fishing and kayaking. He is a long-time Miami Dolphins fan and enjoys going to Miami Heat and Miami Marlins games. Hulsbeck was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and grew up in Florida.

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Hank Stark works as an Operations Manager.

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Tom Horn is a Research Programs Coordinator for the Aquarius Reef Base. Tom Interned at Aquarius while completing his graduate degree in Maritime Archaeology from East Carolina University. His research focused on the in-situ corrosion management of shipwrecks. He also holds a B.A. from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. He is a certified Instructor, Trimix, Full Cave, AAUS, and Inspiration rebreather diver. His passion is underwater science and he was picked up full time by the Aquarius program in 2015. In his free time he can usually be found on the water fishing or diving.

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Sean Moore served in the U.S. Navy for 4 years as a Rescue Swimmer on board the USS Guardian (MCM-5). He attended Oregon State University for Mechanical Engineering while also working as a PADI Scuba Instructor. After college, he attended Diver’s Institute of Technology and worked offshore as a commercial diver before accepting a position at Aquarius in the spring of 2015.

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Ashtyn Isaak graduated from Oregon State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology. She has conducted underwater research in the Caribbean and estuarine and intertidal research along the Oregon Coast. She also worked as a PADI Divemaster and continued her AAUS scientific diving in the Pacific Northwest. In the fall of 2014, she interned with Reef Environmental Education Foundation while volunteering with various marine conservation groups. She has a strong passion for marine research coupled with education and outreach and loves getting people excited about the underwater world.

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Andy Shantz obtained his B.S. in Anthropology and minor in Environmental Biology from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2005. After becoming interested in marine systems he enrolled in the East – West Marine biology program at Northeastern University where he studied coral-predator interactions in Moorea, French Polynesia while completing a M.S. in Marine Biology. He was a research technician in the Burkepile lab before joining as a Ph.D. student in 2010. For his dissertation research, he is focusing on the impact of nutrient pollution and the impact of different nutrients (nitrogen vs. phosphorus) on corals, coral reefs, and the ecology of mutualisms. Andy’s work has focused on how extra nutrients in the environment impact how corals photosynthesize, grow, and maintain partnerships with their symbiotic algae. Other parts of his dissertation have focused on the role the fish-derived nutrients play in creating spatial heterogeneity on reefs and the impact of size selective fishing on herbivory and herbivore-algal-coral dynamics.

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Alain Duran, FIU Ph.D. Candidate, started working on the ecology of coral reef fishes in 2003 supervised by Dr. Rodolfo Claro as part of his undergraduate thesis at University of Havana. He obtained his bachelors in 2007 and worked as a research assistant for two years in the Marine Biology Department of the Institute of Oceanology, Cuba. In 2013, he received his Master’s in Biology at FIU with Dr. Ligia Collado-Vides and Dr. Deron Burkepile, focusing on the seasonality of macroalgal recruitment on coral reefs and how herbivory and nutrient limitation affects macroalgal recruitment patterns. Alain started his Ph.D. in the Burkepile Lab in 2013. His dissertation research focuses on the context-dependent nature of herbivore-algae interactions. He is examining how factors such as structural complexity, sedimentation, and seasonality impact how herbivorous fishes can control algal community dynamics.

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Frances Farabaugh is a native of San Diego and grew up exploring the beaches, tide pools and kelp beds of southern California. She is a graduate of Humboldt State University with a double major in Marine Biology & Zoology with a minor in Scientific Diving. She is an accomplished SCUBA diver with over 250 logged dives in locations such as Fiji, Australia, Costa Rica, Belize and Santa Catalina. She relishes public outreach and her assignments in the past have included being an instructor at Sea Camp San Diego, a volunteer at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography department of collections and a scientific blogger for the Smithsonian’s Invertebrate Zoology department in Washington, D.C. Frances enjoys roaming the planet to conduct field research and her subjects have included rainforest frogs in Costa Rica, inter-tidal limpets in Panama and outback dingos in Australia. She is currently a Ph.D. student in marine biology at FIU and is pursuing research on reef-shark ecology & behavior.

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Laura Palma obtained her B.S. in Marine Biology from FIU in the summer of 2015. Simultaneously, she volunteered for the Marine Community Ecology Lab assisting graduate students with various projects. Early summer she helped with a project focused on the effects diet Nitrogen content has on sea urchin metabolism. Later, she volunteered in a project assessing the impact of intermediate players regulating the ecological role of herbivorous fish on coral reef benthos. Both projects encompassed intense laboratory and fieldwork that provided her with the experience required for her current position. Laura now works as a research assistant for the Marine Community Ecology Lab and the Marine Macroalgae Research Lab continuing the work she started in the summer.

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Hillary Cassel grew up in Miami, Florida and went to college at the University of Florida where she majored in Psychology. She also became SCUBA certified while in college and fell in love with the ocean. After college, Hillary entered into the animal field where she rescued, rehabilitated and released sick and injured manatees and sea turtles. She then got her SCUBA Instructor certification and moved to Key Largo to be a dive instructor at John Pennekamp State Park. In 2013, Hillary combined her love of the ocean, animals, and children, and became a teacher at Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier, Florida. She currently teaches Kindergarten and 1st grade. Her students love learning about the ocean and they get to go on weekly field trips where Hillary gets to cultivate their love for the water and teaches them about ocean conservation. She is so excited about her experience with the Teacher Under the Sea Program and can’t wait to be involved with Aquarius!

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Amy Vinglish, hailing from Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, teaches English and Creative Writing at Altoona Area High School in Altoona, PA. In her 15 years there, she has also taught mythology, SAT preparation, and theatre arts, and she directed theatre for 3 years. She became a certified open water diver in 2010 and continued training while working at a local dive shop. Currently, she is a PADI Divemaster and a Master Scuba Diver with plans of becoming an instructor this summer. President of the local dive club Laurel Divers, Amy encourages and promotes diving fun, safety, education, and fitness.

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Andrea Williams An educator for over twenty years in private, independent and public schools, Andrea began her career as a long-term substitute kindergarten teacher; has worked as an admission director, special programs director; taught French and American Sign Language in middle and high school; and taught dance. Most recently, she worked as an education consultant advising non-profits in topics that included curriculum, S.T.E.M. and organizational structure. She regularly presents at workshops and conferences on topics ranging from best practices to diversity issues to panel discussions. An alumna of Spelman College, Andrea needed a course to complete her hours in graduate school at Ohio University and was first introduced to diving then. That was twenty + years ago! Her certifications include: Divemaster, DEMP, CPR, Rescue, Enriched Air, Dry Suit, Equipment Specialist, AWARE Coral Reef Conservation, Digital Photography and Coral Restoration Team Leader. Andrea’s love of teaching and scuba, has led her volunteer with the Coral Restoration Foundation where Andrea enjoys helping others learn to repair the damage done to the ocean’s coral reefs. An avid traveler, Andrea has dived all over the US, Caribbean, Dubai, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Belize and the Philippines. When not underwater, Andrea enjoys skiing, reading, golfing, ballroom dancing and spending time with her family.

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Melissa Norelli is excited to join the Teacher Under the Sea Program. As a middle school math and science teacher at Unity School in Delray Beach, Florida, Melissa aims to teach her students to use mathematics and scientific thinking as a lens for seeing their world. Melissa graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science and a M.A. in Teaching. She has always been fascinated by the oceans and consistently looks for ways to engage her students in real world science inquiry activities. Melissa got involved with the program while trying to Skype with the aquanauts and allow her students the opportunity to be at the forefront of research. She is passionate about continuing her intellectual curiosity in an effort to inspire critical thinkers with a desire to make needed change in our world.

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Martha Loizeaux teaches marine science and created the marine science curriculum for Ocean Studies Charter School, a small elementary school in the Florida Keys. She originally comes from New Hampshire and studied zoology in college in Ohio. A study abroad experience in the Turks & Caicos brought Martha into the world of marine science. Since then, she has taught SCUBA and marine science in summer programs for students, worked in aquariums and on boats, and was the assistant director or MarineLab environmental education program in Key Largo before beginning her career as a Florida teacher in 2011. Martha loves to enjoy the ocean with her two beautiful boys, Manolo (first grade) and Luca (3 yrs. old) and her husband, Jesus, who is also a dive guide in Key Largo. Martha's ultimate dream is to combine her love of ocean sciences and teaching, something she is excited to experience in the Teacher Under the Sea program at Aquarius.

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