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Prof. Erika Young Earns Ph.D. (Phinally Done) Degree

Dr. Erika Young 

The last five years have been quite busy for Prof. Erika Young.  She has dedicated her time and energies to teaching General Zoology, Principles of Biology, and Exploring Life’s Diversity for UNC Pembroke’s Department of Biology.  Between teaching full time in the classroom, prepping lectures and labs, advising students, attending University functions and faculty meetings, she has little time to spare.  And writing a doctoral dissertation is no easy task.  But on Tuesday, 2 August 2016, while many of us were just beginning to think about the start of the fall semester, Prof. Young successfully defended her dissertation --- miles away from Pembroke at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. 

It could be said that Dr. Young’s journey to a doctoral degree began in 2009 when she moved to Morehead City to undertake laboratory and field studies full time at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. During the next two years she studied the effects of bulkheads on salt marshes in three distinctively different regions of North Carolina’s coastline.  Bulkheads and other shore stabilization structures are popular with property owners because they do a great job of protecting valuable ocean front property by holding back the sea. Dr. Young’s research demonstrated that these structures, unfortunately, contribute to the loss of salt marsh vegetation and to the concomitant reduction in habitat quality for shore birds.  These effects will only become worse as sea levels continue to rise and bulkheads prevent marsh vegetation from migrating inland. After completing her doctoral research, Dr. Young chose to return to UNC Pembroke to teach.

Erika Young first joined the Biology faculty in 2005, shortly after completing a Master’s degree at Western Carolina University (WCU).  Her thesis research at WCU focused on dragonflies --- Observations on the Odonata of a Stream Bog Complex in Panthertown Valley, North Carolina.  In May 2008, she resigned her position at UNCP to pursue a predoctoral fellowship in marine sciences at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, which was sponsored by the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP). After receiving a Native American Incentive grant in the fall of 2008, she promptly began doctoral coursework in the Marine Science Department at UNC-Chapel Hill.  It was upon completing this coursework in spring 2009 that she relocated to Morehead City to take up doctoral research.

In a real sense, Dr. Young’s journey to a doctoral degree began in the UNCP Department of Biology.  Before marriage, before graduate school, the young Pembroke native and Native American (Lumbee) -– Erika Yates -- earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology (with tracks in Zoology, Botany, and Environmental Biology) from the Department in 2000.  Her first ever plane trip, bound for Bermuda, was in connection with the Department’s Marine Biology course, which was taught by Drs. Bonnie Kelley and David Zeigler.  She spent a week snorkeling among Bermuda’s coral reefs and colorful fishes.  The seeds for a career in marine science were planted.

Dr. Erika Young has come full circle, and the Department is fortunate to have her on the faculty.  In addition to teaching introductory courses in biology, she is poised to assume upper level courses, including courses taught by her former mentors in the Department.  Congratulations, Dr. Young, on earning a doctoral degree, and congratulations on a journey well done!

Dr. Erika Young and large fish
Click here (PDF file) to read the abstract from Dr. Young’s dissertation defense -- Influence of Shoreline Stabilization Structures on Nekton and Avian Assemblages in Salt Marsh Habitats.

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