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After 18 years as Morehead City Field Site director, Noble passes the helm to Rodriguez

September 7, 2020 woman in lab

Gathering together for lunch on day one of each semester is Rachel Noble’s tradition. She aims to get to know students from their first day together at the Morehead City Field Site and she said she enjoys seeing many of the students stay in the family of researchers and scientists through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute for Marine Sciences (IMS) well beyond the end of their few months together.

UNC hired Noble in 2001 in what she called a “unicorn position” where she developed the Morehead City field site for undergraduate learning with support from the Institute for the Environment and the Carolina Environmental Program—now called the Environment, Ecology and Energy Program.

Noble’s background in oceanography and environmental issues related to pollution were woven into the curriculum of the field site that focuses on marine sciences. A cohort of students every fall takes five classes at the site, and since its inception in 2003 the number of students has grown from six to more than 16 per semester.

“Rachel’s creativity, energy and dedication to conceiving, nurturing and operating the field site have been truly phenomenal,” Professor and Director of UNC Marine Sciences Rick Luettich said.  “Many students who have attended the field site have indicated that it was the highlight of their time at UNC.”

Molly Bost is one of Noble’s previous students who said her time at the Morehead field site was her most memorable time in college. She now is a Ph.D. candidate with the UNC Institute for Marine Sciences doing coastal geology work.

“She was always available to us,” Bost said of Noble. “I don’t think I appreciated that at the time as an undergrad, but looking back, having a principal investigator of the caliber Dr. Noble is, looking out for us and having everything taken care of so all we had to do was show up and get an awesome education was incredible.”

Bost said that Noble’s guidance and curation of the field site impacted the trajectory of her education and that many of her other students have also gone on to get their master’s degrees, Ph.D.s or work in labs in the field of marine sciences.

As director, Noble spent a lot of her time planning the logistics of classes, housing, field trip programming and other details to run the program smoothly. She also is doing research, working on molecular diagnostics and teaching classes. After nearly two decades, Noble has decided to help Antonio Rodriguez take over as field site director. She will remain on the leadership team as an assistant director along with Joanna Rosman.

people on beach

Rodriguez has worked at UNC for 15 years researching coastal processes at IMS and teaching marine geology. He has been on several field trips with the program already and said he looks forward to hopefully enhancing these trips. Bost now works closely with Rodriguez as his doctoral student and she said he will fill the role well.

While Rodriguez manages the logistics of the site and the undergraduate experience, Noble will spend more time envisioning ways to amplify the undergraduate offerings, primarily with more emphasis on entrepreneurship and technology. She also said she hopes to dedicate more time to her research on viral pathogens in water including Coronaviruses.

Rodriguez said he is looking forward to group field trips to the Outer Banks, social gatherings and forming a tight-knit community between students and faculty. Some of these things are more difficult this fall with social distancing measures, but with those at IMS working collaboratively, he and Noble remain hopeful that students will continue to have enriching experiences at the Morehead City Field Site.

Story by Ava Eucker ’21

Ava Eucker is an undergraduate student at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media concentrating on reporting. She is minoring in Spanish and plans to center her career path around travel, storytelling and focusing on environmental work. Eucker will be taking a semester to work on an organic farm in Hawaii and will study abroad in Quito, Ecuador before finishing her degree by December 2021.