Kelly came to University of North Carolina Chapel Hill knowing that she wanted to do research. One of the reasons she selected the school itself was because it’s known nationally as a big research institution. During her first year, she found descriptions of professors’ research on departmental websites and emailed five or six professors. About half of the professors responded, and she accepted a research position that summer with a professor that was the principal investigator of a marine microbial ecology research lab.

That same year (2010), Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill happened, which posed long-term consequences for the the microbial community and entire ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico. The lab in which Kelly worked received a grant to study the oil spill, and even though only graduate students were originally eligible for a field trip, Kelly received a chance to go as well. Kelly spent two weeks at sea collecting sediment and water samples and brought over two hundred pounds of sediment back to the lab! Following her experience on the research cruise int he Gulf she received financial support through the UNC’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship or SURF to carry out her own project with the samples she collected. Kelly used this funding to analyze water and sediment samples to determine how the microbial community responded to the oil spill. 

Kelly’s early exposure to research brought many more adventures for her. This past summer, she received an internship working for NOAA – National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, in American Samoa, a chain of islands that is a US territory in the South Pacific called. She spent the summer surveying coral reefs, trying to understand factors that may contribute to coral bleaching and stress. Then, this past semester, she received an internship at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) through the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. She spent the semester in Bermuda studying juvenile coral spat (affectionately called "baby corals"). We at Project Lever can’t think of a better way to spend a semester!

Kelly is now involved in UNC’s OUR Ambassadors program, where she advises young undergraduate students on the best way to start research.