Diversity Award Past Recipients  

Miya Felder
National Association of Black Scuba Divers Foundation 
1st Place Diversity Award

Miya Felder, a second-year undergraduate student pursuing her degree in Agriculture with a concentration in Environmental science at Virginia State University (VSU), is an U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 1890 National Scholar and a member of VSU Honors College.  She is a member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) and the first-place recipient of the AAUS Foundation Scholarship.

Miya is a graduate of North Point High School Biotechnology Career Technology Education program (Charles County, Maryland).  She developed a growing interest in Marine Biology through her involvement in her high school’s National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Guardian club.  Jumpstarting her college experience, Miya completed coursework at College of Southern Maryland, participated in Saint Francis University Outreach Biology Program, and completed the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Geosciences Program.

Additionally, Miya has participated in diverse activities both in and outside of school.  As a participant of Key club and the local Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Gems program, Miya participated in a variety of volunteer activities within her local area. She served as a Soil Conservationist Intern for the Charles County Maryland NRCS and was selected as the Maryland State National Resource Conservation Soil (NRCS) student representative.  

Allyson Sawkins 
University of California, Santa Cruz
2nd Place Diversity Award

I was born and raised in San Gabriel, California. Like many of us, I became fascinated with the ocean from a very young age. The first time I went snorkeling, the great diversity of fish I saw took my breath away, and I immediately fell in love with the underwater ecosystem. My parents noticed my intrinsic love for the ocean early on. My dad encouraged me to turn this passion into a career because “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Following his advice, I studied Marine Biology as an undergraduate at University of California, San Diego. Last year I began my Ph.D. under advisor Dr. Giacomo Bernardi in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at University of California, Santa Cruz. 

In our lab, we study the molecular ecology of marine fishes using genetic and genomic techniques. For my dissertation, I will be studying the comparative population genetics of several fish species between California and the Sea of Cortez, which will involve diving in both of these locations. I will be working with researcher Carlos Sanchez-Ortiz and Mexican graduate students in La Paz, Mexico through Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS). I plan to use the AAUS Diversity Scholarship to get Open Water certified and continue onto my Scientific Diver certification through my university.  

I’m immensely grateful for the funding I’ve received that has allowed me to follow my most genuine passion. While I love being a part of the scientific community, there are undoubtedly financial and social barriers to entry. I faced many difficulties getting to where I am today due to financial hardship and food insecurity. Still, I’ve managed to make my dreams a reality despite these difficulties. It is such an honor to receive the 2021 AAUS Diversity Scholarship; it means more than I can put into words. I hope to be an example of what is possible for students coming from adverse backgrounds when we work hard and stay persistent.


Gear Award Past Recipients

Hannah Aichleman - Old Dominion University
Emily Andeson - Old Dominion University


Alyssa Clevenstine -California State University, Long Beach


Ali Zwiefler - University of Haifa, Israel


Victoria Sindorf - University of Hawaii, Manoa

Emily Aiken - California State University
Melanie Garate - University of Rhode Island