Doctoral Student Gets Hands-On Experience Through NSF Program

Komalpreet Singh, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences, was selected as a National Science Foundation’s (NSF) GeoHealth INTERN to work with public health professionals to monitor human pathogens and bacteria in bodies of water. 

To be a GeoHealth INTERN, a graduate student must have at least a full academic year completed and be connected to a principal investigator working with NSF. Under the advisement of Antarpreet Jutla, Ph.D., an associate professor, Singh was awarded this internship to prepare him for his career goal to construct a Vibrio vulnificus index utilizing satellite data. 

The GeoHealth INTERN program was created to encourage teamwork in a non-academic setting to tackle pressing health challenges resulting from changes in the environment. As a GeoHealth INTERN, Singh was assigned to work with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) where he operated environmental monitoring instruments and participated in island cleanups and wildlife observation. 

“I harbor a keen interest in coastal biology coupled with remote sensing and sought a field that would seamlessly integrate with environmental engineering,” Singh said. “Throughout my internship, my primary objective was to delve deep into the realm of vibrios inhabiting open coastal waters.” 

Throughout his three-month internship, Singh worked in Estero Bay, Charlotte Harbor Watershed and visited the Mote Marine Laboratory. Although he is familiar with coastal research, he did not have prior experience working underwater. He learned to snorkel and conduct tasks like counting seaweed, replacing data sondes — devices used for monitoring — and making observations. Singh said, “This experience allowed me to grow personally and professionally. It pushed me to overcome new hurdles and discover more about myself.” 

He credited the internship for showing him diverse marine research, which included crab breeding, studies on Karenia Brevis, and the isolation of pathogens from seabed depths of 2000 meters (about 1.24 miles). The hands-on opportunity allowed him to observe coral reef growth and the cultivation of various algae species, including Caulerpa fastigiata and red algae, in addition to the laboratory cultivation of seagrass and mangroves for coastal restoration initiatives. 

“One memorable incident involved navigating through heavy rain and strong ocean currents while on the water. During that time, we encountered a distressed pelican entangled in a fishing line. After carefully freeing the bird, it was initially startled and fell into the water. However, with the help of the professionals I was working with, we successfully rescued the pelican,” Singh said. “Later, we visited the animal hospital and bird sanctuary where the pelican received proper care. This experience of participating in my first bird rescue was incredibly rewarding and left an impression on me.” 

Singh was grateful for the opportunity to work with the team at DEP. He said it provided him with invaluable experience in real-life situations, offering insight into various challenges and scenarios encountered in coastal waters. 

“This internship experience perfectly aligns with my career aspirations, particularly in the field of vibrios research. Now, as I transition to utilizing remote sensing techniques to understand water conditions, I have a deep understanding of the conditions on the ground,” Singh said. “This firsthand knowledge enhances my ability to interpret remote sensing data effectively and allows me to approach my work from a more informed perspective.”   


Reba Liddy 

ESSIE Marketing and Communications Specialist