UH Hilo alumna Narrissa Spies: A role model who revels in research

Narrissa Spies grew up in Hilo and Kawaihae, where her childhood aspiration was to become a medical researcher. She’s now on schedule at UH Mānoa to earn her doctorate in zoology.

University of Hawai‘i at Hilo alumna Narrissa Spies has found her life’s passion in protecting coral reefs.

Narrissa Spies and Bob Richmond
Narrissa Spies and Bob Richmond in the lab.

Spies grew up in Hilo and Kawaihae, where her childhood aspiration was to become a medical researcher. She began her studies at Hawaiʻi Community College, then graduated from UH Hilo with bachelor of arts degrees in biology and anthropology, and a master degree in tropical conservation biology and environmental science.

Today, you’ll find Spies at the Kewalo Marine Lab, near Kakaʻako Waterfront Park on O‘ahu, where she is on schedule at UH Mānoa to earn a doctorate in zoology in spring 2018. She continues her research after receiving yet another honor—a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to engage high school students in the natural sciences as a career path.

“I grew up in a house that didn’t have electricity, so for us going to the beach during the day was an amazing way to escape,” Spies says. “I didn’t realize as a child that I could do those types of things as a career, that I could investigate sea creatures, turn over rocks, as my job.”

Thanks to a $45,000 fellowship from the Kohala Center, a Waimea-based nonprofit, Spies is spending this academic year finishing her doctorate on how coral are able to withstand multiple stressors resulting from human activities.

  • See UH Hilo alumna Narrissa Spies receives fellowship (Sept. 5, 2017, UH Hilo Stories).

Bob Richmond, her faculty advisor and director of the Kewalo Marine Lab, says Spies is more than a brilliant scientist: She is a cultural practitioner who will inspire future ocean researchers.

“For many scientists, the coin of the realm is the peer-reviewed publication,” says Richmond. “They say, ‘Okay, my job is done, I’ve published the paper.’ For Narrissa and her generation, that is no longer sufficient— [they say,] ‘We’ve done the science, we’ve published the paper and now we have to put that knowledge to work.’ And that’s what distinguishes her from a lot of other people.”

Read full story at UH System News.

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