By Jean Zehringer Giesige
ST. HENRY -- How did a girl from landlocked St. Henry, Ohio, come to hear the call of the sea?
It all goes back to the summers when she was a little girl, said Lindsay Fullenkamp, when her family would travel to North Carolina.
"We used to go to the Outer Banks on vacation with my dad's extended family," she said. "Those were great times. I loved to be on the coast. It was a week-long bonding experience with my cousins, aunts and uncles."
Now Fullenkamp is working to make sure that other kids from other families in generations yet to come have the opportunity for the same experience. Fullenkamp, 25, is a coastal management fellow with the North Carolina Sea Grant, and was recently elected to a two-year term as secretary of the Coastal Society, an international organization that addresses marine and coastal issues.
Fullenkamp, who now lives in Raleigh, N.C., is three hours from the beach, so she isn't out with the sand and the surf collecting specimens and studying the waves. Rather, she works with policy makers and scientists to discern the best way of preserving the nation's coastlines. "I work with land-use planners, people who make decisions on which sections of land should be preserved as open spaces, which should be nature preserves, which can be developed for agriculture or industry," she said. "Everybody would like to preserve everything: beautiful vistas, crystal clear water, no air pollution, no endangered species going extinct. But we're humans, and we also need places to live and work. You have to find a balance."
This weekend, Fullenkamp is helping to coordinate the Coastal Society's international conference in Newport, R.I. These are busy days for the 1997 St. Henry High School graduate, who earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Dayton before applying to Duke University's School of the Environment, where she obtained her master's degree.
Fullenkamp had not thought of the sea as a possible career when she was an undergraduate, she said. She had traveled to Georgia and Florida with her marine biology class.
"It was really interesting, but I saw it as more of a fun experience, not a resume builder," she said.
When she was a senior, and casting about for a career, she said, her marine biology professor told her to think about the sea.
"At first it seemed silly," she said. "It wasn't something that people from Ohio do. But he did some research and found Duke's program, and three others."
So Fullenkamp, who had always been encouraged to pursue her interest in science, chose Duke.
"I never really felt like I was at a disadvantage, being a girl interested in science," she said.
Her teachers throughout middle and high school, including Al Sommers and Randy Hoying, were good to her, and her parents, Phil and Peg Fullenkamp of St. Henry, always supported her decisions, she said.
Peg Fullenkamp said she watched her daughter fall into science the way a seal dives into the water: effortlessly and fearlessly. Lindsay had tried sports when she was younger and was frustrated by her lack of success, Peg Fullenkamp said. When she discovered science, her mother knew that she had found her path.
"Lindsay always excelled at academics. She got good grades and I began to suspect that she was smarter than me -- and that's always kind of frightening," Peg Fullenkamp said.
Now she misses her daughter but at the same time admires her adventurous spirit -- earlier in her career, Lindsay Fullenkamp spent a year in California, in an internship with an environmental nonprofit agency.
Lindsay Fullenkamp has learned to surf and loves hiking the trails in a park near her home in Raleigh. While she works to save the sea, she doesn't often see it these days, she said, and she misses that.
"I go to the coast when I can," she said. "I always thought that living on the coast would ruin it for me. I thought that if you could wake up every day and walk down the block and see it, it would lose its pull. But I miss living on the coast."