“Adelphi’s scholarship program was phenomenal.”
Research Technician at the American Museum of Natural History“Adelphi’s scholarship program was phenomenal.”
Melina Giakoumis loves animals. Her interest in wildlife led her to choose environmental studies, as well as anthropology, as her major at Adelphi. She worked in the University’s forensic anthropology lab, documenting archaeological human remains and working with raw data obtained by professor Anagnostis Agelarakis; an experience that helped her to discover research as a viable career option.
With the Adelphi in Greece program, she traveled to the island of Crete, studying human remains that were thousands of years old at a major archaeological site. “We learned more through that field work than you ever could sitting in a classroom,” said Giakoumis.
After returning to Greece the following year, she traveled to Australia to investigate the biodiversity and tropical ecosystems in the Australian rainforest and Great Barrier Reef. “That was life-changing for me,” she said. “Even though I had already chosen wildlife and conservation as my career path, I had never spent so much time in a place with so much wildlife as I did in Australia,” she said. “That trip confirmed that this was the right path for me.” The next year she began her master’s degree in conservation biology at Columbia University.
Today she is a research technician at the American Museum of Natural History. She has had the opportunity to study Pallas’s cats, a species previously understudied, at the genetic level. “There had not been any molecular work done on Pallas’s cat populations before,” she said. “Being able to help increase our understanding of this species has been extremely rewarding.”
Giakoumis also works in DNA barcoding, a project that has evolved into a wildlife trade resource for the government. “When the government comes across suspicious animal samples, they bring them here. I extract DNA from them and sequence the gene regions that describe what species they are so that the government knows and can act accordingly,” she said. “Helping to enforce wildlife trade rules that have been put in place for good reason is one of the best parts of my job. It’s something I really believe in.”
Right now, she is enjoying the fact that there are so many avenues she can take her career in in the years to come. She looks forward to delving into all facets of conservation—from communications to actual sample collection to interacting with local people—before getting her Ph.D. in ecology, with applications in conservation.
“There is a conservation crisis. We’re losing a lot of species at an alarming rate,” she said. “I’d like to do something where I can work with animals and find a practical application for saving species.”
When she was first applying to college, Giakoumis, a New York native, knew she wanted to go to school in her home state. “I had been debating between NYU, Adelphi and Stony Brook,” she said. “Some people work really well in an environment like NYU’s, where they are in a class of 800 people. I went to a small high school and did well there. I decided the best thing for me would be to go to a smaller school.”
She chose Adelphi for its location, small size, and the scholarship support she was offered by the University: “Adelphi’s scholarship program was phenomenal.”
At Adelphi, Giakoumis said she got to know her professors on a first name basis. A student in the Honors College, Giakoumis described professor Greg Mercurio’s guidance as “invaluable” during the application process for graduate school. “He sat with me many times to review my grad school personal statement. We went back and forth on that constantly,” she said.
“I found my professors at Adelphi to be invested in their students’ futures,” said Ms. Giakoumis. “They knew who I was and what I was interested in.”
Even after graduating from Adelphi, in the summer between her two years at Columbia, Adelphi professor Beth Christensen contacted Ms. Giakoumis to offer her a spot to conduct research aboard the Environmental Protection Agency’s Ocean Survey Vessel. “I got to spend the summer sampling invertebrates and soil,” she said. “I highly doubt if I had gone to a big school that a professor would have reached out to me to tell me that there was an opportunity I could be a part of.”
“Adelphi was definitely the right choice for me,” she said.
Giakoumis has two brothers currently studying at Adelphi. “They didn’t even apply anywhere else,” she said. “They saw the experience I had at Adelphi, and they wanted it too.”