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Sage Family Scholarship supports student's study of coral reef fisheries in Indonesia

ASU SOLS student Zac Whaley working on coral restoration

ASU student Zachary Whaley worked on coral restoration in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo courtesy Zachary Whaley

May 17, 2023

Arizona State University student Zachary Whaley was recently awarded the Sage Family Southeast Asian Studies Scholarship, which is a tribute to William W. Sage’s interest and lifelong work in Laos and Southeast Asia that supports students at ASU who wish to travel and study abroad there.

Whaley is pursuing a double major in biological sciences, with a concentration in conservation biology and ecology, from the School of Life Sciences and in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change

He is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College and is minoring in political science through the School of Politics and Global Studies. Whaley will graduate in May 2024. 

“Zac has a strong interest in the intersection of marine conservation ecology and food sovereignty, which has led him to develop a societally and ecologically relevant honor’s thesis project that he will conduct in Indonesia thanks to the Sage Fellowship,” said associate research professor Katie Cramer. Cramer is associated with the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, and serves as the director of Whaley’s thesis committee. 

“I admire his fierce intellectual curiosity, love of the natural world and passion for environmental justice. I have no doubt that he will continue to put his talents to use to be a force for positive change in the world,” she said.

We had the chance to sit down with Whaley and ask him about this award, his time at ASU and his passion for ecology.

Question: Could you tell us a little bit about your journey before you came to ASU? What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I have always been very passionate about ecology and love being outside, whether that’s hiking, backpacking, surfing, fishing or just studying outdoors. I graduated from high school in 2020 and originally entered ASU as a chemical engineering student. In the fall of my sophomore year, I decided to switch my major to biological sciences. The major “aha” moment for me was realizing that I could pursue a career where I would be able to spend time outside rather than being stuck inside a lab or an office all day.

Q: Could you tell us what the Sage Family Scholarship means to you?

A: I feel very honored to be included in a network with other Sage scholars and with the Sage Family Foundation. Much of my studies have been focused on Southeast Asian culture and ecology, and I am currently taking Indonesian language classes. Being able to travel to Indonesia to observe and participate in the culture and ecology that I have learned about in class is an absolute dream come true. Thanks to the generosity of Bill Sage, I will be able to complete research on coral reef fisheries during my time and contribute to the food sovereignty of Indonesia.

Q: What have you planned so far as part of the scholarship? 

A: So far I am planning on visiting Marine Protected Areas within the Bird’s Head Seascape of Papua, Indonesia, in order to assess how the interplay of social, political and ecological factors influences coral reef fisheries there. I also plan on traveling around the country for a week and visiting coral reef sites in order to gain a better understanding of the social-ecological systems present in Indonesian coral reef ecosystems. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

A: I learned so much about conservation from my Indigenizing Food Systems Lab. This lab allowed me to really dive into Indigenous food systems and especially how they relate to ecology, which has helped shape my plans for graduate school and my honor's thesis project. 

Q: What is your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: My favorite spot on campus to study is outside the Student Services Building. I enjoy sitting under the trees while I listen to music and do my homework. My friends and I also meet up right outside the Memorial Union, which is the best place for people watching on campus. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school, particularly those in STEM?

A: ASU has so many opportunities for personal development, including research, clubs and specialized courses. I would recommend finding a lab or initiative to join that you find interesting and passionate about and taking full advantage of the resources ASU provides in order to best contribute to that activity. I’ve been able to learn so much through doing research and group projects through working in the Katie Cramer Lab and the Indigenizing Food Systems Humanities Lab and would definitely recommend that other students find and participate in similar experiences. 

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