Taconic grad dives into marine biology as Fulbright scholar in Indonesia


PITTSFIELD -- When Sarah Tucker was little, she opted to go over to the Berkshire Athenaeum rather than watch her brother’s hockey practice. There, she would sit in the children’s library among the aquarium tanks, look at pictures and read books about coral reefs and ocean life.

Now 21, Tucker, a 2009 Taconic High School and 2013 Smith College graduate, is diving into her own adventure. On Friday, she headed to Indonesia, where she will spend 13 months working as a prestigious Fulbright scholar.

Earlier this week, she visited Kris Pearson’s science classes at Taconic to talk about her journey, from getting through high school, into college and choosing what to study.

"I told them I didn’t have a direct route," Tucker said.

Indeed, she wasn’t accepted into the first program she applied for in Indonesia. Then, she worked toward and received the Fulbright scholarship.

Tucker also is a first-generation college student raised in a single-father household, but she says she’s always been encouraged to further her education.

"I’ve learned that if the door is closed at the time there’s no reason you can’t go back and open it up again," she said.

Tucker credited her teachers and programs at Reid Middle School and Taconic for helping her explore the science field, from being enrolled in Taconic’s Science & Engineering Academy to developing and presenting projects at area science fairs.

"I think what really helped was the fact they were showing me opportunities out there," Tucker said. "An interest may cease for a student if they can’t see a route, if there’s no path lit for them."

The young marine biologist said her first month will be spent learning the language, and about Bahasa, Indonesia and its primarily Muslim culture. Then she will work with locals to research and develop management strategies for workers of small-scale fishing communities.

The journey, which will include stays with host families and studying at an Indonesian university, will help her connect her interests in marine science and international relationships. Her work will align with the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.

According to the World Resources Institute, current projections indicate the onset of a decline in fish stock in the human food supply due to issues with harvesting and fishery conditions.

"In small villages there are people who are fishing to put food on the table as well as earn a living," Tucker said. She said compared to commercial fisheries, there is little support or management for small fishing operations and best practices.

"Who am I to go?" is a question Tucker has pondered about her place in trying to help people and a trade a world away. She said the answer closest to her heart is the opportunity to exchange culture and ideas.

Tucker said she will bring the Indonesian fishermen gifts, and tackle from her grandfather, who also is a fishermen -- part of the reason she’s interested in the industry.

"I might get more out of this experience than I can give, but hopefully it will be just as much," she said.


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