Graduate student receives UF’s Lockhart fellowship

Maite De Maria Mulet

Maite De Maria Mulet, a Ph.D. student at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, and Megan Opincarne, also a UF graduate student, are shown processing samples during manatee health assessments at Crystal River.

Maite De Maria Mulet, a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, whose work focuses on manatees and their interaction with contaminants in the wild, has been named the 2021 recipient of the UF Association for Academic Women’s Madelyn Lockhart Fellowship in recognition of her dissertation work and many accomplishments.

Associated with UF’s Aquatic Animal Health program, De Maria is specifically interested in manatees’ interaction with glyphosate and perflourinated chemicals.

From a young age, De Maria was sensitive to environmental topics, ashamed of the amount of plastic contaminating rivers in her native Uruguay. She even chose to study the consequences of lead poisoning in kids as a research topic for her high school project.

After completing undergraduate school and later a master’s degree in Uruguay, where she focused on the historic effect of marine pollution on sea lions and fur seals in that country, De Maria came to UF in 2016 on a Fulbright scholarship. Mentored by Dr. Mike Walsh, a clinical associate professor in the department of comparative, diagnostic and population medicine, and Dr. Nancy Denslow, a professor in the department of physiological sciences, her focus is on environmental toxicology, specifically relating to aquatic species.

The Lockhart fellowship honors a Ph.D. candidate who is both an outstanding researcher and who has contributed to creating a more inclusive and diverse community. The award is given annually to assist in the dissertation phase of the doctoral degree and was established to honor Dr. Madelyn Lockhart, who served as Dean of the Graduate School and Dean of International Studies and Programs at UF from 1985 to 1993.

Dr. Aysegul Gunduz, chair of the awards committee, noted that the committee was impressed with her ability to articulate the importance and transformative potential of her dissertation work.

“We commend you on your academic achievement, your compassion for helping communities and individuals within those communities and your dedication to helping others break down barriers to their success,” Gunduz said.

While an undergraduate student in Uruguay, she analyzed the interactions between sea lions and small-scale fisheries, leading to a long-term commitment to understanding fishery dynamics and building trust with fishermen while continuing her quest to protect the sea lions.

“From the fishermen’s perspective, interactions with sea lions produce negative effects on their catch, and they are not swayed by traditional research demonstrating that sea lions exert no influence,” De Maria said. “It was critical to combat these beliefs to protect the sea lions’ population and improve the small-scale livelihood.”

Through a research group she participated in, she became fully involved in several projects that addressed challenges facing local fishermen, such as falling prices and the lack of perceived cultural value for their commercial activities. The group aligned themselves with public and private organizations and organized in four events involving more than 3,000 people, leveraging local artists, international chefs and photography exhibitions to bring the local fisheries closer to consumers.

Despite being in the United States for four years, De Maria is still involved with that research group. Members of the group organized to purchase products from local fishermen in desperate need of funds and donated their projects to organizations cooking for local families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

De Maria with her mentors and team

De Maria, second from right in front row, and a team of researchers, including her mentors, Dr. Mike Walsh. second from left, kneeling, and Dr. Nancy Denslow, far left, are shown at a water sample collection site.

Since being at UF, De Maria has been active in the Veterinary Graduate Student Association, serving as president and in other officer capacities. She also has sought out national professional groups, presenting her research and becoming involved in diversity, equity and inclusion issues facing environmental toxicology groups. Additionally, De Maria has coauthored publications in recognized journals. Most recently, she was involved in the publication of a study in Environment International that focuses on the chronic effect of exposure to glyphosate in the Florida manatee.

“In the U.S. I gained confidence from interesting discussions with the authors of scientific papers I referenced, which taught me that academia was not unreachable,” De Maria said. “Though I arrived insecure about my skills, soon I saw that professors trusted my abilities to identify knowledge gaps and create plans to address them. I seek out interactions with authors and professors, which helps me build up my confidence and trust in my abilities as a scientist.”

Soon she realized that publishing in recognized journals was a reachable goal for her, much more attainable than she had originally thought possible.

“I am honored to be not only the first member of my family to pursue graduate education, but also to do it in a prestigious university as UF,” she said. “I am grateful to my country and feel I am a fortunate woman in academics to study abroad, but I feel driven to ‘pay it forward’ and provide more opportunities to new generations of women scientists.”


Share this article with others:
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Twitter

March-April 2021

Dr. Dana Zimmel

A message from our interim dean

A message from our interim dean, Dr. Dana Zimmel.

Rachel outside clinic

College volunteers participate in massive UF vaccination campaign

Faculty, staff and students from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine joined their counterparts from other UF Health colleges in the effort.

Surgical oncology team

Featured video: Surgical oncology at the UF Veterinary Hospitals

New video highlights the work of UF’s veterinary surgical oncology team.

Dr. Dinglasan

Professor receives $6 million to begin clinical trial to test new malaria vaccine

Dr. Rhoel Dinglasan was awarded $6 million on March 31 by the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund to test a new malaria vaccine in people.

...also in this issue



Around the College