Photo by Aileen Devlin | Virginia Sea Grant

While at Morningside, Lydia Bienlien (‘13) seized a summer internship opportunity that ignited her interest in marine science and led her down an exciting and challenging career path. 

“During that internship, I spent a day out on the water in a boat and I thought, ‘this is awesome,’ and I’ve been pursuing a career in marine science ever since,” Bienlien said.

 At Morningside, Bienlien double majored in biology and chemistry, as well as taking a cluster in mass communications. She kept busy outside of the classroom as well, being on both the track and field team and the soccer team.

“Going to indoor Nationals with the track team and becoming an Academic All-American was pretty exciting for me,” Bienlien said. The ability to play multiple sports in college was actually a major selling point for her: “I chose Morningside because the smaller size allowed for me to be involved in multiple sports and activities and the people I met there were so welcoming and friendly.”

One of her fondest memories, though, was meeting President Reynders.

“He met with all the students’ freshmen year and let us ask him questions and visit his office throughout the year. He had an open-door policy that I took advantage of throughout my time at Morningside and ultimately, he influenced where I went to get my Master’s and PhD,” she explained.

Taking advantage of opportunities at Morningside is something that Bienlien promotes to all students. “Try different classes and activities outside your typical interests, you never know what will be useful later in life,” she explained. “And if you know you want something, ask. Morningside is great at being flexible and letting students try different things than what is explicitly offered.”

Looking back, Bienlien realizes that her involvement in clubs, sports, and even being an RA for three years taught her time management and adaptability. These skills would become essential for her after graduation. 

With encouragement from President Reynders, Bienlien decided to pursue her Master of Science in Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, obtaining her degree in 2016. Recently, she obtained her PhD in January of 2022 at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science. 

Bienlien encourages graduating students to consider furthering their education after Morningside but warns that it is not for the faint of heart. A PhD program can be incredibly time consuming and requires full dedication.

“You have to know you really like the subject matter and this is what you want to do for a career. I have had some amazing opportunities during it and met some fantastic people but there are also difficult periods,” Bienlien said. “Research might not go well or you might question the amount of time it takes away from other things you want to do in life.”

Bienlien is incredibly grateful for her PhD journey and the unique opportunities it brought her. As she was finishing the program, she came in contact with the Virginia Sea Grant Program, who had been familiar with her work and believed she would be a great fit for their Coastal Adaptation and Protection Fellowship. A year-long program, this fellowship is allowing Bienlien the chance to be involved with the advancement of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan. (

“Starting the fellowship, I was placed in the Governor’s Office working for the Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection. Now, I have moved to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation,” explained Bienlien.

A major component of this position is the understanding of how science, policy, and government work together. Bienlien is ready to put these skills into practice in her future after the fellowship.

“By the end of it I plan to move into a permanent position that joins the hard science background I have from my PhD program with the policy and government interface I am learning more about through this fellowship,” said Bienlien.

Bienlien would like to offer the same open-door policy as President Reynders once did for her, “If any Morningside student or alumni wants to reach out for any advice, connections, or if there is any way I can help support Morningside, feel free to always reach out.”