Missy Partyka has joined the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium as the newest member of the Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant oil spill science outreach team. Based in the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center in Mobile, Ala., Partyka will serve as an extension specialist to audiences in the region and around the country interested in learning more about oil spill science.
With a Ph.D. in integrated ecology from the University of California, Davis, Partyka has a record of working closely with the public to research complex environmental issues with potential human health impacts.
“Part of my dissertation work looked at drivers of pathogen prevalence within active oyster leases and recreational clamming flats of Tomales Bay, California,” she said. “A sensitive subject, I worked closely with the local extension office, shellfish growers, the California Department of Public Health and other stakeholders to both gain access to privately held leases and to better understand potential concerns within the community.”
Partyka’s work history is split between research and outreach. The lead author of several peer-reviewed journal articles — most recently in the field of water quality and food safety — she has also spearheaded efforts to bring her findings to the public. Her first extension experience involved creating training modules for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service to complement a book on waterborne pathogens. She realized then that explaining key concepts in simple, jargon-free language would be the key to helping non-scientists appreciate the implications of new research. This lesson helped her while working with Western farmers on matters of public health.
During her career, Partyka has worked on all three U.S. coasts and in the Caribbean as a marine scientist. Although she was living in California in 2010, she followed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill with great interest, having obtained her master’s degree in coastal ecology at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs.
“Not only had I lived on the Mississippi Coast for several years, but I married an Ocean Springs native who has extensive family in the area,” Partyka said. “It was painful to watch a place and the people I love experience another disaster so close on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. So, when I saw the opportunity to return to the Gulf and contribute in some way to the healing effort, I jumped at the chance.”
Formed in 2014 and funded by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, the Sea Grant oil spill science outreach program’s mission is to bring complicated oil spill science research findings in a simple, straightforward way to target audiences who rely on a healthy marine ecosystem for work or recreation. Headed by Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Director LaDon Swann, with four oil spill science specialists, a program manager and a communicator based at Sea Grant programs around the Gulf, the team synthesizes oil spill science and presents it in topical publications and at seminars around the country.
“We are excited to have Missy join the other team members who work with stakeholders to provide them with the best available science presented in easily understandable terms to answer questions which are most relevant to them,” Swann said. “She has very good experience working in the areas of natural and social sciences. I am confident Melissa will make helping industries like tourism and fisheries among her highest priorities.”
Partyka originally hails from Roseville, Minn., and obtained her bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. She lives in Ocean Springs with Ronny Bond, her husband and colleague, and their dog, Lady Jane.