Matchmaker for Seahorses

Making connections in unexpected places
Rachel Fritts ’14

When Amanda Hodo ’14 was in high school, her soccer team would run around Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium before practice. Seeing the building so often, combined with fond memories of visiting the aquarium as a child, piqued her interest. “Even if I tried to forget about the aquarium, I couldn’t have,” Hodo jokes. 

She soon gave in to her curiosity and signed up for several after-school programs at Shedd. Then, the summer before her senior year of high school, Hodo won a scholarship to spend two weeks on a research vessel in the Bahamas. “That made me 100 percent sure that I wanted to do marine science,” she says. “And I’d say it pretty much changed my life.”

After her revelation, however, Hodo made what on the surface looks like an unusual decision — she attended Grinnell, a college hundreds of miles from the ocean with no marine science program.

But to Hodo, this felt like a natural step. Her connection to Grinnell began with a serendipitous visit that occurred even before those high school soccer practices. 

When she was in seventh grade, her family went to visit a friend who was attending Grinnell College. The sense of community she felt immediately drew her in. “I just kept coming back,” she says. “It felt like a second home.” 

She wanted to be a part of that community, and when it came time to apply for college, Hodo decided that it would be best to do a general biology degree and keep her options open. Her undergraduate research experiences, however, only solidified her resolve that she should work in an aquarium. 

Today, Hodo works as an aquarium biologist at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Fla. Her primary job is to run Mote’s Seahorse Conservation Laboratory, which supplies “lined” seahorses — a local breed — to aquariums around the country in order to dissuade taking the species from the wild. 

Hodo starts her day at Mote caring for her brood of baby seahorses. “Makin’ babies and raisin’ babies,” as she puts it, is her favorite part of the job. “It’s just so fulfilling to me to raise something from an egg all the way up to an adult,” she says. 

Other responsibilities include training Nacho the nurse shark (“a total diva”) to come to a target for food and donning scuba gear to muck out the big tanks.

Keeping exhibits clean, especially the big ones, is a physically demanding and time-consuming task. “It’s often surprising to interns just how labor-intensive the job is,” Hodo says. She credits her internship at Mote, which she began right after graduating from Grinnell, for giving her the necessary insight into what the job entails. 

Now, she sees her position at the aquarium as an opportunity to give current Grinnell students an undergraduate experience she never had. Last spring, Hodo hosted an externship (a three-to-five-day opportunity to job-shadow an alum) for two Grinnell students at Mote, and she is eager to host again. “Even if they don’t wind up going into marine science,” she says, “it will help them narrow down what they do want to do, like [undergraduate research] did for me.”

Hodo still feels the connection to the College she first felt all those years ago, and she is both surprised and pleased by how frequently she is still able to interact with current students and alumni. “There’s at least one Grinnellian who does some sort of program with Mote every year,” she says. “Grinnellians are everywhere!”

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