Jonathan Dong '21 (right) with Loni Koukoumaftsis, senior aquarist at the Australian Institute for Marine Science (AIMS) near Townsville, Australia.
Jonathan Dong ’21 has always been intrigued by the world of aquaculture. He began breeding fish in middle school and grew to wonder at the life history of the species with which he worked.

When he arrived at Hamilton, originally on a pre-med track, he found new ways to explore this passion. He founded the Aquaponics Club with three other students during his sophomore year. He began taking more environmental studies and biology courses, and during his study abroad in Australia he contributed to a research paper on invasive fish species.

Now, Dong is in Mindanao, Philippines, pursuing a project titled The Global Rise in Sustainable Aquaculture through a Bristol Fellowship. Aquaculture is currently on the upswing as wild fish stocks decline and the demand for fish increases. Dong seeks to understand how the dynamics of aquaculture differ based on varying environmental and geographical parameters, differences in technological infrastructure, and differences in cultural mindsets.

“[Pursuing aquaculture] was really thanks to the commitment of [Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies] Aaron Strong and [Assistant Professor of Biology] Jason Townsend, who spoke to me in a way that helped me open up to opportunities that I would never have seen before,” Dong said. “Ginny Dosch is a friend and advisor who encouraged me to pursue the Bristol Fellowship. I would not have been so adamant about such an endeavor if it wasn’t for her.”

Jonathan Dong '21 (right) at Ground Zero in Marawi Philippines with Mindanao State University Senior Faculty
Jonathan Dong '21 (right) at Ground Zero in Marawi Philippines with Mindanao State University Senior Faculty

While most students begin their Bristol Fellowship shortly after graduation, Dong decided to wait for COVID restrictions to ease. After spending the past two years working for the Posse Foundation, a nonprofit that awarded Dong his scholarship to Hamilton, he began his year-long fellowship in February of this year. He has visited Australia, Indonesia, India, and Nepal, and has plans to visit several more countries before a year is up.

“I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for me, fitting all these countries into one year,” Dong said.

In the past few months, Dong has met with company CEOs, government officials, and farmers. He has also conducted interviews in preparation for creating a docuseries of his time abroad. During all of this, he relies heavily on the communication skills he gained at Hamilton.

“It has been so crucial for this project, being able to converse confidently with people among different cultures, statuses, and knowledge levels,” he said.

As Dong learns about the many facets of the aquaculture industry — the science, techniques, innovation — he feels most drawn to what he knows the least about: the business side. Intrigued by the roadblocks of funding and private stakeholders, Dong is now applying to graduate programs in environmental management. 

“I’ve become so enamored with this idea of returning to school,” Dong said. He hopes to develop a business background and gain new skills that he will need to one day develop his own aquaculture system.

“I feel more alive, more happy, like I have a vision after my time out here,” Dong said. “I’ve been able to gather all these perspectives, and I’ve learned more about myself as I’ve learned more about the people around me.”

The Bristol application deadline falls in mid-October each year. Students interested in learning more about the Bristol and other fellowship opportunities should contact Lisa Grimes in the Office of Student Fellowships.

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