Master of Science in Marine Science

Why choose HPU for your
Master of Science in Marine Science?

Our program offers both an MSMS-T (thesis) and an MSMS-A (applied) track. Where better to learn about advanced marine science systems than on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Our students study at HPU’s windward Hawai’i Loa Campus in Kāne’ohe featuring 135 tropical acres with awe-inspiring views of O’ahu’s majestic Ko’olau Mountains. Marine Science classes and laboratory research also take place at the Oceanic Institute: a research and development facility dedicated to marine aquaculture, biotechnology, and coastal resource management. The Oceanic Institute is situated along the scenic southeastern coast of O’ahu at Makapu’u Point, near the community of Waimanalo.

The combination of a perfect location, unique research opportunies, dedicated faculty, and rigorous training propels our students toward exciting and rewarding careers in marine science.

Thesis vs. Applied Track

Applied Track

manana islet
The applied track provides students with a broad-based, in-depth knowledge of physical, geological, chemical, and ecological processes in the ocean coupled with the technical skills necessary to contribute to the exploration of the marine environment and the management of its living resources. Because the MSMS-A is designed primarily for students seeking careers in applied resource management, this program emphasizes the practical skills and the analytical expertise required to monitor and manage the global ocean system.

After completion of the core courses, applied track students will be required to take a comprehensive examination. The exam will have written and oral components to demonstrate both competency in the main marine science disciplines and strength of communication skills. The applied track culminates in a hands-on practicum experience working directly with marine resource management professionals to make connections and earn a distinct educational advantage. Full-time students should expect to take 3-4 courses each semester and be able to complete the track in as little as 18 months.

Thesis Track

ocean pictureOur established thesis track is a research-based program that emphasizes a hands-on approach to learning through the completion of an original thesis project under the direct mentorship of an experienced marine science researcher. The purpose of the T-track is to give students the opportunity to develop a strong foundation in research methodology. Individualized programs of study ensure that each student has the best possible preparation based on their interests, background, and abilities. MSMS-T students take core and elective courses while engaging in an intensive, independent research project. Students work side-by-side with a faculty mentor to discover or synthesize knowledge that contributes to the field of marine science.

In the first year, students will select a committee and complete a proposal for their thesis research topic. Research is conducted through the next year, culminating in an oral and written presentation and defense of a thesis. Full-time students should expect to take three courses per semester and finish in 4-6 semesters, depending on scope of project and commitment of time.

Prerequisites and Requirements

prereqsA baccalaureate degree in the Natural Sciences is required for entry into the MSMS program. Certain course prerequisites may be required before enrolling in graduate MSMS courses, depending on the student’s academic preparation and research interests.

For students in the thesis track, the graduate thesis committee will determine whether any deficiencies exist and how these deficiencies will be addressed. Additionally, being paired with a faculty mentor is necessary for acceptance into the MSMS-T


Q: Who is eligible for HPU’s MSMS program?

A: Students graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in the Natural Sciences with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher may apply to the MSMS program at HPU. International students may be required to provide TOEFL scores. Please visit International Requirements for more information about eligibility if applying as an international student.

Q: Besides applying, what else do I need to do to get into your program?

A: To be accepted to the MSMS-T (thesis) track, an MSMS faculty advisor must agree to serve as your mentor throughout the research and thesis process. For this reason, we encourage students to begin making contact as soon as possible with faculty whose research is of interest. The onus is on the applicant to initiate contact with potential mentors. Please check out our Faculty Profile Pages to learn more about faculty research interests, publications, and contact information. Acceptance to the MSMS-A (applied) non-thesis track does not require the commitment of a faculty advisor; the MSMS Program Director and MSMS Program Administrator work together as MSMS-A advisors.

Q: How important is my GRE score?

A: Rather than evaluating an applicant on the basis of GRE scores alone, we focus on how students performed relative to the rest of their test group. Our percentile breakdown is as follows: 75th percentile = Desirable, 50th percentile = Qualified, 40th percentile = Satisfactory. Applicants with scores lower than the 40th percentile will only be accepted if the student has very strong transcripts or strong HPU faculty support. Students with scores below the 40th percentile may be required to take courses in the area(s) of weakness or re-challenge the exam.

Q: Is there an interview?

A: HPU’s Graduate Admissions website shows that an interview is required as part of the selection process, and interviews are required for acceptance to the MSMS-T track. The interview is usually a phone call between a potential faculty advisor and the applicant. Although our applicants initiate first contact with faculty, a faculty member interested in a particular applicant will set up a time to talk with that applicant via phone or Skype. In general, the MSMS Program Director will contact applicants for the Track-A program prior to their acceptance into the program.

Q: Is funding available?

A: The MSMS program does not offer scholarships, but MSMS-T accepted applicants are automatically considered for a merit-based Graduate Assistantship (GA). MSMS-A applicants are automatically placed on a waitlist for the GA, and may receive this award if funding is available. We are able to offer only a limited number of Graduate Assistantships which include either a 50% or 25% tuition waiver for four consecutive semesters (not including summer terms) in return for 18 hrs/wk or 9 hrs/wk (respectively) of service to the Department of Natural Sciences. Students do not need to apply for the GA; all accepted applicants are evaluated for this award.

Some faculty may have grant funds available to help support their MSMS-T students; you will need to ask prospective faculty advisors about potential support for their specific research programs.

For a list of external scholarships, internships, and fellowships for graduate students in the marine sciences, see the Funding Opportunities section below. Students may also apply for loans offered through the Federal Financial Aid Office at HPU. Visit the HPU-FAO website directly for more information.

For more information, or for answers to questions not listed above, please contact the MSMS Program Administrator at

Funding Opportunities

HPU Support

HPU offers merit-based Graduate Assistantships (GAs) that provide a 50% or 25% tuition discount for four consecutive semesters.  For more GA details, go to the FAQs above.

External Funding Opportunities

Minority Scholarships / Fellowships

Internship / Other

Meet our Current Students

Crystal Coughlin - Cohort 2013
Crystal Coughlin

Thesis title: Exploring the dynamics of carbonate chemistry in the nearshore reef ecosystem of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Advisor: Sam Kahng, Ph.D.

I actually really like chemistry and math and would advise anyone considering carbonate chemistry as their research focus to like them, too.
Emma Forbes - Cohort 2013
Emma Forbes

Thesis title: Examination of the effects of bacteria and probiotics on survival of cultured yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)

Advisor: Chatham Callan, Ph.D

I am an open water swimmer. I’ve swum the ‘Au‘Au channel between Maui and Lanai twice, and will be swimming Pailolo channel between Maui and Molokai in the spring of 2016.
Oliver Kersten - Cohort 2013
Oliver Kersten

Thesis title: Abyssal near-bottom zooplankton in the eastern tropical North Pacific Ocean

Advisor: Eric Vetter, Ph.D.

I am from Germany, and moved to beautiful Oahu about six years ago to attend HPU. After finishing my bachelor's degree as a MSMS concurrent student, I slid right into the MSMS program full-time. As part of my thesis research, I participated in two, 2-month-long deep-sea research cruises that were great experiences and will hopefully help my career in the future. I am planning on pursuing a Ph.D. after the completion of this program.
Sarah Leicht-Severino - Cohort 2013
Sarah Leicht-Severino

Thesis title: Bleaching disturbance to a population of coral juveniles: measured using photo-fluorescence census techniques

Advisor: Catherine Unabia, Ph.D.

I’m originally from Wisconsin, but aspired to be a marine scientist since the 6th grade.
Samantha Gade - Cohort 2014
Samantha Gade

Thesis title: Ecosystem Services Valuation of Rhizophora mangle in Hawaii

Advisor: Susan Carstenn, Ph.D.

My favorite animal is the quokka [cat-sized marsupial] and has been since I was little, which was before that ‘happiest animal on earth’ trend on Facebook.
Erin Kelly - Cohort 2014
Erin Kelly

Applied track practicum: Water quality assessment at the Waikiki Aquarium

Advisors: Sam Kahng, Ph.D., Chris Winn, Ph.D.

Practicum Advisors: Gwen Lentes (also an HPU alum!) and Andrew Rossiter, Ph.D.

I love to read.
Travis Marcoux – Cohort 2014
Travis Marcoux

Thesis title: Wave induced stress and its effects on coral reef fish swimming performance

Advisor: Keith Korsmeyer, Ph.D.

My project investigates the effects of wave stress on coral reef fish swimming performance using a Simulated Wave Motion Respirometer (SWMR) apparatus. My research interests include behavioral and physiological mechanisms of adaptation in fishes, biotic and abiotic factors influencing fish distributions, and evolutionary drivers of diversification in fishes.
Erin Pereira-Davison – Cohort 2014
Erin Pereira-Davison

Thesis title: Investigating the effects of photoperiod, light intensity, turbidity, and prey density on feed incidence, growth and survival in cultured larval yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)

Advisor: Chatham Callan, Ph.D.

After completing my masters, I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. I've always had an interest in ornamental aquaculture and I am an avid personal aquarium hobbyist. Helping to keep the aquarium industry sustainable while protecting coral reefs is a personal passion and the basis of my career goals. When I'm not hanging out with larval fish I'm surfing with my husband Ryan, and our two fur babies, Icarus and Jasper.
Catherine Pham - Cohort 2014
Catherine Pham Thesis title: Interannual variability in seabird communities with respect to prey and oceanography in the northern Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea

Advisor: David Hyrenbach, Ph.D.

After completing my bachelor’s degree, I had the option of going to Alaska to work as a fisheries observer onboard commercial fishing boats, or working in the horse racing industry as a consultant. I chose Alaska, which eventually led me to study seabirds at-sea...but I still love to gamble on horse races.
Stephanie Shaw – Cohort 2014
Stephanie Shaw Thesis topic: My research involves sampling liver and kidneys of the bonefish, ‘ō’io, and giant trevally. I'll be measuring mercury and biomarker concentrations in each organ to assess how these local fishes are handling mercury burdens.

Advisor: Brenda Jensen, Ph.D.

I've had a life-long obsession with orcas since I was two years old, and plan to make a career out of studying and conserving these animals.
Jennette Vanderjagt – Cohort 2014
Jennette Vanderjagt Thesis title: Potential biomarkers of perfluorinated compound exposure in dolphin and human embryonic kidney cells

Advisor: Brenda Jensen, Ph.D.

According to the MSMS student treasurer, I'm not in the ‘Cool Kids’ Club’.
John Wiley – Cohort 2014
John Wiley Applied track practicum: Characterization of the akule fishery in coastal waters of O'ahu, Hawai‘i, and potential utility of aerial spotter data to enhance fishery information.

Advisor: Chris Winn, Ph.D.

For my practicum project, I am working with the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council. I am interested in the ecology and management of reef fish and large pelagic species. I received a Bachelor of Science degree from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA. After graduation, I worked as a field specialist at Oceans Research in Mossel Bay, South Africa, conducting research on sharks and cetaceans. Before coming to Hawai‘i, I also worked on the California Recreational Fishery Survey for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Jessica Kent – Cohort 2015
Jessica Kent Applied track practicum: Project still evolving, but focusing on cetaceans.

Advisor: Chris Winn, Ph.D.

I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio. I received my Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. I double-majored in Biology and Psychology. After graduation I moved to Guam where I worked in the husbandry department at the aquarium, ‘UnderWater World Guam’.
Laura Marin – Cohort 2015
Laura Marin

Thesis title: Emergy assessment of stream mouth estuaries (SME) and mangrove intertidal ecosystems in Hawai’i

Advisor: Susan Carstenn, Ph.D.

My research is an attempt to model the function of mangroves in Hawai’i’s SMEs in order to observe possible benefits as they relate to climate change…and I’m from Terrassa, Spain!
Sarah Donahue – MSMS concurrent undergraduate, MSMS Cohort 2016
Sarah Donahue

Thesis topic: I am studying the foraging ecology of Red Footed Boobies on the island of O’ahu, looking at their diet and where they travel to get food.

Advisor: David Hyrenbach, Ph.D.

I ranked 5th place in a national air rifle shooting competition.

Where will HPU’s Master of Science in Marine Science take YOU?

Here are just some of the paths our students have taken after graduating from our
Master of Science in Marine Science program:

  • NOAA Marine Debris Technician, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
  • Marine Mammal Biologist, U.S. Navy, Kaneohe, HI
  • Doctoral Candidates in various Science and Medical Programs, U.S. & abroad
  • Research Technicians at both Hawaii Pacific University and University of Hawaii-Manoa
  • Operations Manager, NOAA Atlantic fleet
  • Laboratory Technician, University of Maryland
  • Adjunct Instructor, Hawaii Pacific University
  • Kayak Eco Guide, Kailua, HI
  • High School Science Teachers, various locations
  • Clinical Research Assistant at East-West Medical Research Institute, Honolulu, HI
  • Habitat Restoration Coordinator for the non-profit conservation organization Malama Maunalua
  • Pacific Islands Marine Debris Assistant Regional Coordinator for NOAA, Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument
  • Lecturer, California State University - Monterey Bay
  • Endangered Species Officer, Marshall Islands Marine Resources Advisory
  • AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer, STEAM Outreach Specialist, Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI
  • Online instructor for Hawaii Community College, Big Island, HI
  • Research Associates, Oceanic Institute, Waimanalo, HI
  • Stay-at-home parents, various locations
  • Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, Alu Like, Inc., a nonprofit organization for native Hawaiians
  • Whale Watch Naturalists, Kailua-Kona, HI
  • Wildlife Management Intern, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Lab Technicians for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Kaneohe, HI
  • Science Curriculum Specialist, Mālama Honua Public Charter School, Waimanalo, HI
  • Performing mandatory military service in country of origin
  • Biologists for multiple federal agencies around the U.S.
  • NOAA Field Observer, Papahanaumakuakea Marine National Monument, Midway Island
  • Biological Technicians, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
  • Fishery Policy Analyst, International Programs Staff Office, NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office
  • Marine Biologist / NOAA Unit Dive Supervisor, Ecosystems and Oceanography Division, NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
  • Programs and Operations Coordinator, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Maui, HI
  • Field Research Supervisor, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, University of Hawaii-Manoa/NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
  • Loko I'a Coordinator for Kua'aina Ulu 'Auamo - a community-based nonprofit for environmental conservation in Hawaii
  • NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, Washington, DC
  • Research Assistant, Pacific Rim Conservation
  • Fellow, National Marine Sanctuaries' Pacific Island Region and University of Hawai`i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), Kaneohe, HI
  • Fishery Analyst, Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, Honolulu, HI
  • Marine Turtle Research Associate, Marine Turtle Research Program, NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
  • Teaching Fellow, KIPP Austin Public Schools
  • NSF Ocean Acidification Research Technician, California State University - Northridge
  • Project Researcher, Sustainable Fisheries Group at the School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California - Santa Barbara
  • Environmental Scientists, Specialists, and Consultants for various governmental and private agencies, U.S.
  • Terrestrial Fisheries Data Specialist, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, University of Hawaii-Manoa/NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
  • Hydrologic Scientist, Water Monitoring Division, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources