This is a guest post by Cindy Troy, LAS ’13, Environmental Science and Philosophy Major, Honors Concentration.
I came to Villanova University knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life, or so I thought. I entered my freshman class as a declared environmental science major. My advisor, in the Department of Geography and the Environment, had worked previously as a TA for the “Semester in Environmental Science” program in Woods Hole, MA, and made an excellent pitch for the opportunity. When the director of the program came to Villanova, I met with him and decided to apply for a spot during the fall semester of my junior year. After filling out the application, getting recommendation letters, and about 3 months of waiting, I was accepted to start in the fall.
The experience was one I will never forget. I arrived in early September and moved into my apartment, which was literally a block from the ocean. The views looked like they came straight out of a tourism brochure for Cape Cod. It was amazing. The bike paths, the ocean, the ferry; Woods Hole was just as beautiful as I had imagined. There were 20 other students from other colleges around the nation. We spent the first 10 weeks in an intensive program of lectures and lab work. A particular highlight of the program is that the people giving the lectures are the leading scientists in their fields. Dr. Ivan Valiella, the author of our text book, was sitting in his office two doors down from our classroom. Being surrounded by the nation’s topmost scientists was surreal.
Our labs consisted of going into nearby cranberry bogs, the surrounding grasslands, and the beaches to collect samples. We would go into the neighboring deciduous forests to measure rain gauges, count trees, and measure rates of photosynthesis. We went into tidal marshes and collected quantitative data of the number of fish, frogs, crabs, etc., and determined how the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the area were affecting the animals. We determined this by taking them back to the lab, taking skin samples, and checking their stomach for signs of their diets.
The second 6-8 weeks of the program was spent designing, executing and writing up our own independent project. We were able to work closely with a mentor from the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Lab, but did the majority of work and analysis on our own. I wouldn’t have traded this research experience for the world.
Through this program I learned so much about myself that I couldn’t have learned from being at Villanova alone. I learned that while conducting scientific research in the field and in the lab is fun, it just isn’t for me. However, I did conquer my fear of public speaking, as I delivered a 20-minute talk on my research to a room of over 200+ renowned scientists. Also, I learned how to gather background information, compile data, and design my own research project. I gained so many valuable skills by working closely with these scientists, and gained some great references in the process.
Most importantly, I learned that I could combine the skills I gained in this program, and my passion for the environment, to pursue other goals. I’m now in the process of waiting to hear from law schools and hope to pursue environmental law. So, while I might not be the one determining just how pollution is affecting ecosystems, I’ll be the one trying to prevent it from being an issue in the first place.