After two years as a graduate student in the Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) program at Plymouth State University, Amanda May ’20G has landed her dream job with the US Geological Survey at the New York Water Science Center. Through her commitment to the program and the opportunities it has provided, May has paved the way for a bright future while leaving behind meaningful research with local impact.
With a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from SUNY Cortland, May came to PSU from upstate New York with an interest in groundwater quality. In her first semester, May’s advisor shared that the Loon Preservation Committee had found elevated levels of DDT, a World War II contaminant banned in 1972, in Squam Lake tributary sediments. Determining the source of the pollutant became the foundation for her research project in which she analyzed DDT levels in sediments, crayfish, and soils within Bennett Brook and its watershed.
Other students in her cohort have centered their research on topics such as brook trout, birds, and lake core sediments. Students in the ESP program are charged as project managers for every aspect of their research: developing project objectives, writing proposals for grants, collecting samples in the field, analyzing samples on campus, and writing their culminating theses.
“Every project is different, but we always encourage students to work with off campus partners,” adds June Hammond Rowan, who coordinates the environmental science and policy master’s program. “This helps them with their research projects and puts them in direct contact with professionals in their field.”
Alongside their classes and projects, most ESP graduate students participate in teaching and research assistantships in exchange for stipends and tuition credit. In her first year as a teaching assistant, May helped with lab prep, setup, and grading. In the spring, she shared her research with undergraduate students, bringing them to her study site to collect samples. This year she worked as a research assistant, focusing on her thesis.
“The program is mutually beneficial for both graduate and undergraduate students,” says May. “I benefitted from their help as field and lab assistants, and they benefitted from participating in research projects firsthand. This partnership leads to incredible connections.”
The ESP program is set up to foster these connections and learning opportunities within local communities. Each term, the Center for the Environment organizes an Environmental Science Colloquium Series that attracts leading professionals in the field. In the fall of 2018, May attended a talk on arsenic in groundwater by Joe Ayotte from the US Geological Survey. Fascinated by his presentation, May expressed her interest in working for the organization. Shortly after, an internship position was posted within the US Pathways Program, a highly selective national program that trains students for federal employment. She applied and was selected for the position and has worked in the Pembroke, NH, office doing groundwater quality studies since May 2019.
“Taking on an internship is a lot, especially when you’re researching, studying, and teaching full time,” says Hammond Rowan. “Amanda was uncertain how she’d balance it all, but she has. She’s worked incredibly hard and has found success in all of those areas.”
Her hard work in the prestigious US Pathways Program turned her internship with the US Geological Survey into a job. In June, May will be transferring to the New York Water Science Center in Troy, NY, to continue water quality studies as a physical scientist.
“Amanda took all these opportunities and converted her work into a full-time job,” adds Hammond Rowan. “She is validation of the good work we’re all doing.”
While preparing for her future, May has been dedicated to sharing her research with the local community. She presented her work at the 2020 NH Water & Watershed Conference earlier this year. In April, the Loon Preservation Committee, the NH Department of Environmental Services, the Squam Lakes Association, and May, as a representative of PSU, held a virtual presentation for the public to share the research they’ve done on Squam Lake.
“I’m interested in science that has implications for and ultimately betters society, whether that’s public health, wildlife health, or the general good of the environment,” says May. “This is rewarding work in and of itself. But it’s important to go that extra step to communicate your research with the public to make change.”
Squam Lake Contaminants Online Public Meeting, April 28, 2020 (video featuring Amanda May and her research)