From source to sea: my pathway to graduate school
By Christina Richardson, 2014 Fellow
“It is not enough to understand the natural world, the point is to preserve and defend it”
- Edward Abbey
As I set out for another adventure in my kayak to explore Chinaman’s Hat, a basalt is let offshore of Oahu, I reflected on the pathway that led me to this new chapter of my life. I made the move across the Pacific in July to pursue graduate school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program (NSF GRP) Fellow. Kayaking has been my personal interface to the hydrologic world. Through it I’ve been able to experience whitewater rivers of the Pacific Northwest, alpine lakes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and now, the warm waters off Hawaii. Consequently, my experiences on the water have also exposed me to hydrologic systems that are deteriorating from anthropogenic influences such as invasive species, increased water demands and polluted run-off. These experiences collectively motivate me to pursue research that connects the social and scientific boundaries of water resource issues.
Graduate school wasn’t a straight shot for me. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a BS in Marine Biology/Earth Science, I worked at the US Geological Survey for two years monitoring coastal groundwater dynamics in the face of climate change. My academic, research and volunteer experiences have made me sensitive to the socio-political nature of water crises and helped me understand that effective water problem solving is achieved through the integration of both science and social science. The NSF GRFP allows me to emphasize not only my research pursuits, but also the broader impacts of my studies. The fellowship has opened up an amalgam of opportunities for me to integrate social impact into my graduate experience – a crucial element of my studies and life goals.
I am currently a graduate student in the Department of Geology and Geophysics where I study the effects of fresh groundwater discharge on near shore coral reef ecosystems. As a graduate student, the fellowship offers me additional flexibility to pursue outreach campaigns to increase (1) water sustainability in marginalized communities (2) minority participation in STEM fields and (3) public involvement in local natural resource issues. As such, I am founding the first American Water Works Association (AWWA) student chapter in Hawaii as a conduit for the aforementioned goals. This is concurrent with my ongoing participation with PeakWater.org, a non-profit that focuses on increasing global water literacy. Over the coming months I will present my preliminary results to the public at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, one of the most frequented tourist destinations on Oahu, and to the scientific community at the American Geophysical Union Fall 2014 Meeting.
As my project develops, I will have the opportunity to take advantage of additional NSF programs such as, NSF GROW (Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide), and NSF GRIP (Graduate Research Internship Program). I am confident that I have the support needed to attain my research goals, and I am excited to see what the future holds for me as a NSF GRP Fellow.