Department of Environmental Science

Rachel Shmookler '09 offers some advice about the earth systems science track.

You just returned from studying environmental science abroad in Perth, Australia. How did you like it?

Rachel: I loved it. It was an incredible experience. Murdoch University, where I studied, has a very good Environmental Science program with great opportunities for students from Clark. I was there during my fall semester, which was the spring semester in Australia because our seasons are reversed. It was interesting to see how Australia evolved since it's very different from our climate and biome. You look at a different place and get a fresh perspective. Then you come back to your home and look at it in a new and different way, and learn from it.

What kind of projects or research did you do in Australia?

Rachel: I did water-quality monitoring, inside and outside of harbor walls, which is important for understanding the integrity of water systems near human habitation. I did this as part of a class about Australian coastal environments. We did field work collecting samples of water so we could examine, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll concentration, nitrogen and phosphorous concentration. I collected these samples in different locations and then analyzed the overall water quality, to determine whether it meets environmental standards.

And what did you find out?

Rachel: We found out that the water is a lot murkier within the harbor wall because there's less mixing and exchange. So now the question is how can you increase mixing within the harbor wall so you don't have anoxic or poor-quality conditions arising, especially since it's very close to human habitation.

If you're looking at water ecology and water quality, it sounds a lot like biology. How is environmental science, and particularly, earth systems science, different?

Rachel: Earth System Science involves interactions between water bodies, land and atmosphere. So you can't really just extract one and look at it totally by itself. You need to look at the entire system. For example, you look at the water body and the catchments of coastal areas and then look at inland areas and examine how the land is affecting hydrological processes. It's all interrelated. While there is biology involved, Earth Systems Science incorporates the geographic science aspect.

>Before you came to Clark were you interested in Environmental Science, and particularly, earth science?

Rachel: No. No. I thought I would pursue either History or English, and then I decided I wanted something a bit more hands-on. The geography department was developing a new track within Environmental Science for Earth System Science which I liked because it offered a lot of options from studying the lithosphere, the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the human component of the earth system. So this particular track allowed me to focus on geoscience and bioscience, while it also allowed me to explore geographic information systems--which are a very strong area at Clark.

>What is geographic information systems?

Rachel: It's a tool you can use to collect, analyze, and present spatial data. For example, you can use it to map land cover over time, or to determine the quickest path that an ambulance could take to get to the hospital from point A or point B.

You are one of a select group of Clark's HERO summer fellow. What kind of research will you be doing?

Rachel: HERO stands for Human-Environment Regional Observatory. I'll be working with John Rogan from the Geography Department to detect and classify forest cover change in Massachusetts The internship is based at Clark and entails using satellite imagery and GIS to look at land change. But we'll also be going around Massachusetts to collect field data. Each year HERO interns present at the Association of American Geographers, which will be in Las Vegas next year. HERO is a great opportunity for undergraduates to conduct research at Clark.

Is it easy to do research as an undergraduate here?

Rachel: Yes. Clark really stresses undergraduate research. I got into undergraduate research relatively late, but there are freshmen working in labs who, when they're juniors, get to go across America or somewhere internationally to do real research. Clark really gives students opportunities to get out there into the field and see what it's like to work in a more professional setting.

Do you have any idea what you would like to go into after you graduate?

Rachel: For a long term career objective I want to assess water management in arid regions in developed countries and apply what I learn to different geographic and sociopolitical contexts.