Stanford students spend summer seeking environmental solutions

Photo credit: M. Shea

Photo credit: M. Shea

A unique grant program provides mentorship for students doing solutions-oriented environmental fieldwork around the world and vital research assistance for faculty.

For a common question – What did you do over the summer? – Meghan Shea has an uncommon answer. The Stanford undergraduate spent the dog days conducting field research aimed at finding a solution to one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.

Shea and her fellow researchers analyzed how seagrass communities off the Pacific island of Palau help buffer nearby corals against ocean acidification, a process driven by increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that threatens sea life. They gathered information through analysis of water currents and temperatures, as well as sediment and marine life sampling,

Shea’s work was funded through the Mentoring Undergraduates in Interdisciplinary Research (MUIR) program, which supports interdisciplinary environmental research by Stanford faculty by providing summer stipends for undergraduate student researchers. MUIR is funded by the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and organized by Woods. The program aims to ensure solutions-focused research provides hands-on knowledge and formative experiences for future innovators.

One of those formative experiences for Shea came while she was working with a researcher from the Palau International Coral Reef Center.

“He could get into the water at any of our field sites and, in a manner of seconds, list off the scientific names of all of the seagrasses, invertebrates and fish there,” Shea said. “I learned more in 30 minutes about marine species than I think I have learned in all my prior years of snorkeling and scuba diving.

“It exemplified one of the best parts of working in the field – learning and working with people who know the environment much better than you.” (…)

Summer is when faculty are most singularly focused on research programs. That makes it an ideal time for undergraduates – who are busy with full course loads during the rest of the year – to be involved in research and to receive dedicated mentoring.

“Faculty members gain talented students to work on critical environmental questions,” said Brian Sharbono, the Woods program manager. “Undergraduates gain exposure to the cutting edge of environmental issues, learn research skills on the job and receive mentoring from highly accomplished Stanford faculty.”

To prepare for the summer, MUIR students take an interdisciplinary research skills course. Following their summer work, students must present their research at a symposium.

Shea, who worked under the guidance of Rob Dunbar, the W.M. Keck Professor in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences and a Woods senior fellow, is still pinching herself over the experience. “It was the type of project that would have been totally inaccessible to an undergraduate without the support and funding of the MUIR program,” she said.

Rob Jordan, Stanford News, 2 October 2015. Article.

  • Reset


OA-ICC Highlights

%d bloggers like this: