Alumni News – Colby Tucker

This is the latest post in a series of alumni portraits. If you would like to tell us about life after graduation, send me a quick note and you’ll be featured next.

This is not one of the heroic pictures that Colby submitted with his post. This is a young Colby in Iceland, thoroughly enjoying dried fish - an Icelandic delicacy.

This is not one of the heroic pictures that Colby submitted with his post. It shows a young Colby in Iceland, thoroughly enjoying dried fish – an Icelandic delicacy.

In 2009, I emerged from the womb of Trinity ENVS bright eyed and without a clue how I was I going to put ENVS 275 to work (Methods, duh). Three field trips with Christoph and Co. and a semester in New Zealand convinced me that field science was a neat way to understand and view the world. With that in mind, and with the suggestion from fellow bantam, Isabel Gottlieb (’09), I joined a biological anthropology project in Costa Rica as a field technician. While biological anthropology is awfully similar to primatology, the only thing I knew about primatology was a person named Jane Goodall. I was on-board for the adventure and the exposure to a devoted, longitudinal field study. We studied white-faced capuchin monkeys who were as habituated as New York pigeons—important to be able to make behavioral observations and, as a bonus for me, allow me to snap some of my best photos. I lived in very close quarters with six other field technicians and I eventually began to wonder if the monkeys were an elaborate foil for the UCLA researcher to study human behavior. So I made the jump to a different group of monkeys—high schoolers.

Colby's favorite monkey.

Colby’s favorite monkey.

For the next three academic years, I taught chemistry and environmental science at the Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT. I felt at home back in the classroom and enjoyed modifying many of the lessons I received from Trinity professors just a couple of years prior. Also, I now had the summer months to jump back into field research mode. One summer I worked in Wyoming on an ungulate migration study collecting plant samples. Another summer I worked in northern California conducting baseline monitoring for a riparian restoration project. I loved every minute of being out in the field and returning to base at the end of the day. I enjoyed being a part of the niche community of scientists, project managers, and community members who invested themselves in these projects and care deeply about the outcome.

Acidifying samples in Alaska.

Acidifying samples in Alaska.

But then I got the itch. I wanted to have a project of my own. So I returned to school and enrolled in the Master’s program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES). Here my thesis focused on biogeochemistry in Alaskan estuaries, but I, perhaps to the dismay of my advisor, focused on much more than just my thesis. I pursued course work in regulating energy development, methods of land conservation, remote sensing techniques, and more. I met fascinating and motivated classmates from a host of backgrounds with interests varying from Alaskan subsistence rights to palm oil development in the Philippines to the US energy market. With these new skills, knowledge, and connections, I felt I had a duty to protect and manage the environment I had studied and explored since my time at Trinity. Working in government was a logical transition and I pursued the Presidential Management Fellowship. The PMF is one of several fellowships offered by the federal government to develop those with advanced degrees into government leaders. Fortunately, I was accepted and found a placement working for the Environmental Protection Agency in Region 9’s Enforcement Division.

Agent Colby at an undisclosed location off the coast of California.

Agent Colby at an undisclosed location off the coast of California.

I now find myself on the 14th floor of a high rise in San Francisco wearing sunglasses, in part because of the low hanging winter sun and in part to remind me of the earlier days (better days?) working outside. The EPA keeps me in the office mostly, but as a case developer and inspector for Section 402 of the Clean Water Act I sometimes get to travel to various parts of EPA’s Region 9 (CA, NV, AZ, HI, and the Pacific Islands). This travel is to inspect those facilities that have (or should have) NPDES permits, which means I visit some of our dirtiest places. I’ve inspected industrial facilities in Hawaii, oil drilling platforms in southern California, shipyards around San Francisco Bay, and municipal wastewater treatment plants and collection systems in various places around the region. It’s my job to ensure these facilities are properly permitted and that they are following their permit—staying within their effluent limits, monitoring and reporting their discharge, employing best management practices, and whatever other stipulations their permits prescribe. As a case developer, I compile the evidence of non-compliance and work with lawyers to develop an enforcement action to compel these entities to follow their permit. It is indeed a slow process, but the end result protects human health and the environment—EPA’s catch phrase.
As a PMF though, my time in this role is limited. Part of the fellowship is that I have to conduct a “rotation” in another EPA division or another federal agency altogether. While the details of this rotation are still not set, there is a good chance you will find me next at NOAA or NASA or perhaps at the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), if I am lucky.

Alumni News – Brittney Payton

Brittney paytonIt’s been over six years since I graduated from dear old Trinity, and I’ve been lucky enough to find some pretty interesting work.  I spent a year teaching Biology, Earth and Environmental Science, and Physical Science at John A. Holmes High School (where more often than not I was mistaken for a student) and really enjoyed helping others explore science and technology.  I remember pulling up photos from Geology field trips with Trinity’s Environmental Science Program, as well as using some of my old textbooks to create material for my classes.

After teaching for that year, I realized that I wanted to get back into a more hands-on type profession and applied for and accepted a position as a Laboratory Assessor I at AASHTO re:source (formerly AASHTO Materials Reference Laboratory).  As a Laboratory Assessor I, I was able to travel throughout the US to evaluate the compliance of construction materials testing laboratories against national standards of testing.  Scopes of testing covered include soil, aggregate, hot mix asphalt, iron and steel, and plastic pipe.  I finally got to see Shelby tubes again!  I was essentially a laboratory inspector (fear my wrath! But not really) and inspecting was the name of the game.

I got to visit some pretty cool places as an Assessor with my favorite being Phoenix, Arizona and my least favorite being Lubbock, Texas.  Some of my work trips were exciting and others about as exciting as watching tumbleweeds blow across the road (which I did see).  Once, I was confined to my hotel in Dallas, Texas when they got a little snow (and subsequently shut everything down), and another time, I drove through flooded areas in Denver, CO (after pulling over and freaking out in the car) when they got a ton of rain.

I met a lot of interesting people as an Assessor and learned a lot more about soil (and aggregate and etc) than I ever imagined.  I also got to say that I watched people wash dirt for a living and when has that ever been something you could legitimately say and mean?

Just last January, I applied for and accepted a position as a Quality Analyst I at AASHTO re:source and I have traded in my traveling shoes for comfy desk slippers.  Now, instead of traveling to the laboratories and assessing them for conformance, I work with laboratories to resolve any issues that were noted during their assessments.  My customer service skills are on Level 3000 J.  I am constantly learning and adapting in my field as standards for testing and our understanding of those standards change.

I am grateful for all of the experiences I had at Trinity with such an awesome department.  I truly believe that the wonderful guidance and instruction (and the BBQs) really have helped me to succeed in my endeavors.  I hope to be able to visit soon!

Brittney Payton 2

Decisions, decisions …

Any way you look at it - bwA few weeks ago, Jon and I got an excited e-mail from Kelsey Semrod (’12): not only did she get accepted to Duke, but Yale and Michigan also try to get her as a graduate student.
Should Kelsey end up at Yale to join Ben Butterworth (’08), Colby Tucker (’09), and Maggie Thomas (’10) we might think about a new “Bantams to Bulldogs” program.

Congratulations, Kelsey!

P.S. Thanks Colby, how could I forget Ben. What would that little school down there in New Haven do without us? :-)

Simon Bunyan ’13 accepts White House Internship

Simon Bunyan '13

Simon Bunyan ’13

Good news from ENVS alumnus Simon Bunyan ’13, who was recently offered an Internship with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Since graduation Simon has worked for a lobbying firm before applying for the White House internship. According to Simon he was offered the position because of his strong academic background in the sciences and his previous lobbying experience.
So, if you are in the DC area – say Hi to Simon, and the rest of you here at Trinity: stop slacking and get back to studying!   :-)

Congratulations  Simon!

Summer Research Roundup


The official summer research program ended last week with a big barbecue (Profs Bill Church and Christoph Geiss, head-barbecuists) and summer research presentations. ENVS was very well represented by Dan and Justin, who looked a bit nervous before their talk,
but did a very fine job telling us about their ongoing research in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Now that their standard solutions have finally arrived Justin is eager to get started on his handful of samples.
Rose and Sarah have been working as interior designers, furnishing Cameron Douglass’ lab, and have been kept busy making artificial weeds.
For all of you who don’t have enough naturally occurring weeds in your back yard: all you need is a few sticks, tin snips, blotting paper, and two students who carefully cut out each leaf by hand. My request for naturalistic serrated edges was nixed. Cameron’s weeds have a total of six square blotting paper leaves.
No fake weeds in Christoph Geiss’ lab. Counting pollen is exhausting, as one can see:
and Jami only has twenty five thousand measurements to go. Almost done, I’d say.
At the same time, guest-researcher Kelsey is busy re-learning ArcGIS in the lab. A dozen more maps and she’ll be done as well. Kelsey, just a heads-up: we’ll need the lab in September to teach Geology again, so quit slacking!

Publish, Perish – or Enjoy the Food at McCookout

Kelsey Semrod (’12) of “I want to change my adviser!” fame came for a visit this week to work on her manuscript with Jon Gourley. Kelsey’s senior thesis dealt with heavy metal concentrations in Park River sediments, and Kelsey and Jon had been working to publish the study since last May. After graduation Kelsey spent a few months swatting mosquitoes in northern Minnesota (working for Outward Bound) before getting a job with MicroStrategy as a product manager.
Officially Kelsey came to do research – unofficially she came because she missed McCookout, and her advisers. She even wanted her picture taken with Jon Gourley and Christoph Geiss.
After seeing the picture Christoph was seriously considering asking Jon for his stylish hat. But then – with hair like this you might as well show it off! Thanks for visiting, Kelsey!

ENVS Senior Seminar Field Trip to Cape Cod

by guest blogger (novelist) Joan Morrison

See what too much fresh air can do to you?

The final event of the Spring 2013 ENVS senior seminar, which focused on aquaculture, was a trip to Cape Cod to learn about shellfish production there.  All senior ENVS majors and minors, along with ENVS professors Morrison and Gray drove to the Cape on the last weekend in April.  Our host was Ryan Burch, a Trinity alum (’98) and shellfish specialist who now lives in and works for the Town of Brewster, MA.

Dinner at Ryan and Juliet's house. Thank you!

Upon our arrival on the Cape on Friday night, Ryan and his wife Juliet generously hosted us at their home, for a wonderful dinner of tortilla soup.  And the fruit-dip dessert was extra special because of the secret ingredient (we know but are not telling)!  Some of the older ENVS sleeping bags proved to be less than sufficient during our cold night at Sweetwater Forest Campground, but when we awoke, Sam and Saam quickly took care of the morning chill by successfully starting a roaring fire despite really damp wood.  Breakfast was eagerly consumed by cold and hungry students.

Frosty breakfast at Sweetwater Forest Campground.

Everyone was so efficient that we were already packed and ready to go when Ryan arrived at our campsite at 0700 on Saturday morning.  First stop, the tidal flats at the Town of Brewster to visit the town’s shellfish farm, which Ryan oversees.  The beach and tidal flats were spectacular at that hour and given the really low tide.  Ryan showed us the cages where larger oysters were growing out, students marveled at the variety of interesting creatures present on the tidal flats, and Ned scared us all with a giant sea worm.

Across the tidal flats.

After the tidal flats the java and breakfast sandwiches at Brewster’s premier coffee shop, Jomama’s, were mighty welcome.  From there we drove out of Brewster for a tour of the hatchery at the Aquaculture Research Center.  This facility produces most of the shellfish used in aquaculture on Cape Cod, as well as the small shellfish used by towns for seeding operations.  Manager Dick Kraus showed us tanks where oyster larvae were growing and explained how the largest and most complicated part of their business was growing the food that the shellfish larvae eat. Those little guys go through enormous amounts of diatoms and phytoplankton, daily!

Tanks with oyster larvae - Aquaculture Research Center (ARC)

The sobering complexities of a local environmental issue really hit home when Dick told us about the controversy over ARC’s desire to erect a wind turbine to provide power.  A turbine would help reduce the hatchery’s current $5000 per month electric bill, which Dick said is really putting pressure on their business.  However, to date, local residents have prevented the wind turbine mostly because of concerns about having to look at it.  Local shellfish producers are really concerned about the future of ARC as the main supplier of oyster and quahog seed on the Cape; “No more ARC would mean the end of aquaculture on Cape Cod,” one local fisherman said. “It’s really an essential thing for aquaculture.”

Oyster food - ARC

on the beach again


Sam taking notes for the non-existent final exam

oyster cages

Following a short drive along the beautiful southern Cape beaches, we stopped at the harbormaster’s facility in Chatham, where the Aquaculture Specialist for the Town’s Shellfish Department provided information about the next step in producing shellfish – the land-based upwellers.


After a delicious lunch of clam strips and onion rings, we visited the final stop on our tour – the Wellfleet Shellfish Company.  There, manager Ron gave us an overview of what happens to all the clams, oysters, and scallops that are brought to his facility and amazed us with his mastery at keeping track of who brought in what, who ordered shellfish and when they wanted delivery, and the ever changing prices.

Watching shellfish in a monitoring tank - Wellfleet Shellfish Company

The clam sorter was particularly cool – as random clams were fed into the contraption they were sorted, by size, by several whirling cylinders of different diameter (go figure how THAT works!) and dropped unceremoniously into various bins – little necks, cherry stones, top neck, and quahog.  Wonder who invented that one but it sure is efficient!  Finally, after a hard day of watching oysters grow, we made a welcome stop at Coast Guard Beach on the Cape Cod National Seashore, where students took advantage of the sun and warm sand.  What a great trip!  Aside from learning about all steps involved in raising shellfish on the Cape, we sure had fun!

All pooped out!