Life Beyond the Undergraduate World

View from the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain

View from the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain

View of Cardigan Mountain from Cardigan Mountain Orcahard

View of Cardigan Mountain from Cardigan Mountain Orcahard

It has been over a month here at Plymouth State University in the Graduate Studies for Environmental Science and Policy. What first comes to mind is “wow, what a huge transition from an undergraduate degree to a master degree”. I cannot even begin to explain the differences between the two.

The Masters for Environmental Science and Policy program has been great. The professors, staff, and graduate students are one of a kind. I have never experienced such a “tight niche group” in my life. I experience new challenges every day and look forward to learning more in the future. A few goals of mine for this year are: learn more about research (everything that it entails), networking, learn more about hydrology and GIS, and to take classes that will help me with my research.

Being new to the school and also the town of Plymouth, I must say I have and have been already loving the area. For the past 5 years I have been use to the seacoast area of New Hampshire. Transitioning to the rural Plymouth has been a great experience. Having a passion for the outdoors really helps me as well. I want to take advantage of having the White Mountain’s National Forest in my backyard. Every week I try to go outside and explore the area.

This past weekend, I visited two amazing areas: Cardigan Mountain Orchards and Rattlesnake Mountain in Rumney. The orchard really stood out to me because not only did it have amazing apples to pick from, there was an amazing view of Cardigan Mountain from the orchard. If you want an awesome experience apple picking, I definitely recommend going there. They also have the best apple cider I have ever tasted! I was also able to do a short, but also awesome hike at the local Rumney Rattlesnake Mountain. It was a fairly easy hike, took about 30 minutes to get up top, and the view was SPECTACULAR. The foliage was unbelievable, and you almost have a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. I think this past weekend deserves an A+

Beach life: chronicling the summer field season of a PSU ES&P grad sdtudent


I spent this summer soaking up the summer sunshine and inhaling the sweet salty air and up and down the coast from Scarborough, ME to Seabrook, NH.

All in the name of research!

(Tough work, I know.)

For my masters thesis work Dr. Shannon Rogers and I are investigating local ecological knowledge and risk perception in the surfing population of southern Maine and New Hampshire. Our work is part of the New England Sustainability Consortium’s Safe Beaches and Shellfish project.

Within the NEST project our work is focused on the surfing population of southern Maine and New Hampshire.

Why surfers?!

Well, surfers are an ideal population to study when investigating regional water quality. This is because

  1. Surfers are in the water for longer periods of time and become fully emerged (versus wading
  2. Surfers participate in the sport year round (yes, even in the slushy waves of January and February). This is important due to seasonal variation in rainfall as well as changes in WWTP outputs.
  3. Surfers are more likely to ingest water or get cuts or scrapes through which microbial pathogens can enter.
  4. Surfers often surf during or after storms when water quality is the lowest.


This storm drain at Long Sands beach in York is one of several along the beach.

This storm drain at Long Sands beach in York is one of several along the beach.

At Fortune's Rock surf spot in Biddeford Pool, ME the lineup occurs at the outflow of a pipe.

At Fortune’s Rock surf spot in Biddeford Pool, ME the lineup occurs at the outflow of a pipe.

Faded lettering warns of potential E. coli contamination

Faded lettering warns of potential E. coli contamination


Over the course of the spring, summer, and fall we successfully recruited over 250 surveys respondents! I am forever grateful for the help of Trina Lafata, an awesome summer intern for The Stewardship Network and undergrad studying environmental engineering at UNH. Malin Clyde, Project manager for The Stewardship Network and UNH Cooperative Extension specialist, was kind enough to generously share Trina. She was a great asset to the surfer survey!

Trina and I at the Maine Beaches Conference in July

Trina and I at the Maine Beaches Conference in July

In July we presented some of our preliminary findings at the Maine Beaches Conference in South Portland, ME. We are currently wrapping up our data collection with final surveying and interviews to be completed by the end of this month.

While our work is wrapping up for many of the surfers of Maine and New Hampshire the prime season is just beginning. Fall is notorious for righteous waves and gnarly swells, SO pitted brah.

Chasing waves

Chasing waves at Higgins Beach, Scarborough, ME



My work on NEST is supported by the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR programs in Maine and New Hampshire.

Flying the Coop

Around this time in August two years ago seven fellow new-kids and I huddled in a full and startlingly muggy Russel House conference room, munching on pistachio muffins and sipping coffee. It was kick-off of the MS ESP new student orientation 2013. We had each been tasked with presenting ourselves to the program in a single-slide presentation, one of the most stressful slides I’ve made to date. A year later we attended orientation 2014 as a group of pals, battle hardened by a course in Law & Policy and a New Hampshire ‘polar vortex’ winter. That year we sat back and observed others navigate the awkwardness of new-student ice breakers as we welcomed five new members to the RadGrad roster. This August I sit 533 miles southwest of Plymouth at my desk on 14th and L Street in the U.S. Capitol. Almost two months into my position at American Rivers, I still feel pretty fresh out of the Northeastern woods as I reflect on the past two years in graduate school and Plymouth life that got me here.

Diaries of the travelling bottle.

Diaries of the travelling bottle.

I feel that I should start this post by announcing to those currently (and soon to be) in Boyd 219 Grad Office that there is life after thesis! I know that it doesn’t seem plausible at times, but there’s a whole bustling world out here that’s thrilling to be a part of. That being said, flying the Plymouth-coop isn’t without sentimental looks over the shoulder or jarring come-to-realities. For instance, late succession doesn’t always mean a quiet hardwood-spruce-fir forest, in some places this refers to the stand of trees and manicured bushes down the block. Also, trail-ready shoes aren’t acceptable daily wear everywhere, and terms like “old-growth,” “nonpoint source,” or “watershed” aren’t necessarily appropriate conversation topics at all happy hours. These things I’m learning the hard way. All sorts of new things balance out these changes, however. One of the most exciting has been meeting people on a daily basis who are just as passionately driven by the things they study and work on as we are on ours, many of which I know nothing about. Additionally, I have an array of options from which to buy my groceries and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve used my vehicle since July 1. So hold steady rad grads and keep your eyes on the prize, it all counts for something.

A little bit of the 'old growth' system in Washington, D.C. Somewhere along the spectrum of the mosaic steady state...

A little bit of the ‘old growth’ system in Washington, D.C. Somewhere along the spectrum of the mosaic steady state… A daily lunch spot at Franklin Park on 14 and K St.

I’m now the new kid on the block at American Rivers, a river conservation and policy organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. with field offices in major river basins across country. A non-profit environmental organization, American Rivers’ core mission is to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers, and conserve clean water for people and nature. As a research fellow, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to directly apply and continue much of my graduate research on flood adaptation and ecosystem services to a new project. Specifically, American Rivers is interested in developing a new floodplain restoration program across the country, expanding their current flood policy portfolio to include on the ground floodplain projects. Well known for dam removal work (propelling over 200 dam removal projects since 1973), the organization would like to become equally effective at floodplain reconnection to rivers, restoration, and information sharing. Working within the conservation and restoration teams, I’ll be contributing to the development of this new program internally by composing a framework for restoration, and by implementing a pilot floodplain restoration project within a river system of focus. While the exact trajectory of this two-year project is still unfolding, I’m excited and fortunate to have Shannon Rogers, my graduate adviser at PSU, on-board as a continuing colleague and adviser in this project.

The transition from student to work world has been palpable. I’m finding that in many ways we’ll probably always be a ‘student’ of sorts at whatever we’re doing in career and life. This is good because after 18+ years of schooling, being a student is likely what many of us do best. Now outside of the campus, I’m learning how to apply myself towards projects that are collaborative and application driven, and measured by outcome (AKA: not working for a grade or a thesis product). The good news is that much of what we focused on in the ESP MS program was geared towards these same ends. Every course I took had some avenue for incorporating a community or regionally applicable project. The first assignment I was handed in my current position was to carry out an assessment of landcover and values of floodplain properties along a segment of the Neuse River in Raleigh, and to test a scenario of landcover change on nutrient loading- not unlike something I might have been assigned a few months earlier in grad school!  Being able to tackle such work and then communicate what it means to those who aren’t familiar with it (also part of what I was tasked with), is something I’m very glad to have done in our MS program. Those projects are also great talking points and resume bullets for other pursuits.

This week I’ll be trading out my New Hampshire license plate for a District of Columbia version. This is a very bittersweet transition. The memories, experiences and friendships built during my time in Plymouth are too significant to try and communicate, so I won’t. Graduate school is such a unique time in life, when nothing seems too permanent, except a growing view of the world and the sense of opportunity ahead. I will say that I have no doubt I’ll be seeing many Plymouth folks again, and that what I learned in life and work while there will contribute to my life forever. I’m so excited to follow up with everyone over the years, and to see where life’s trails take us each.

A groupie from a graduation 2015  celebration BBQ. Photo credit to Mr. Dan Demers.

A groupie from a graduation 2015 celebration BBQ. Photo credit to Mr. Dan Demers.

In reflection of my time in Plymouth I’ve put together a few numbers, in true science form. I think they give a nice look into the interdisciplinary nature of attending the ESP graduate program at PSU.

613 – Emails sent to my adviser (just sent, not received)

352 – Miles hiked during two years in New Hampshire[1].

101 – The best room in Boyd for conference calls, quiet work, or group work, with a ton of natural light and a killer view of the Whites.

42 – Minute drive to get to Concord from Plymouth. A trip made periodically for work, Nutella milkshakes, climbing walls, and other needs.

29 – 4,000 footers hiked (19 I’m coming back for).

18 – Stored GB of graduate work related data.

17th – Day of May 2015, the last spring hike that still required post-holing through thigh-deep snow, atop the Twins.

12 – Miles, the distance of the Squam Ridge Trail Race in September completed by a crew of ESP students and faculty. Will we be represented again this year?

10 – Computer monitors in the grad student office for coursework and research use, with many hours stared into each.

9 – Graduate courses completed.

8 – Grads in my ‘13-15 cohort.

7.99 – $ cost per lb. of bulk raw almonds at Plymouth’s local organic goods store when I moved to town in 2013. ($10.99 per lb upon leaving, influence of CA drought?)

7 – Official snow days or delays over two winters in Plymouth (in orientation we we’re told to never expect one).

6 – Poster sessions presented at (also the number of times on top of Mt. Washington).

5 – NH breweries added to my favorite beers list; Smuttynose, Moat, Woodstock, Tuckerman’s, 603.

4 – Skis acquired through second hands to tackle NH’s endless cross-country ski trails.

3 – $ the cost of the monthly featured regional brew at Biederman’s.

2 – times attended the Highland Games in Lincoln, NH (highly recommend).

1 – Thesis completed and Master’s Degree received.

-10°F – lowest temperature I ever saw my car record.

I hope nobody hesitates to get in touch in the future, whether to catch up or for a place to stay in Washington!

Cheers and happy trails.


[1] Estimated by assuming average 4,000 ft. mountain hike = 8 miles round trip, (29 peaks, 5 peaks were repeated, 3 Washington ascents) + ~8 Rattlesnake Rumney hikes (2 mi) and ~12 assorted non 4,000 foot hikes (4 miles average round trip). = 352 miles.


Surf’s Up at the Maine Sustainability and Water Conference

photo (6)


Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Maine Sustainability and Water Conference in Augusta, ME. Hosted by the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions and the United States Geological Survey, the conference had14 different sessions ranging from Citizen Science to Urban Sustainability to Ocean Acidification. The session of interest to me was Safe Beaches and Shellfish. I am working as a graduate research assistant under Dr. Shannon Rogers. Dr. Rogers is the adviser and project manager for “Exploring the Local Ecological Knowledge of Surfers in Maine and New Hampshire”. This work is part of the New England SusTainability Consortium (NEST),  a solutions-driven, outcome-oriented and place-based sustainability project focused on socio-environmental systems in the Gulf of Maine. The project is a transdisciplinary collaboration between eight universities and colleges in Maine and New Hampshire. The overarching goal of the consortium is to bridge the gap between science and decision making with respect to shellfish bed closures and recreational beach advisories in the Gulf of Maine. Success of the consortium in achieving its goals relies on collaboration between biophysical scientists and social scientists as well as integration across different institutions and states. It is an exciting project to be a part of!

Under the NEST umbrella, Dr. Rogers and I have focused on the surfing population of southern Maine and New Hampshire. We chose surfers because they represent a subpopulation of beach goers that are at a higher risk of suffering from the effects of microbial pathogens. This occurs for a number of different reasons. 1), Surfers are in the water for longer periods of time and become fully emerged (versus wading), 2), surfers participate in the sport year round (seasonal variation in rainfall, changes in waste water treatment plant outputs), 3) given the nature of the sport surfers are more apt to ingest water or get cuts or scrapes, and 4), they often surf during or after storm events when water quality is at the lowest.


Given the level of pathogen exposure and the corresponding health risk, coupled with a strong sense of environmental sustainability within the local surfing community, Maine and New Hampshire surfers may provide valuable insight and local ecological knowledge into water quality issues. Through this study we hope to gain a better understanding of the local environmental knowledge held within this group and if risk perception plays a role in the decision to surf or not to surf.


It is certainly the ‘gnarliest’ research around and I’m looking forward to the field season. Soon we’ll be commencing the interview process. The plan is to conduct scoping interviews followed up with intercept surveys and additional in depth interviews. This summer you’ll find me on surf beaches of Maine and New Hampshire! Hopefully I’ll get lessons and ride some Gulf of Maine waves!



My work on NEST is supported by the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR programs in Maine and New Hampshire.

PSU Applied Learning: Who Says Class Can’t Be Cool?

By Lisa Scott, MS in Environmental Science and Policy student

This semester at Plymouth State University (PSU), my Contaminant Hydrology class had the opportunity to transform a group project on the abandoned Ore Hill mine site into a report for the US Forest Service (USFS). The Ore Hill site is located in the town of Warren, New Hampshire, and was mined for metals from the late 1800s through the early 1900s, before its abandonment in 1915. Acid mine drainage containing high metal concentrations seeping from the site have contributed to unknown ecological impacts overtime. In 2006, the USFS took steps to improve mine site conditions through physical removal of mine tailings and installation of remediation systems on site.

We visited the Ore Hill mine in late September 2014 to assess site conditions. Our visit was extremely valuable for visualizing the site layout and observing water and contaminant flowpaths. We saw building debris where the old mine had existed, and the drip pipe where the contaminant source persists.  As we observed the layout of the site (Slopes, flowpaths, culverts, and vegetation) we were able to see how contaminants move through the system rather than imagining based on reading old reports.

Our class focused on two of the main contaminant removal systems on site: the bioreactor and wetlands. The bioreactor acts as a settling pond to help metals fall out of solution from inflowing water before it is discharged to the lower portion of the site. Although the term “bioreactor” may sound like a deadly experimentation device from a SciFi movie, it is simply used to increase the amount of time metals have to be separated from flowing water.

The second removal system we looked at were the wetlands at Ore Hill. Increased vegetation is often used as an effective contaminant removal system. Phytoremediation is a common term used to describe plants’ ability to uptake contaminants, such as metals, and improve land and water quality. Wetlands have the added benefit of being high in organic matter and low in oxygen. These conditions promote additional metal removal by causing metals to precipitate out, or come out of the water solution. Continue reading

Endless Opportunities

Author: Melissa Leszek, M.S. Candidate, Environmental Science & Policy

The summer before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, I made my way up to New Hampshire from northwest Pennsylvania on a conservation internship through the Student Conservation Association ( This national non-profit organization had placed me in a world I had never visited. A world full of majesty seen in the surrounding pristine lakes and ancient mountains. A world full of endless adventure, endless beauty, endless inspiration, and endless opportunities. I owe my first experience in New Hampshire to the Squam Lakes Association as they accepted me into the area with open arms and trust in my environmental aspirations.

The Squam Lakes Association (SLA) is located about 10 miles east of Plymouth State University and was founded in 1904 to protect the Squam Lakes watershed through Conservation, Education and Outreach programs. In collaboration with local and state partners, the SLA promotes the protection, careful use and shared enjoyment of the lakes, mountains, forests, open spaces and wildlife of the Squam Lakes region. (Please click the link to read Andrew Vielleux’s research study with the SLA):

Photo taken in 2011 on SLA’s milfoil control boat, Millie, which houses a Diver Assisted Suction Harvester (DASH). This unit, designed by SLA Director of Recreation Brett Durham, is the most efficient method identified to remove variable milfoil from Squam. Variable milfoil (Myriophyllum heterophyllum) is an invasive species that can spread rapidly through a water-body, and has been in New Hampshire since the late 1960s.

During my time at the SLA, I was fortunate enough to spend a summer conserving and managing this beautiful area. Some of my responsibilities involved long days on the lake collecting water samples, hours spent in the woods maintaining the surrounding hiking trails, helping ecological interns manage invasive milfoil, or working with my fellow SCA interns to supervise the recreational camping sites located on Moon and Bowman Islands and Chamberlin Reynolds Memorial Forest.

Photo taken on Squam Lake with my fellow SLA conservation interns. Here we set out to different coves around the lake to take water samples for UNH.


I would not trade one moment of that summer as I learned many valuable skills, slept under the stars, and connected with many fascinating people in the area. I had finally found a place where I would enjoy pursuing other ambitions in the environmental field, and had the right channels to do it. My time at the Squam Lakes Association lead me to move to the area permanently after graduating, and eventually connected me to other opportunities in the region such as two years of field biology work for Loon Preservation Committee, and acceptance into the environmental science and policy master’s program at Plymouth State University. Continue reading

Trail Science in the White Mountains

Author: Gregory DiSanto, M.S. Candidate, Environmental Science & Policy

While this might be the first time you have heard of “trail science,” it is not a novel idea. Scientists and trail builders have been studying erosion on hiking trails for a long time, and a lot of thought goes into designing, constructing, and maintaining trails. With over 1200 miles of hiking trails, the White Mountain National Forest is a great laboratory for studying erosion.

The trails in the White Mountains – many of them built in the early 20th century – transport thousands of hikers per year from roadside parking areas to the summits of our ancient mountains, often taking the most direct route possible. Anybody who has hiked a few four-thousand-footers in New Hampshire is familiar with the impacts of erosion and the methods which are often used to limit erosion. The impacts that are most readily apparent are exposed rocks, roots, and soil. Besides being aesthetically unappealing, these impacts can create a trail surface that is loose or slippery. Once erosion on a trail becomes excessive, there are a few possible solutions – stop the flow of water by installing a water bar or other drainage feature, re-routing a section of trail, or armoring the surface of the trail with rock.

Familiar sights to hikers in the White Mountains: erosion on the Old Bridle Path hiking trail (left) and a rock water bar installed on the Dicey’s Mill trail to divert flowing water off of the trail.

Continue reading

Is Total Coliform in your NH Public Drinking Water Supply? In 2015, they Won’t tell you.

Author:  Kristen Melendez, ES&P M.S. candidate, 2016

It’s Thursday, November 6, 2014, at 1:00 pm.  I’m in the auditorium at the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES); the room is packed, with few empty seats in sight.  Public water suppliers from all across the State of NH have filled the room.  Everyone is waiting to hear what Mr. Rick Skarinka, Civil Engineer for NH DES, has to say about how NH DES is going to implement EPA’s Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR).

Portion of EPA RTCR Summary Guide; Source:

This is huge.  The TCR was established by EPA in 1989 and has not been overhauled since.  That is, until revisions were published in the Federal Register on February 13, 2013.  So why all the fuss more than a year and a half later?  EPA has set a compliance date of April 1, 2016 – and NH DES is implementing the rule early.

NH will be the first state in the entire Nation to execute the changes specified in the RTCR.  Beginning January 1, 2015, all NH public water systems will need to comply. Continue reading

Casco Bay Watershed Kids

Last Friday I had the opportunity to talk to two groups of grade six students in Gray, Maine at the Gray-New Gloucester Middle School. Gray is located in the Casco Bay watershed in southern Maine. The Casco Bay watershed comprises only 3% of the state’s landmass but houses 25% of Maine’s population. This is notable since urbanization and population density can have a significant impact on water quality. When speaking with the students I wanted to convey the message that even though the Gray-New Gloucester Middle School is located 23 miles from the coast, local human activities can impact the health of the coastal ecosystem.

Who thought that talking to a room full of sixth graders could cause such trepidation! I’ll admit, the few days leading up to the presentation I was nervous! These stomach butterflies proved to be unwarranted. Not only was I able to actively engage with the kids during my presentation, I had fun doing it! I thoroughly enjoyed working with a young, interesting group of kids. I started by showing the class a Prezi-tation, which was mostly composed of pictures and maps. (You can view my Prezi here.) Instead of showing a slide and explaining to the class what it represented, I asked them to share their interpretation of what they saw. The students were eager to make guesses and used reasoning to infer meaning from the photos and maps I showed.

Continue reading

From Vancouver to Quebec: Presenting My Thesis Work on Lakes


Photo taken at the Vancouver Convention Center with fellow GSA attendees, my thesis advisor Dr. Lisa Doner and fellow student Nadine Orejola

Just in the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to present at two exciting conferences in Canada. As a second-year masters student I am still in the middle of my thesis work, but I have been working on it since last fall and have preliminary results that show some of the trends I expect to find in my data. My project revolves around water sampling and sediment analyses in Squam and Ossipee, NH lakes. I’m working along with the Squam Lakes Associative and the Green Mountain Conservation Group to give these groups and their members a better perspective of how changing climate will affect the water quality of their lakes.

Presenting my thesis research has been a fantastic experience. I first attended, the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) which was held October 18th – 22nd in Vancouver. Vancouver is a very modern, developed city with a very diverse population and we had the opportunity to rent an apartment for our stay in the city near the Vancouver Convention Centre, which was where the meeting was held. The meeting was attended by nearly 7,000 people, most of whom were from the U.S. and Canada. Continue reading