Three Environmental Pathways Through Bass Connections

February 28, 2022

Mountain in background with water in foreground, including a fishing net on the coast.
Marine litter, remnants of a trawl net (Image: Bo Eide, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

At Duke, these three students joined Bass Connections teams that took on challenges facing our planet, from climate change to plastic pollution to habitat loss. Through hands-on research with interdisciplinary teams of faculty, graduate students, undergraduates and partner organizations, the students gained knowledge and built skills that propelled them into the next stage of their studies and careers.

Samuel Pickerill

Environmental Sciences & Policy ’18

Before graduating in 2018, Samuel Pickerill participated in three Bass Connections experiences within the Energy & Environment theme, including a course that enabled him to participate in the 2017 U.N. climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany.

After graduation, Pickerill attended Georgetown University Law Center and now works in the environmental practice group for the law firm Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C.

“While I have moved toward approaching energy topics from a legal perspective instead of a scientific perspective,” he said, “my research in law school focused on carbon taxation and carbon storage, two topics that are closely related to concepts I was first familiarized with in Bass Connections.”

Samuel Pickerill.“Bass Connections has had a profound impact on my academic/professional path, as it provided both a substantive knowledge base in the energy and environment field and also a variety of professional skills ... Each of these experiences helped me develop important and transferable skills in areas such as presentations, specific goal-setting and small team collaboration.”

Sarah Kwartler

Biology ’21

Frustrated with finding plastic waste amidst her favorite coastal landscapes, Sarah Kwartler spent two years on the Bioremediation of Plastic Pollution to Conserve Biodiversity team to counter the “plastic pandemic” through microbiology. She also was a recipient of a 2020 Bass Connections Student Research Award.

Her work involved investigating and bioengineering organisms that can degrade plastic polymers and thrive in environments with high concentrations of plastic waste. This offers promise for aiding the plastic pollution crisis in the world’s oceans.

Kwartler is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular biology at Princeton.

Sarah Kwartler.“Beyond taking part in groundbreaking research, I was welcomed into a thoughtful and supportive community. Our team’s strength was our diverse experience, backgrounds and interests. Most importantly, my experience with my Bass Connections team encouraged me to take risks. My lab introduced me to a realm of science that I hadn’t previously considered: manipulating molecular biology to counter human and environmental health hazards.”

Chelsea Tuohy

Master of Environmental Management ’22

Chelsea Tuohy is a current member of the Biogeographic Assessment of Antarctic Coastal Habitats team, where she is examining satellite and drone data to track ecosystem warming in Antarctica.

“We’ve been doing a lot of research into the history of exploration and exploitation of Antarctica,” she said earlier this year. “I’ve really appreciated Greg Larsen’s and David Johnston’s dedication to understanding the history of the area and making sure that we all feel comfortable with the data that we have.”

Through the project, she has been able to hone her GIS and data analysis skills while working closely with faculty mentors and outside experts.

Explore the team’s Timeline of Antarctic Exploration and Exploitation.

Chelsea Tuohy“I am pursuing the GIS Analysis certificate at the Nicholas School ... this [project] allows me to take the skills that I’ve learned from classes and apply them in a real-world scenario. The whole experience has been very rewarding and very different than a traditional class. It’s been really nice to work with people outside of my specific program ... and learn from their experiences in areas that I may not be familiar with.”

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