Next Generation: Stephanie Siemek

August 24, 2017
Photo by Cheryl Nemazie

Name: Stephanie Siemek
Hometown: Pasadena, Maryland
Adviser: Keith Eshleman

Research area: My graduate research involves understanding the hydrology of the Ridge and Valley province, a part of the Appalachian Highlands that falls within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I am examining how effective riparian buffers—vegetated areas near streams that help shade and protect that stream—are in reducing nutrients in groundwater before being discharged into streams.

Riparian buffers have shown to be very effective in the Coastal Plain, a province of the Bay watershed that sits closest to the Bay and has a little slope and a higher water table than further upland. Little research has been done in the Ridge and Valley where the flowpath of groundwater can be more complex, however. The minimal data we do have shows a wide range of nutrient reduction. More data is needed to understand what variables reduce the efficacy of these best management practices.

An inherent challenge to planting trees along waterways is garnering public support and participation of private landowners. One chapter in my dissertation will be focused on how to increase participation in conservation programs, such as government-funded programs that pay farmers to plant trees along streams on their property to help reduce groundwater contamination.

Why it makes a difference: The Chesapeake Bay started showing signs of degradation in the 1960s from sediments, nutrients, and toxicants from human activities. Since 1983, programs have been implemented with the goal of reducing nutrient runoff and improving the water quality of the Bay. Putting industrial regulations into place was successful, but nonpoint source pollution—which is pollution that cannot be easily attributed to a particular source, such as agricultural runoff—remains a challenge. One management method proposed was to plant trees between bodies of water and agricultural fields so the trees would take up and use the nutrients from excess fertilizer, instead of entering natural waterways.

How did you get interested in environmental science? When I was a child, my mother would take me to a park located along the Chesapeake Bay where I became fascinated with the turtles, fish, and waterfowl. Seeing any type of wildlife was a rewarding day. While scouring the area to find as many species as I could, I also noticed plastic bottles, wrappers, and various other human products floating in the waters and washing up along the shore. Even at a young age, I developed a concern for wildlife, and once I became old enough, I volunteered at local parks cleaning up garbage along the coastline. These childhood moments, and my passion for conservation led me to pursue a career in environmental science, specifically water quality.

Why UMCES? I came to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in August 2014. I have always been interested in pursuing a career in the environmental field. I earned a master’s degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Johns Hopkins University, but had not yet obtained a permanent job that satisfied my passion. I spent three months studying tortoises in the Mojave Desert as a field technician and became a certified Watershed Steward for Anne Arundel County through the Watershed Stewards Academy. While continuing to find ways to help improve the Bay in between work hours, I considered going back to school to obtain my Ph.D. in Environmental Science. After I was accepted into the Marine-Estuarine Environmental Sciences (MEES) program and found an adviser at the Appalachian Laboratory, I made the decision to commit to my graduate studies and pursue my passion in environmental research.

No action is too small and if we all did our part in reducing the amount of waste we create or the amount of electricity we use, then our impacts would have a greater, accumulative effect.

Share an experience that stands out most about your time with UMCES. During the 2015 MEES colloquium, NASA Astronaut Ricky Arnold gave a presentation about his experiences in space. [Arnold was also part of the MEES program through UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory. He earned his master’s degree in 1988.] He showed pictures of all the different planets and gave a brief description about each of them. The last planet he talked about was Earth. He showed the most amazing pictures of all the different locations around the world that were taken from space. He then noted that of all the different planets he has seen and learned about, he considered Earth the most amazing and worth protecting as there is no other planet like it.

What do you like to do in your free time? During my free time, I enjoy spending time with friends or being outdoors. Western Maryland is a great place for hiking, kayaking at Deep Creek Lake or Rocky Gap State Park, and snowboarding at Wisp Ski Resort in the winter.   

What’s the most important thing people can do to help the environment? Be aware of the impact you have on the environment and how you can reduce it. No action is too small and if we all did our part in reducing the amount of waste we create or the amount of electricity we use, then our impacts would have a greater, accumulative effect. What we do today affects the world that future generations will live in tomorrow.

What are your future plans? My plans are to find a job in environmental management or restoration with a focus on water quality.