Environmental Science Graduates Produce Important Research and Launch Careers

Elise Rodriguez '18 MS holds a soil core from her tidal wetlands research.

Research includes wetland science, watershed sedimentology, peatland ecosystems and coral reef biogeochemistry

Graduate students conducting research on Plum Island, Mass.

VILLANOVA, Pa. – After graduating from Dickinson College with a degree in environmental studies, Elise Rodriguez ’18 MS worked a variety of jobs that matched her passions for research, wildlife management and conservation. When she began looking in 2016 at graduate programs to help further career, she was drawn to Villanova’s new Master of Science in Environmental Science (MSES) program, which offered an interdisciplinary experience, diverse areas of field research and technical training wanted by employers.

Villanova created the new MSES program in response to the growing public interest in environmental issues and the need for advanced research opportunities for students interested in environment-related careers. In May 2018, Rodriguez celebrated with six other students as Villanova’s first class of MSES graduates.

This first class of graduates has produced cutting-edge research that will result in important contributions to environmental fields including wetland science, watershed sedimentology, peatland ecosystem ecology and coral reef biogeochemistry.

“These students have become conversant experts in their respective fields. Their academic growth and their future potential as scientists is something that I am extremely proud of,” says Associate Professor Lisa Rodrigues, PhD, who served as inaugural Graduate Program Director.

During her time at Villanova, Rodriguez worked closely with current Graduate Program Director and Associate Professor Nathanial Weston, PhD. In her thesis research, Rodriguez studied the impacts of land cover change on sediment delivery and accretion rates in tidal wetlands. She focused on seven East Coast watersheds, including Plum Island, Mass., and found that the urban development close to the coast correlated with increased mineral sediment buildup in those watersheds.

Her field research on Plum Island was one of her best experiences as a graduate student at Villanova.

“Nothing beats boating around at sunset after spending the day collecting data,” Rodriguez says. “Plum Island is one of the most beautiful ecosystems I have ever worked in.”

Rodriguez notes that two faculty members were of particular help during her time at Villanova: Dr. Weston, her thesis advisor, and Peleg Kremer, PhD, who assisted her with developing her methodology in ArcGIS, the program in which she did the majority of her data analysis.

“Before attending graduate school, I was told the most important thing to succeed would be finding a good advisor,” says Rodriguez. “Dr. Weston has been an amazing person to learn from. He has been incredibly trusting and flexible, letting me try different ideas for my research. Dr. Kremer has always made the time for me and has been a constant source of support.”

Rodriguez leveraged her degree to gain a position as an environmental scientist with Churchill Consulting Engineers, a Berlin, N.J.,-based consulting engineering firm for a broad range of civil and environmental projects.

For Dr. Rodrigues, who herself studies watershed issues, Rodriguez is an example of the next generation of scientists who are poised to make significant contributions to the field.

“We focus on the academic analysis of the environment, but at the same time fully recognize that the questions we address often have direct consequences for people and communities around the country and the world,” Dr. Rodrigues says. “It’s wonderful to see how engaged our students become by their increased knowledge and awareness of the environment and ecosystems we study. I am excited by what the future holds, for the program, but more so for our students and the contributions they will make within the discipline.”

Learn more about Villanova’s Master of Science in Environmental Science program and the critical research its faculty is conducting.

Elise Rodriguez '18 MS stands next to her research poster about mineral sediment delivery in tidal wetlandsheology master's student John Cacchione (right) takes part in a group discussion

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.