Carr ’06, Biology Students Bring Undersea Research to Area Youth

Hartwick College Assistant Professor of Biology Stephanie Carr ’06 knows how to make a good opportunity even more impactful.

Over the summer, Carr continued a deep-sea research project initially undertaken in 2019, when she and one of her undergraduate students were studying the existence of microbes in the deep waters off the coast of Washington State. With that trip cut short due to bad weather and a return delayed by COVID, Carr was finally able to reclaim some allotted ship time this summer with a second expedition to their study site.

This time, however – and with the help of two new students – she expanded the scope of her work to include a community educational component.

In the spring, Carr and sophomores Sierra Brown ’25 and Andrew Daisernia ’26 visited all five 7th-grade science classes at Oneonta Middle School, connecting with roughly 100 students. During these classes, the middle schoolers were introduced to the deep-sea ecosystem and marine research in general.

As Carr prepared to return to the West Coast this summer, she noticed a call for applications for a local grant. Administered by Destination Oneonta, the Oneonta Community Initiative would provide funding for events, projects, and public services that benefited the community. Carr quickly realized she could extend her research to area youth even further with the stipend.


Group on the ship with JASON research vessel

After securing the grant, Carr set up a program at Huntington Memorial Library. In July, she and Daisernia read a book about scientific ocean drilling called Uncovering Earth’s Secrets to students aged up to 12. Not only did the students each receive their own copy of the book, but they were also given a styrofoam cup to decorate. These cups were part of the lesson and would later be part of the team’s research: they would be loaded onto a submarine-like vessel and plunged more than 2,600 meters below the surface. The effects on the cups would be presented at library sessions when the team returned.

“This was a community outreach event designed to get kids interested in the deep ocean,” Carr says. “It is a very common outreach activity.”

Last month, Carr and Daisernia returned to the library, this time showing kids the results of the experiment.

“They were very excited about the craft and learning about sea animals,” she says. “It was also nice to have engagement from their parents, who were also interested in our trip. Donna Foote, the children’s coordinator of the library, and Adriane Cej, a science teacher at Oneonta Middle School, really loved us coming.”

“Our goal was to reach a big portion of the youth community in Oneonta,” Carr says. “Visiting the 7th graders gave us a good cross-section of kids, while visiting the library allowed us to be completely inclusive to anyone interested in learning about our research.”

Even the Hartwick students were selected with an eye on continuing the public education campaign. “The strategy behind hiring Andrew, a first-year student in the education program, is that we now have three years to develop education materials together,” she says. “Andrew needs to design education materials for classrooms as part of his program, and he can be inspired by this trip.”

She added that Daisernia and Brown will continue to work on this project, hopefully through their senior theses.

After returning from their research expedition, Carr says they have a lot to do in the lab. However, she hopes to continue to connect her work with area students. 

“Once we have a good portion of our results complete, I would love to share more with the community,” she says.

By then, chances are strong that Carr will have a strategy to take her team’s work to even more students across the region.

In order to bring our underwater equipment back up, we use these special elevators to lift them back above the water! You can see in the video, it floats towards the surface after the weights are released!

Andrew Daisernia ’26

Cups decorated by children
Students doing research on the ship
Students with suitcases ready to set sail on ship
Sunset view from the ship
Students doing research on the ship
Students doing research on the ship
Students doing research on the ship

Professor Carr on how Hartwick helped her find her career:

My message to Hartwick students is that sometimes finding your passion can be overwhelming. If you're uncertain about your passion, it might be easier to rule out what you don't want to do. I knew I didn't want to go into a health-related field. After an inspirational J-term trip to Hawaii, I became very interested in geochemistry during my junior and senior years. I wrote a Freedman Prize proposal with Dr. Johnson that allowed me to explore the temperatures at which minerals will form. That turned out not to be my passion, but it was closer and motivated me to explore environmental geochemistry in graduate school after Hartwick.


Professor Carr on what her research focuses on today:

Today, I study the microorganisms that live deep underground. The food web for these organisms does not include the sun. Instead, the food web relies on the chemicals in the earth. It's a tough life, and the microbes have developed interesting strategies to make their life work, which might be useful for our lives on the surface.

November 28, 2023
Faculty Breakthroughs, From The Wick Magazine, Wick Mag Fall 2023

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