Prestigious Award Unlocks Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity for Student

Alyssa Schaeffer '24 wasn't afraid to dive into challenging research—literally.

The Hartwick senior, awarded the 2022-23 Freedman Prize for Student-Faculty Research in Applied Geoscience, conducted her fieldwork not in the Bahamas as originally planned, but on a remote island in Turks and Caicos. This unexpected shift proved to be a golden opportunity, leading Schaeffer to discover a new method for estimating ancient sea levels.

“As a student in the Three-Year Degree Program, I knew I was going to have to accomplish everything a four-year geology major would at a faster pace,” said Schaeffer. “So I was already thinking about my thesis as a first-year when Professor of Geology David Griffing approached me with an idea. Knowing my focus was on paleontology, he shared the research he’s been doing alongside other geologists in the Bahamas, which involves work on fossilized corals. That’s when I decided to apply.”

The award turned out to be a perfect fit for Schaeffer because, as she points out, the funders, Drs. Allen and Judy Freedman, show a genuine interest in the research projects and what their findings could mean in the larger scope of science. And even when the project shifted to the Turks & Caicos due to unforeseen logistical challenges, she took it all in stride.

“We were able to conduct research at Boat Cove, West Caicos, an island that hasn’t received nearly as much scientific study as islands in the Bahamas,” she said. “Though there were fewer fossilized corals, we found an abundance of well-preserved Ophiomorpha (burrows made by species of ghost shrimp), and that took my project in an exciting new direction. When accurately estimating past sea-level, it can be difficult when relying solely on preserved corals. But using Ophiomorpha as direct indicators of sea-level height is something no one has ever done before so this is a new way of conducting this kind of research.”

Alyssa Schaeffer ’24 and Dr. David Griffing
Alyssa Schaeffer ’24 and Dr. David Griffing measuring section
Alyssa Schaeffer ’24 and Dr. David Griffing
Professor Griffing and Alyssa Shaeffer with school group for Coral Outreach
Professor Griffing and Alyssa Shaeffer with school group for Coral Outreach

Schaeffer’s stay on the islands wasn’t just about her own work. She and the other researchers were also able to organize a field trip to Northwest Point National Park for local middle and high school students and their teachers. The trip focused on beach development, coral reefs, the impact of past climate changes, and the importance of environmental responsibility.

Schaeffer’s trip is fueling both her academic and professional pursuits. She’s not only turning her experiences into a thesis but also presenting her findings at the upcoming Student Showcase. Additionally, she plans on leveraging her research – and the blend of her geology major and museum studies minor – to secure practical experience this summer as an educator assistant at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Following that, graduate school beckons in 2025, where she’ll delve deeper into vertebrate paleontology and museum studies, solidifying her path as a future museum professional.

To high school students interested in taking the same path she did in studying geology at Hartwick, she offers this advice:

Alyssa Schaeffer '24

“The one-on-one focus in the major at Hartwick helps make the transition from high school to more intensive college study less scary and much more manageable. If you have a question or need extra time to understand a new concept, the professors are there to help."

Alyssa Schaeffer '24

Geology Major, Three-Year Degree Program

“And the trips the major offers — whether field trips for lab or J Terms to Hawaii — will help you find your specific interests and give you the hands-on experience that makes all geologists even better at what they do. Plus, being able to attend the Geological Society of America’s Annual National Conference is something most undergrads don’t get to do, so you can use it to your advantage to find internships, jobs, grad schools and even present your own research.”

April 4, 2024
Campaign, Spotlight

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