Until recently, the closest Claudia Mazur ’16 had come to sailing was taking the Staten Island Ferry to and from Manhattan. Yet the Mount Holyoke College geology major and marine sciences minor spent spring semester learning about the world's oceans and climate aboard a tall ship, sailing from New Zealand to Tahiti.
As part of the SEA Semester program, Mazur started at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, studying oceanography, nautical science, and marine policy, and getting to know her future shipmates. Then the group set sail for the South Pacific, living on and crewing for a 134-foot ship and using its onboard laboratory to study climate systems and the global carbon cycle and their effects on Pacific Islands.
"I'm an adventurous person," she said. "I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and learn how to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation."
That she did, living and working in close quarters with shipmates, setting sails, and riding out tropical storms that raised swells as high as 22 feet.
During her six weeks in the Pacific, Mazur says she saw "whales migrating for the winter, a lunar eclipse, dolphins lit up by the bioluminescent plankton surrounding them, clear night skies, the brightest of rainbows, and corals untouched by humans."
The semester involved much more than awe-inspiring scenery, though. The rigorous scientific part of the voyage was more familiar territory for Mazur, because she could apply knowledge and skills acquired in her science and liberal arts courses at Mount Holyoke. Mazur also did independent research, focusing on the movement of water masses above a particular section of the sea floor off New Zealand.
"The program was an ideal complement to my education because it brought together my passions for geology and marine science while educating me about climate change through a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Mazur said. The program, which she completed as part of a Five College certificate program in coastal and marine sciences, gave her "vital skills to be successful in my future academic research as a scientist."
This summer she's back at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on a sponsored internship studying microbial processes happening in sediments under oyster aquaculture cages in ponds and estuaries. She'll present her results at a Mount Holyoke symposium this fall.
Graduate school in marine science is definitely in Mazur's future, she says, but perhaps not immediately.
"I've made great connections at Mount Holyoke, from internships, and through SEA Semester, so I have no doubt that I'm going to be doing something really exciting after graduation," she says. "There are lots of doors open for me now and I want to step through all of them and see where they take me."
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