Alexandra Lukasiewicz got an up-close look at the oceans' mysteries while she studied abroad in Bonaire.
A senior environmental resource management major in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, she spent four months -- from August to December 2012 -- in a program offered by the Council on International Educational Exchange designed to get students to work independently on the Caribbean island.
Lukasiewicz, of Queens, N.Y., and 13 other students were required to devise their own research projects and write proposals within the first weeks of the semester. Their projects, which ranged from fish larval ecology to nutrient pollution and sewage effluent, touched on an array of important topics in the marine world.
"The main message that I took home from our multitude of underwater labs, kayak trips and hikes was that our oceans are not as resilient and infinite as they seem," she said. "The island of Bonaire prides itself on having the best diving in the Caribbean, with the best protected marine area and most 'pristine' reefs."
While she found these claims to be true, Lukasiewicz also noticed that the island was plagued by infrastructure issues, poor marine management in some areas and a general ignorance among the tourist community about the preciousness of the ecosystem that exists there. So she devised a research project to address climate change, nutrient pollution and coral disease in the reef ecosystem.
"My plans were unfocused before I went on the program," she said. "But after being around many determined, driven and intellectually charged people, I realized that I really enjoyed working in marine research."
While in Bonaire, Lukasiewicz utilized important skills she learned in her classes at Penn State, including Science Diving, Coral Reef Systems, and a course on climate change and small island nations.
She returned from Bonaire with a more comprehensive understanding of marine management and coastal biology. Lukasiewicz plans to attend graduate school for marine ecology, preferably working on a research project in microbial ecology.
Click here for more information about the environmental resource management major.