By Jack Hunt
Elm Staff Writer
With the addition of an Environmental Science major to the Washington College curriculum, a new faculty member has been added to teach prospective majors. Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Studies Dr. Rebecca Fox joined the department this fall. She said she feels fortunate to be here, “When this job description came out, it kind of seemed like it was tailored for me.”
Dr. Fox comes to WC with a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park and research experience at the UMD Horn Point Laboratory in Dorchester County. After graduating from Lycoming College in 2005 with a Bachelor of science, Dr. Fox entered the lab and completed her doctorate in marine, estuarine, and environmental science.
For the last several years she studied how implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) in small watersheds affects the quality of water. Regarding her research, Dr. Fox said, “The idea behind [BMPs] is that if you put them in place they are going to improve water quality, but very few people have actually tested it on a larger scale. So we’re taking these areas and putting [BMPs] in… and measuring water quality.”
They are also testing whether BMPs are economically beneficial to farmers who own much of the land in the watersheds, and whether the practices will be implemented by the people in those areas. “It’s a three-pronged approach of the natural science of what happens with nutrients, economics, as well as sociology. Together, hopefully, they’ll come up with some sort of solution,” she said.
The idea of combined approaches to problem solving appeals to Dr. Fox. In regards to her field she said, “Some funding agencies are looking to solve problems from not just one perspective, but [are] bringing in lots of perspectives, which is exactly what our Environmental Science and Studies Department is about, and liberal arts education, really: looking at problems from lots of different perspectives to solve them.”
The science half of the Environmental Science and Studies Department is where Dr. Fox is focused. Most of her studies concentrate on the nitrogen cycle, which involves the release of the element into the atmosphere and water by means such as agriculture. An overabundance or a deficit of nitrogen can throw an ecosystem out of balance. Dr. Fox monitors nitrogen levels in the local Choptank River watershed as part of her work for the Horn Point Lab.
Recently she took one of her classes to visit the Choptank watershed as part of a curriculum designed to teach students about different methods of collecting data in the field. Field methods in environmental science is one of two classes she is teaching this semester, the other being a course titled Climate Change. In field methods, students are currently analyzing the variability of rainfall on campus by using rain gauges placed among the buildings. The idea is to see if rain falls more heavily in some areas than others.
Besides academics and laboratory research, Dr. Fox enjoys participating in a lot of outdoor activities. She has been swimming for most her life and has recently taken up competing in triathlons as a hobby. “In Cambridge, where I come from, we have a half Ironman, and so a lot of the people I’ve gotten to know were doing this… so that’s how I got into triathlons.” She had done the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, a 4.4 mile swim across the Chesapeake, twice before deciding that “it was really boring” and switching to triathlons.
She credits swimming and spending a lot of time outdoors as a kid with inspiring her to study the environment. “I grew up swimming, and I think always being in water gave me an appreciation for water. I couldn’t honestly tell you exactly what it was, but I just always had a connection with the environment, and I always wanted to study some part of it.”