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Graduating Clarkson University Ph.D. Student Juggles Multiple Achievements

Deadlines are no problem for Clarkson University doctoral student Kinga Stryszowska.

Kinga StryszowskaWhen this new mother walked across the stage on Saturday to receive her Ph.D. in the environmental science and engineering graduate program, she also was celebrating the fact that two of her studies on environmental management are being published.

“My little girl came as a surprise while I was working on my Ph.D., but she kicked me in gear to hurry up. I worked at school through November and was actually replacing a friend who was on maternity leave, so we were wobbling down the hallways together at one point. It was a rare sight at Clarkson,” she laughs.

She had a healthy baby in December and then continued working from home in Dutchess County, N.Y. It was hard those first few weeks, without much sleep, she admits, but she was getting a steady flow of email from her thesis committee and journal editors to make changes to her papers, so she carved out time to write while her daughter was napping. Her mother was on hand to help watch the baby as well.

“I found you can be very productive in short amounts of time after you have a baby,” Stryszowska notes.

Her graduate adviser and mentor, Professor & Chair of Biology Tom Langen, has high praise for her. He says, “She's very much a go-getter. She already has managed to publish two papers from her thesis, and will be making an important scientific contribution with the third that's about to be submitted for publication.”

Stryszowska's research is of particular interest to North Country residents because it is an evaluation of environmental efforts regarding wetlands around Massena. She did a lot of field work and complicated GIS work on landscape and land use, Langen said. All this was at the same time she was working as a teaching assistant and helping with her family's business in Long Lake.

“I started the Massena project in 2012, in a Great Lakes AOC (area of concern) to evaluate wetland habitat where industry and the locks and dams disrupted the physical structure of the St. Lawrence River,” she explains. “People have been working on remediating this area since the late-1980s, so I evaluated habitat quality to see if the remediation was a success. I sampled 17 wetlands in Massena and chose a reference site nearby for comparison. Plants, animals, and water quality all were considered as part of the Big Picture.”

The good news is, once she crunched the data, it revealed little difference between the AOC and adjacent wetlands. Landscape surrounding the wetlands also was examined. Overall the Massena wetlands are smaller in size and surrounded by fewer wetlands, which is a bit of a concern. She presented her results to a remedial action committee.

“They may think about increasing the wetland area. The committee is evaluating next steps. Things happen slowly,” she says.

Her study will be published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, so now she'll be a reference source for future researchers. She submitted her final revisions just before she went on maternity leave and the study was published in March. It's available online now and will appear in a hard-copy issue in a few months.

“It was accepted and published and it feels really good,” Stryszowska says.

Her next project was on the Blanding’s turtle. A thesis committee member who has been studying this threatened turtle in the St. Lawrence Valley, Professor Glenn Johnson at SUNY Potsdam, shared his sixteen years of data.

“We decided to do a species distribution model,” Stryszowska explains. In short, she studied all the variables about known locations for the turtle and then used mapping software to figure the most likely places amid hundreds of possibilities to find the species.

She found that the edge of the Adirondacks creates a natural range boundary for the turtle. Her map showed the Hudson River Valley has a lot of suitable habitat, however. The Blanding’s turtle is threatened in New York, and urban spread and land use changes are preventing it from moving to other suitable habitat. Her research findings have been incorporated into the New York State Recovery Plan for this species, and her article was published in the February issue of Journal of Herpetology.

So what's next? After this weekend, she and her fiancé will be planning their wedding. She's happy to be a stay-at-home mom for now but intends to find a job in research and teaching.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

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