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For Heather Guy ’18, Appalachian ‘ticked all of the boxes’

August 16, 2018

Prior to enrolling in Appalachian State University’s geography graduate program, Heather Guy’s work experience involved computer modelling, an activity that kept her in front of a computer screen all day.

Guy, from the United Kingdom, wanted to stay in research but longed to be doing fieldwork in remote locations — think Indiana Jones braving a booby-trapped temple in Peru, or more realistically, American oceanographer and explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle observing the effects of pollution on coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands. An advertisement for a graduate research assistant position with the Department of Geography and Planning at Appalachian caught Guy’s eye.

“The advertisement I saw ticked all of the boxes,” she said, adding that it was the encouragement she received from everyone she spoke with at Appalachian, along with the small university environment and her ability to secure sufficient funding, that finalized her decision to attend Appalachian.

According to Guy, her studies would not have been possible without the Stephen Vacendak Graduate Fellowship in Geography she received during each of her two years at Appalachian.

“As an international student, my visa restricts me to only working 20 hours a week,” Guy said, “so without this scholarship, I would not have been able to afford to be here. In that sense, that scholarship has been partly responsible for all of the opportunities I have had here.”

Guy recently graduated with a Master of Arts in geography from Appalachian. She received her Master of Science in natural sciences — physics and environmental science with a focus on climate modelling — from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom with a thesis related to reducing uncertainty in global climate models.

Appalachian provided Guy the opportunity to be a team member on multiple fieldwork campaigns to the remote high Andes in Peru and Bolivia, which she said has improved her fieldwork skills and “given me the skills and experience that I needed to be able to apply for similar jobs in the future.”

A National Science Foundation Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change (P2C2) grant, in collaboration with the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine, provided funding for Guy’s travel to the Andes, as well as her graduate assistantship at Appalachian, and covered most of her tuition costs.

Dr. Anton Seimon, research assistant professor in Appalachian’s Department of Geography and Planning and principal investigator for the grant, advised Guy throughout her research for the project, titled “Collaborative Research: Ultra-High-Resolution Investigation of High Andean Snow and Ice Chemistry to Improve Paleoclimatic Reconstruction and Enhance Climate Prediction.”

While at Appalachian, Guy was also able to pursue development opportunities, including attending and presenting at international conferences; attending courses at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and at the Fraser Experimental Forest in Colorado; visiting and working with collaborating institutions; and writing her own paper for submission to an academic journal.

“Because Appalachian is a small institution, you get a very personal experience, and you can form relationships with the faculty and staff, which, in addition to making your time here enjoyable, can open doors to new opportunities and allow you to personalize your degree,” Guy said.

For Guy, the most important of those relationships was with her adviser, Dr. Baker Perry, professor in the Department of Geography and Planning and director of the geography graduate program.

“He has definitely gone beyond the requirements of his role in the support that he has provided me,” Guy said. “He has encouraged and inspired me to really take advantage of both internal and external opportunities and to perform to the best of my ability.”

She said other faculty in the Department of Geography and Planning were supportive and interested in the work she performed while at Appalachian. The department’s staff were also invaluable to Guy, she said, going out of their way to solve any problems she had, to that point that she now considers them friends.

Guy’s research at Appalachian was in precipitation patterns in the high tropical Andes. More particularly, she was looking at precipitation measurements and samples collected by a network of citizen scientist observers who all live at elevations higher than 13,000 feet above sea level.

Her hope, she said, is that her research may inform others’ understanding of precipitation processes in the high Andes — how they have changed in the past and how they might change in the future — so that people there, many of whom rely heavily on precipitation and glacial meltwater for farming, tourism and hydroelectric power, can prepare and adapt.

In January 2019, Guy will begin the Ph.D. program in atmospheric physics at the University of Leeds in England, where she will research the relationship between atmospheric aerosols, clouds and the energy balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Before Guy begins, she will be making a trip to Summit Camp, a research station on the apex of the Greenland Ice Sheet, to help install some of the instruments she will use for her research. She also has another trip planned to Peru in September with Perry and colleagues from University of Maine to conduct fieldwork on the Quelccaya Ice Cap.