BOONE, N.C. — 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.
About graduate education at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies helps individuals reach the next level in their career advancement and preparedness. The graduate school offers 70 master's and certificate programs in a range of disciplines, including doctoral programs in education (Ed.D.) and psychology (Psy.D.). Classes are offered at the main campus in Boone as well as online and face-to-face at locations around northwestern North Carolina. The graduate school enrolls nearly 1,800 students. Learn more at https://graduate.appstate.edu.
About the Office of International Education and Development
The OIED is responsible for spearheading the internationalization efforts at Appalachian. The internationalization mission of Appalachian is to develop awareness, knowledge, appreciation and respect of cultural differences in both domestic and international contexts in its students, faculty, staff and the surrounding communities. The university is also dedicated to creating a campus environment that builds the theoretical and practical skills needed to interact effectively in a global society. Learn more at https://international.appstate.edu.
About the Department of Geography and Planning
The Department of Geography and Planning promotes the understanding of the spatial dimensions of human behavior within the physical and cultural systems of the earth, and the role of planning in achieving improvement in those systems. The department offers degrees in geography and in community and regional planning. Learn more at https://geo.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.