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Wendy Dow

Immersed in Her Work

 A Gettysburg education has worked swimmingly for Wendy Dow as she pursues her passion for the sea and the creatures that live in it. Imagine for a moment that you are a young girl growing up on an island off the rocky coast of Maine. You are surrounded by the ocean, and it fascinates you. You wade in tidal pools. You make your mother stop the car so you can watch seals sunning on rock outcrops. You do a high school project on barnacles. Salt water runs through your blood. You know from your earliest years that you want a career that connects you to the sea and all its wonders. So when it comes time to choose a college, you quite logically choose…um… landlocked Gettysburg

"It didn't really matter to me that it wasn't near the ocean," says Wendy Dow, the Islesboro, Maine, native, 2003 Gettysburg graduate, current marine scientist, and soon-to-be Duke University Ph.D. student who lived that island fantasy. "What mattered was the quality of the education I'd be getting."

After double-majoring in biology and environmental studies at Gettysburg, Wendy shipped out to Duke to pursue a master's degree in environmental management, studying seal behavior for her master's project. After getting her degree, she took a job as a scientist with the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network, or WIDECAST, researching nesting sites of sea turtles in the region, including the leatherback, an elusive creature that walks off into the sea as a tiny hatchling and returns to breed an undetermined number of years later, having gone off who knows where to do who knows what.   

Wendy says Gettysburg prepared her well for all of this. "Gettysburg was phenomenal. I learned the scientific method, how to conduct a thorough literature review, how to write a great scientific paper, and that's huge in grad school. I learned analytical skills and how to solve problems. I was way more prepared than others in my graduate program."

Access to water proved easier than it looked on a map. Wendy did an internship working with dolphins at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. She returned to Maine with her faculty advisor, where she did collaborative research on mussels, studying their growth and their impact on the surrounding ecosystem, the local economy, and the people in the region.

In fact, much of her work has explored this intersection between sea creatures and humans. "You can't solve environmental problems just with science," she says. "You can have a brilliant scientific solution that doesn't work in the real world.  There's a human side and a policy side to every environmental problem. At Gettysburg I had such a broad spectrum of courses. It taught me to look at all sides of things."

Next fall she starts her doctoral program in marine conservation biology, and after that she hopes to keep doing research and maybe also teach. Her future isn't completely mapped out, but it's a lot more predictable than that of the turtles she's studying. "I'm not a cubicle kind of person," she says, as if there were a question about that. "I need to be near the sea."
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