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School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment

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Meet Our Students - Curtis Szewczyk

I am in the final steps towards the completion of an MS in Marine Science working under the advisement of Drs. Claudia Benitez-Nelson and Erik Smith. Our research focused on the processing of organic matter within inland waters, as it can be crucial in the global carbon cycle. Broadly, we aimed to address how the degradation of various sources of organic matter can be differentially sensitive to warming temperatures and nutrient loading. To analyze these relationships, I conducted sample collection during the summers of 2020 and 2021 of various source waters within the Waccamaw River watershed, and then performed a series of experimental dissolved oxygen decay incubations. Our results were promising and we have shown that lower quality, terrestrial organic matter within inland waters is more sensitive to warming and nutrients, causing a greater shift of CO2 released to the atmosphere via organic matter degradation. We hope to submit two publications derived from my thesis research, and this will add to the growing need to understand the dynamics of organic matter degradation within inland waters and the role this process has on global carbon dynamics.

            Prior to joining the University of South Carolina, I became the first in my family to graduate college. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Chatham University, a small liberal arts school in Pittsburgh, PA. I was first introduced to both estuarine/coastal science and research as an Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) intern through Maryland Sea Grant and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences – Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. This experience fostered a desire to pursue further education within marine science. I chose the University of South Carolina because I was impressed by the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the SEOE. I was particularly interested in working alongside Dr. Benitez-Nelson and Dr. Smith as their partnership seemed beneficial with two advisors coming with different perspectives, and they accepted my desire for a balance of field and laboratory analyses to further my scientific skills.

            Following graduation in December, I will be joining the Baruch Marine Field Laboratory staff as a Higher Education Coordinator, primarily focused on the implementation of the inaugural “Semester at the Coast” program being offered here through UofSC. I look forward to staying closely involved with the SEOE in my new position at the Baruch laboratory, and I believe it will assist in the development of science communication, leadership, and hands-on skills, with which I will take with me in any future endeavors. In my free time, I have taken advantage of Columbia’s disc golf scene with a number of fellow graduate students within the department, attended many bar trivia nights, and continued to root on my Pittsburgh sports teams. Although my time within the SEOE is coming to a close, I have considered myself very fortunate to meet so many wonderful faculty, fellow students, and close friends in my time here, and I believe I will always look at these years fondly.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.