Caroline exploring the Big Sur coastline

The Federation is proud to serve as an incubator for young professionals as they enter the environmental field. This blog is the first of a series which will provide insight on the lives and careers of these individuals beyond their time with the Federation.

On September 15th 2020, I interviewed Caroline Rodriguez, who served as the 2013-14 Chesapeake Conservation Corps member at Arundel Rivers Federation, then South Rivers Federation. Caroline graciously volunteered her time to speak with me as she road tripped cross-country from Colorado to Missouri in the wake of wildfires ravaging her county in California. But how did she go from working in Maryland to living on the other side of the country? Let’s turn back the clock to find out…

Caroline’s time at the Federation was packed full of opportunities to learn new skills, meet incredible people, and gain experiences she still recalls in interviews to this day. Though hard-pressed to land on a single favorite memory, she fondly recalls an after-school program she organized for underserved elementary students which culminated in an educational event providing boat rides, tree plantings, painting, and other fun activities. She enthusiastically describes her experience as “overall just really awesome.”

Caroline’s capstone research focused on Chromophoric Dissolved Organic matter (CDOM)- the colored tannins released into the water from decaying organic matter that are known to reduce water quality and can be harmful for submerged aquatic vegetation. Caroline tracked how CDOM varied between creeks to better understand how it was affecting local water quality.

The grand opening of the school kitchen Caroline worked with the community to fund and build

After her term as a CCC, Caroline accepted a full-time position at the Federation for a year, focusing on water quality monitoring, education and outreach, and social media. She then spent 2.5 years in the Peace Corps, stationed on a volcanic island in the middle of a freshwater lake in Nicaragua working in elementary schools to implement better teaching strategies and co-teach natural science classes. Outside of the classroom, she took initiative to create school gardens, compost systems, tree nurseries, and environmental celebrations. She considers serving in the Peace Corps the “hardest thing I’ve done until grad school,” and totally worth it. After her term of service, Caroline returned to the States and worked for a streetlight company for six months while applying to grad school. In that position, she got to travel to various cities across the country, from Nebraska to California to Massachusetts, collecting data to inform efforts to retrofit old streetlights with new LED fixtures.

Collecting coral fragments in the Galapagos

Today, Caroline’s journey continues on the West Coast, where she has just completed her second year of her master’s program at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, in association with California State University, Monterey Bay. Throughout her time in graduate school she has spent a summer in Hawaii designing her research project on coral population dynamics and visited the Galapagos twice to collect data. She is using 3D models of reefs to track how individual corals change over time and are projected to change in response to increasing temperature stress. She plans to graduate in summer 2021 and is interested in pursuing fellowships offered through NOAA and the National Sea Grant office in the future- maybe even ending up back in Latin America or Hawaii!

All smiles after a scuba diving trip in Monterey

It’s hard to believe just how many incredible experiences Caroline has packed into the past seven years. The Federation is so pleased to have served as a launching point for her already vibrant career in the environmental field. I have no doubt that no matter where she ends up next, she has plenty of adventures ahead of her!

-Chloe Obara (Chesapeake Conservation Corps 2020-21)