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  • Sarah Bartholomew

Coastal’s first Ph. D student named the Spring 2019 commencement speaker

On May 11, 2019, Leigha Patterson of Ocean City, Md., will receive her doctorate in Coastal and Marine Systems Science from Coastal Carolina University, becoming the first person to earn a Ph.D. from CCU.

Due to her tireless work and dedication to academic success at Coastal Carolina, Patterson has been named as the commencement speaker for all three of CCU’s May commencements.

As a result of Peterson’s dedication, she was granted a research opportunity during grad school which was funded by the National Science Foundation to travel to Antarctica with Rich Viso, assistant director of CCU’s School of Coastal and Marine Systems Science, and Rick Peterson, a CCU Marine Science lecturer. Coastal Magazine’s Spring 2013 issue reported that the previous winter, in early December, Peterson travelled with Viso and Rick Peterson to Palmer Station, a research camp on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, to sample iron quantities within the glacier water, and measure the samples for levels of radon and radium to compare to land water.

At Palmer Station, workdays began at 6:30 a.m. and normally ended around 7 p.m., but occasionally the research group worked overtime. This was due to the summer season in Antarctica, where Viso in A scientist reports from Antarctica reports there were “. . . 19 hours with the sun up and about 5 hours of twilight.”

Despite the long days and freezing temperatures, Peterson shares that she had an incredible training opportunity.

“This has been a fantastic experience considering the aesthetic pleasures, the social interactions and scientific advancement,” said Peterson.

Viso and Rick Peterson arrived back in South Carolina in January, but Peterson did not return for an additional month in order to continue her practice in sample collection and analysis.

These CCU ambassadors returned with positive stories of their experience. Viso reported having enjoyed the sights.

“Near land we saw penguin colonies, elephant seals, humpback whales and many different birds,” said Viso.

Peterson had her own defining moment as she studied her surroundings.

“The work she did was important and helped convince her of the impact of climate change not just on the basis of the science she was doing, but because she witnessed the ice melting with her own eyes,” said Viso in an interview with WPDE ABC 15.

Peterson shared Viso’s enthusiasm as she explained her plans.

“I have promised myself I will make it back here, some way, somehow I am forever changed,” she said.

She has since published numerous articles in collaboration with CCU staff on topics such as groundwater discharge in oceans, rivers, bays, and lagoons.

Peterson has left large shoes to fill for current and future Chanticleers. She exhibits a work ethic and passion which has led to her numerous successes, unforgettable experiences, and invaluable connections.

For students interested in combining their studies with travel, contact the Center for Global Engagement to learn about Faculty-led, Third-Party Provider, and Exchange Partner Programs. To hear Peterson’s own words of advice, pay visit to the Spring 2019 commencement ceremony.

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