Polaris Project alumni and early career scientists, Aquanette Sanders and Edauri Navarro-Peréz were awarded the 2022 John Schade Memorial scholarship. The fund, established to honor Dr. Schade’s unwavering dedication to mentoring young scientists, recognizes two students per year who are pursuing higher education and reflect Dr. Schade’s values of mentoring, education, leadership, equity in the sciences, and advancing Arctic and environmental science to mitigate climate change.
“The purpose of the fund is to support the next generation of scientists who are making a lifelong career and personal commitment to activities that reflect and demonstrate Dr. Schade’s values,” said Dr. Nigel Golden, a postdoctoral researcher at Woodwell and coordinator of the fund. “We were profoundly impressed with this round of applications. All of the applicants for the scholarship were exceptional early-career scientists who are doing timely and important research, and whose career trajectories have been impacted by their mentorship through Dr. Schade, or through their mentors who worked with him. For Aqua and Edauri, what really helped to set them apart was a demonstrable commitment to creating spaces to ensure the success of scientists from a diversity of backgrounds.”
Aquanette Sanders is a Masters student at the University of Texas, Austin, pursuing a degree in Marine Science. However, as a Polaris participant, Sanders’ research focused on the soil. She studied greenhouse gas fluxes from thermokarst features— depressions and bumps in the tundra landscape formed by permafrost thaw. Sanders studied how emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide differed between these features and undisturbed areas of tundra.
Sanders’ career so far has taken her from an undergraduate research program with Maryland Sea Grant, to a SEA Education cruise to the Sargasso sea, to the Simpson Lagoon on Alaska’s North Slope, where she is currently researching groundwater nutrient flows as they change with thawing permafrost. For Sanders, the experience with Polaris affirmed her interest in climate change and Arctic science.
“The Polaris Project was my gateway into Arctic science,” says Sanders. “Seeing the effects of permafrost thaw first-hand, with the large amount of thermokarst features in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, confirmed that my research interest in greenhouse gasses and nutrient cycles— a topic that still has so many rising questions that need to be answered.”
Sanders says she is always looking for her next step forward in research. She plans to pursue a dual doctorate in veterinary medicine and research after completing her masters degree. She wants to combine her background in chemistry and biology to understand how changes in nutrients will affect aquatic animals at the top of the food web.
“My research is motivated purely by the eagerness to learn more. As I find new results, I ask more questions that eventually lead to more experiments or hypotheses. This keeps me excited and ready for present and future research,” says Sanders.
Edauri Navarro-Pérez is Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University, with a background in soil, root ecology, and drylands restoration. As a Polaris student, Navarro-Pérez investigated whether there were differences between emissions coming from burned and unburned areas of the tundra. Her work contributed to a body of research examining how fires are affecting chemical processes in tundra soils— specifically respiration, which emits carbon and nitrogen. For her, Polaris was an opportunity to gain experience with field methods.
“Polaris contributed a lot to my knowledge in terms of how soil science is done in the field, as well as the process of the scientific method— from developing my own question to seeing the results of my work,” Navarro-Pérez said.
From Polaris, to working as an undergraduate lab technician, to conducting research in Belize and Costa Rica, Navarro-Pérez is led by her curiosity. She is especially interested in the way soil connects to our daily lives, and how understanding the interactions between plant roots and the soil in which they’re growing can lead to a deeper understanding of climate change.
“Understanding how restoration projects can affect plant development and how plants can affect soils in the longer run, through decomposition and soil respiration, can be pertinent to environmental planning for climatic issues,” said Navarro-Pérez.
Navarro-Pérez said she feels grateful that an environmental scholarship supporting Latina and Latino students enabled her to earn her undergraduate degree. She now hopes that her future career will involve research, mentoring, and teaching, as well as exploring her research topics through art and literature which provides a different frame for examining the world around us.
Both recipients will receive funding to continue their education and pursuit of science, mentorship, and equity, encouraging a new generation of Arctic scientists working to change the world.