By Ben Murray
This week, the Graduate School met with Geology PhD student, Stephanie Wong, to talk about her recent research and accomplishments. Last month, Stephanie became one of four people selected for the Farvolden Award. This accolade is presented to students whose presentation or poster stood out at the annual NGWA Groundwater Summit. Interestingly enough, winning the award is nothing new for Stephanie. She’s won it twice before! As a recipient of the award, she will receive recognition from sponsoring employers, a $1,000 scholarship, and most importantly: bragging rights.
Stephanie’s journey to Baylor is certainly unique. A native Canadian, she attended Carlton University in Ottowa where she earned a degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Geology. Eager to learn more about the subject, she began searching for graduate programs, hoping to find a Christian school where faculty were conducting relevant research. However, narrowing down the options was no simple task. So, she did what anyone would do in that situation. She consulted a higher power, an all-knowing entity that can answer the deepest questions at a moment’s notice. She got on Google. Actually, her dad got on Google; and after seeing Baylor’s Geological research, she decided it was the place for her.
Stephanie’s work at Baylor has been primarily focused on the Edwards Aquifer (for those that don’t know, an aquifer is a body of permeable rock that can contain or transmit ground water) which begins in Bell County and follows the I-35 arc all the way to San Antonio. The origin of her geological research stems from an unexpected topic: salamanders. According to her, there was a petition several years ago for the government to classify a native species of salamander as endangered, meaning that commercial development in the northern area of the Edwards Aquifer would be impeded. The salamanders are aquatic, which provided an opportunity for water research in the area. Although she and her colleagues weren’t biologists, they were able to begin conducting research. This allowed her to learn a great deal about the ground water in the Salado area where a group of springs are vital to the salamanders’ survival. For her presentation, Wong studied how natural radon can be used as a tool to understand groundwater flow. They were able to discover the direction of groundwater flow as well as the chemicals and substances present in the aquifer.
Thanks to her work, inhabitants of Salado were able to prove to the government that the salamanders were being properly monitored and also learn more about the water supply upon which the salamanders and human inhabitants are so dependent. Although, Stephanie will finish her program in the next year, she says there is ample opportunity for future research in the area as well as a variety of directions the project could take. Upon graduation, Stephanie could see herself working in a state/government agency or a local management entity. In her time off, Stephanie enjoys exploring Waco’s local shops and restaurants, hanging out with friends, and getting involved with her local church.