Isabella Feldmann: Never a Dull Day in the River

April 7, 2023
Isabella looking at the tropical land behind her. There is a large waterfall in the distance.

What year are you in school and what are you studying? 
I am in my first year of the accelerated masters program majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology and minoring in Marine Science.

How have you been involved in the environmental world both on and off campus? 
I am an intern with the Sonoran Institute through an on-campus program called Earth Grant. Earth Grant has amazing professional development opportunities in the environmental field that allows me to broaden my experiences in the industry. I am also in the middle of my master’s thesis which is looking at marine microorganisms out of the Amazon River Plume. I’m studying how they use organic phosphorus versus manmade inorganic phosphorus as an energy source. As far as other campus involvements, I used to be a member of Students for Sustainability. Outside of school, I am always hiking with my trash bag to help clean up our community’s environment! One of my favorite hobbies is running a small Etsy business where I repurpose items like silverware and stones I find on my travels into beautiful jewelry. You can check out my shop through this link.

Can you tell us about your internship experience through AIR’s Earth Grant Program?
I am working with the Sonoran Institute’s Santa Cruz River Programas a Trash Analysis Intern. In this role, I lead field research for an ongoing study of trash in the Santa Cruz River, and contribute to and maintain the study’s database. I absolutely love working at the Sonoran Institute because it's given me real-world experience as an intense STEM major, with a strong passion for environmental research. It made me realize how passionate I am about conducting work in the field and not just studying at my desk. I work with awesome people including a fellow Earth Grant student, KyeongHee, who has taught me how to manage data with coding, something I do not learn hands-on in school. My mentor, Luke, has allowed me to broaden my work duties to explore different areas of the institute. I have even made stickers and flyers for our program! Earth Grant itself is a great experience and I highly recommend those interested in environmental work to apply for the program. 

How would you inspire others to get involved with the environment? 
I would say to get outside and see more places! Go explore different environments and especially different cultures, the way that many different communities live and respect the environment provides such a large love for the land. It gives you a lot more appreciation for the world as a whole. For me, traveling has given me the perspective of how small humans are compared to our beautiful world. It made me realize how short of a time we (as humans) have been here compared to nature. I love learning about the history behind natural features and would like to preserve their stories for others to have a similar experience in the future. The world is absolutely fascinating! 

What has been your favorite environment-related experience at UArizona?
I would say the Earth Grant Program as a whole! It has been super impactful to see everyone's different environmental passions reflected in the work they are doing as interns. My favorite green course I have taken at our school is Oceanography. It was actually the first environmentally-related class I took and it holds a special place in my heart! This was the first class I took after transitioning to a minor in marine sciences, and it made me feel extremely empowered in my field and reaffirmed that I took the correct path.

What is the most exciting or funniest moment you've had while working in the field?
There is not a specific moment that comes to mind but everytime we go in the field to collect and analyze trash we have a lot of fun even though seeing so much litter in our environment is sad. We keep a good attitude by making up stories behind cool trash found by the river. It ends up being really funny. My favorite thing I found was actually the bottom of a cup engraved from 1931! I think it’s cool that I found something so old that is still around. There’s literally never a dull day down in the river! 

If you could give your younger self advice, what would you say?
Well, I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was little but left that dream behind when I first started college to pursue medical research. If I was talking to my younger self, I would tell her that environmental research is just as important as medicinal research, and a lot more intertwined than you would originally think! There are not a lot of people in my major who are interested in the environmental industry, so studying both gives me a unique perspective on the Earth’s contributions to research and sciences. One lab I have been following for a while shows how marine algae derivatives are used for cancer treatments and can replace a lot of pharmaceutical medicines that humans have developed intolerances and allergies to, such as Penicillin. 

I highly recommend that students take a course that they find very interesting that is outside their major, whether a general education, or just a filler class! I am following my childhood dreams and my most recent passions just because I decided to be adventurous and take Oceanography at UArizona. You never know the intersections of your passions until you experience them first!