Samantha Sullivan – Water Pollution Biologist

Samantha SullivanThis is an interview with an amazing person that’s great at her job, Samantha Sullivan. My family and I had the pleasure of meeting her on a hot summer day in a river. Samantha and the Clarion University biology research team taught us how to find, tag, and check their health and sex, and release hellbenders back into the wild. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot from this experience.

Where do you work and reside?

– Department of Environmental Protection; Oil and Gas Program and Wampum, PA in Beaver County.


What is your educational background?

-I graduated from Allegheny Clarion Valley in 2009 and received my bachelor’s in Biology at Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 2013.


What was your life like growing up?

– I grew up in Clarion County in the little town of Turkey City. I was and still am very close to my family. A lot of our hobbies growing up revolved around the outdoors (i.e. fishing, hunting, and camping). Growing up I spent most of my time outside playing in the stream/woods behind our house, walking around the neighborhood with friends, cruising around on a four-wheeler, and spending the summer months at our family camp down along the Clarion River.


Did you have a nickname? If so, how did it come about?

-My nickname is really just a name derived from my first name: Sammy


What are you currently reading? Why?

-I am currently reading the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. In the past few years my fiancé and I have gotten into hiking. Specifically, backcountry/through hiking. Where we pack up all our gear and our dogs and hike X amount of miles until we find a place to set up camp. Our escape from reality. This book is a documentary of a girl that walked the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile trail reaching from Mexico to Canada. Someday I hope to be able to find the time to do a thru-hike such as the Pacific Crest Trail and or the Appalachian Trail on the eastern coast.


What are you curious about or exploring in your field of expertise at the moment?

– Pre and post stream evaluations in areas of industry stream crossings. Studying the affect the crossings have on the overall ecosystem/biodiversity of the stream.

– Macroinvertebrate and Amphibian research.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your profession?

– Desire to learn new things and the ability to express the skills you have. Learning never ends. You may think that you get your degree and that’s enough knowledge to get you through, but, every day you need to learn new things and know when to use that learned knowledge. The environmental field is a complex field that has many areas of expertise. Throughout schooling you will get a hint of each spectrum that you can focus on in higher academics and or in a future career. But, there will always be opportunities for further training and additional knowledge. Here at DEP, I may work under Oil and Gas, but I am constantly exposed to other programs, agencies, and complicated project proposals. Where I need to be able to research and enforce new environmental regulations or simply learn new plant identifications to correctly classify a resource.


What advise you to offer to parents who want to help their children get involved with the natural world?

– Get them off their phone/ tablets and out exploring. Buy them wildlife/plant identification books and have them go out and see what they can find/id (may be a fun learning experience for the parent as well!). Look into volunteering opportunities. Educational trainings/presentations put on by local agencies (DCNR: guided hikes) and colleges. Earth day trash pick-up or planting trees/flowers in the spring. Anything that gets their hands dirty.


To what teams and/or clubs did you encourage students to join?

– Wildlife Society

– Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts


Is there a daily routine you enjoy?

– Walking the dogs

– Field site visits at work to identify streams and wetlands.


How do you integrate technology in your profession?

– Computer information systems: Microsoft Office is used constantly in my profession. Emails for communications, Excel for keeping up to date spreadsheets, Word to produce acknowledgement letters for approved permits.

– GIS/Google mapping allows me to review aerial imagery for potential resources within a projects boundaries.

– Water quality meters allow me to conduct in the field stream readings to evaluate the quality of the stream.


How do you disconnect from technology?

– Hiking


What advice would you offer nature-lovers who live in large cities?

– Go explore your local park. Look for environmental base groups that you can join.


What advice would you offer nature-lovers who live in rural areas?

–  Find some local trails and go hiking. Get you license and go fishing. Turn off your TV/phone and just sit outside and enjoy your surroundings.


Are there specific wildlife or science clubs you find interesting? Why?

– Pennsylvania Chapter of the Wildlife Society. I became a part of this society at Clarion University and actually was able to present our research on chytrid fungus in salamanders during their 2013 conference. The society is a good way to keep up to date with current research and status of the wildlife in our home state.


What could a visitor expect to see when they come to visit you at work?

-Depends on if we I’m in the field or in the office. In the field we would most likely be out walking through undeveloped areas verifying an applicant’s permit application. Either that be by determining the presence vs. absence of a stream channel, delineating a wetland by determining the presence of hydric soils, hydrophilic vegetation, and hydrology, and or working with compliance to fix an environmental impact. As for in the office you would be seeing lots of paperwork, reviewing permit applications, constructing approval documents, email chains, and data entry.


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