What They Learned: Sophie Drew ’19

The double major used both her theses in biology and Spanish to address environmental concerns.

A double major in biology and Spanish may sound like a balancing act between disparate interests, but Sophie Drew ‘19 unites these two fields through a common interest in ecological activism.

Drew’s biology thesis, which she wrote for her major at Bryn Mawr, “Everything but the carbon sink: Cessation of N enrichment allows for rapid recovery of carbon cycling processes in a New England salt marsh,” is the culmination of two summers of research with the TIDE project in Rowley, Massachusetts. While working with TIDE, Drew attempted to locate the long-term effects of nitrate-enrichment on the carbon cycle in salt marshes.

The driving force of the TIDE project is a concern over humanity’s impact on natural environments, an anxiety that is echoed by the basis of Drew’s Spanish thesis, titled “El laberinto contaminado: El cambio climático y el futuro distópico de Homero Aridjis.”

My junior year I took Graciela’s Green Latin America class, and we read ¿En quién piensas cuando haces el amor?, an eco-dystopian novel by Mexican author and environmental activist Homero Aridjis,” Drew said. “When we were asked to brainstorm possible thesis topics in senior seminar, the novel resurfaced in my mind. I found out that the book had a ‘twin,’ called La leyenda de los soles, and decided I would write about how these two novels communicate climate change and environmental disaster.”

Both Drew’s theses attempt to take a crucial step forward in their respective fields through a recognition and a confrontation of the issue of climate change. Though the discussion is one regularly had in the field of biology, Drew notes an asymmetry when it comes to literary and language studies.

“There is not a whole lot written about Homero Aridjis’ novels, especially from an ecocritical perspective,” she observed. “Its odd given how prominent a figure he is in the world of environmental activism.”

Drew’s theses’ in Spanish and biology both propose reinvigorating ways to both view and restore the world we inhabit.

What did you learn from working on your thesis? What is your biggest takeaway from the project?

Both theses forced me to learn new skills on the fly, whether it was rewiring a frighteningly expensive piece of field equipment or expressing my thoughts on postmodernist theory in Spanish. I learned the value of “fake it ’til you make it”, and the value of reaching out for guidance when I needed it.

What are the implications for your thesis research? 

My bio research is part of the first major experiment looking at carbon cycling recovery in salt marshes after nitrogen enrichment. The results were promising, and there’s a lot more work to be done to determine whether the recovery we saw is lasting and sufficient to restore carbon sink function in threatened salt marshes.

What are your plans for the future and does your thesis have anything to do helping to guide your future career path?

This summer I have a remote sensing and plant physiology research internship at the Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island. After that I’ll start a job as a lab technician in a soil biogeochemistry lab at Virginia Tech. I’ll be working in an agricultural system rather than a marsh, but the fieldwork skills I’ve developed will transfer well. The process of writing both theses also strengthened my written and oral communication skills, which I’ll definitely need in the future.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.