Helping to determine how much carbon the wetlands can store, information that will ultimately be useful in combating damage to Earth’s ozone layer, is not your average summer job.
Arianna Efstatos is not your average summer worker. As she prepares to enter her junior year as an Environmental Science major with minors in Mathematics and Biology, the 19-year-old earned a very select internship with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Arianna is one of only seven student interns selected to work on six summer-long projects covering a diverse range of topics from sustainability to the economics and marketing of energy sources,” wrote John Giordano, assistant commissioner, Air Quality, Energy and Sustainability, in the N.J. DEP, in announcing Efstatos’ selection.
She is working on a project that focuses on carbon sequestration in the wetlands, reviewing research and using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to calculate the area of New Jersey’s wetlands and the land’s use.
“Carbon sequestration is the process by which carbon is stored in solid or liquid form on Earth’s surface. When land is disturbed for agriculture or development, carbon is released and does damage to the ozone layer and creates a ‘greenhouse effect’ on the surface by preventing ultraviolet rays from the sun from escaping,” she explained. “It is important for the health of the environment to capture carbon at the surface, in vegetation, soils, or any organic material. Retaining the carbon prevents its release into the atmosphere and negates the effects of greenhouse gases.”
Wetlands comprise nearly a quarter of the state’s total area, and “are one of, if not the most efficient land types when it comes to sequestering carbon,” Efstatos said. “Studies have shown that just one square mile of salt marsh habitat removes about 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year. This is the same amount released by a Hummer driving over two MILLION miles.”
The Egg Harbor Township, N.J. resident points out: “All around our coast and bordering lakes and rivers, we see wetlands – a great example is Forsythe Wildlife Refuge not far from Stockton’s campus. So much of it is drained and converted for other uses, but now that we are learning more about their carbon sequestering power, there are more efforts to preserve them.”
The opportunity came about as a result of a career fair she attended at the DEP headquarters in Trenton.
She credits Catherine Tredick, assistant professor of Environmental Science, with informing her of the fair, and Patrick Burns, assistant director of the Career Center, with helping her update her resume.
But making the cut came down to her credentials and drive.
“I believe there were three primary reasons I received the internship offer: my pending BS Environmental Science degree, GPA, and my minors in biology and mathematics,” she said. “They like to see students come in with experience from multiple disciplines, rather than focusing on just one area of study. Their offer made me feel as though the work I put in over the last couple of years was worth it and valuable to environmental organizations.”
When she is not doing research, she is interested in taking impromptu trips, playing the guitar and “hanging out with my friends, my brother, and my new puppy, Duke!”
Speaking of pets, she has worked for the Animal House pet store in Absecon for five years. “I have met some fantastic people there, and I view them all as friends. I also get to interact with all of the animals that come through,” she said.
She also stays involved with Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and volunteers at its annual Greek festival, where she has been known to jump into a folk dance. She joins other church members in making sandwiches for Sister Jean’s Kitchen in Atlantic City, among other service projects.
On campus, Efstatos is active in the Honors Program as well as Alpha Phi Omega, a service-oriented fraternity and has a job in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. She has been on the Dean’s List every semester and is “keeping my fingers crossed that will continue a bit longer.”
“My main focus now is staying on a path that will develop my skills in a way that allows me to improve our existing communities,” she said. “I want to change the world by helping others thrive in their own environments.
“Travel is also very important to me,” she said. “How can one expect to benefit various civilizations globally without first having a global perspective?”
She thanked her parents for being such a strong influence in her life and for providing the financial support that has allowed her not only the experience of college and campus life, but also numerous opportunities to travel independently.
“We don’t always see things eye to eye, but their guidance and encouragement have been second to none,” she said.
Being a campus resident, she has made a lot of friends. “I have been associated with great people here, who have great dreams and great aspirations,” she said. “My best friends, Alexandra and Rawan, are also here at Stockton, and they have always been available to me when I just needed to talk. The same goes for my brother, Nick.”
Another major influence in her life was her sixth-grade teacher, John Jones, at the Alder Avenue Middle School in Egg Harbor Township.
She called him “the first person to truly inspire me to love learning about our environment and sustainability. I honestly believe his passion is what influenced me to pursue this field of study. I still remember visiting and tending to the school’s outdoor garden so many years ago.”
When she arrived at the university, her preceptor, Weihong Fan, helped her navigate. “She is always available for me, and willing to give her time to helping me get through my college experience,” she said.”
Future goals include going to graduate school and getting a master’s degree, while trying out other internships to see what she enjoys most.
“In truth, I am still trying to find that one thing that drives me each and every day,” Efstatos said. “For now, I work hard because I know it will pay off in the long run. Nothing great has ever been done easily, and putting in the extra time now will give me a strong enough foundation to progress further in the future.”
Her advice for others is: “Keep pushing forward. Your path is not mapped for you, and nothing is guaranteed, so you must be open to unforeseen opportunities.”
She’s convinced that her broad range of interests is what helped her stand out from the crowd, and urges others to be prepared to take on unexpected challenges. “Life, especially one’s career, rarely follows in the initial direction you plan, so be flexible. You may just find something better,” she said.
“Stockton was a great option for me coming out of high school,” she said. “The university has given me not only financial support, but great exposure to the areas of study I am most interested in. Because of my experience at Stockton, my interest in continuing my education has gotten stronger; there is so much more to learn.”
Watch Efstatos being interviewed about her internship on the NJDEP Air Quality, Energy and Sustainability Facebook page.