Elle O’Brien

Class of 2012
Major/Minor: Environmental Studies

With a major in environmental studies, I like to think I’ll never have to struggle to find a job again,” said Elle O’Brien ‘12.

When she was a rising senior, Elle had a summer internship in Maine working on a project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Laudholm Trust. She studied water quality and ecological functions within the Kennebunkport River watershed.

“I always tell my parents I want a job that doesn’t require a desk,” says Elle. Working at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, a model for coastal stewardship and healthy marine ecosystems, was just that.

“This type of field research is always going to be here for me,” noted Elle, who lived on the reserve in a newly renovated barn with other interns for the summer.

Comparing the water quality of streams bounded by forest, grasses, and other vegetation with that of streams without the benefit of natural riparian buffers was her project focus. Elle was responsible for choosing the streams to be monitored, and writing the protocol for a three-year study. She managed data collection using nitrogen loggers to analyze water quality at 20 sites.

One of two Washington College students chosen for the summer internship, she also helped collect habitat and insect samples, and “electrofishes” to measure fish populations before releasing them back into the streams.

“There’s no way I would be here in Maine if I hadn’t participated in the Chesapeake Semester at Washington College,” explained Elle. “It opened so many doors for me.”

She describes the four-course semester as “a roundtable with farmers, fishermen, developers, ecologists and politicians.” The program culminates with a trip to Peru where students compare local fisheries and ecological issues to those of the Chesapeake.

“I can’t say enough about the Chesapeake Semester. It was career-changing; it tied everything together – from biology to the social and economic impact of the Bay.”

She also credits the Center for Environment & Society (CES) and Ruth Kelty, an ecologist with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science who serves as a CES Fellow, with preparing her for the internship.

For her senior thesis, Elle explored environmental issues impacting Chesapeake Bay. During her senior year, she also captained the Dance Team, taught Hip Hop, and participated in ODK, the national leadership honor society.

Campus Involvement
  • Major: Environmental Studies
  • Internships: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Laudholm Trust
  • Dance Team