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Kathy Thornton

Class of 2013
Major/Minor: Environmental Studies, History/Biology

Campus Involvement
  • Major: Environmental Studies and History
  • Minor: Biology
  • Concentration: Chesapeake Regional Studies
  • Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows
  • Summer Research 2011: The Effects of Fluoxetine on the Startle Response and Exploratory Behavior of Zebrafish
  • Phi Beta Kappa
  • Frederick Douglass Fellowship Spring 2011
  • Chesapeake Semester 2010
  • C.V. Starr Student Associate
  • Center for the Environment and Society Intern - working with CES to develop an environmental leadership program for emerging professionals in Maryland
  • Co-President of the Student Environmental Alliance
  • Habitat for Humanity

Rapa Nui: Contentious Collapse

Through the Cater Society of Junior Fellows, Kathy went to Easter Island, Chile to study the environmental history of Easter Island and the various theories and myths about the collapse. A focus on sustainability in the past and present allowed for a better understand the landscape, history, and culture in Easter Island.

Easter Island has always fascinated me. Easter Island is the keystone for environmental studies research and is the epitome of environmental collapse. Easter Island is famous, not only for the mo’ai, but also for the lost civilization that mysteriously disappeared, supposedly due to their overexploitation of the island’s resources. The concept of overexploitation is taught in our environmental studies courses and leaves a profound mark on history, too. A portion of this project inevitably explored the environmental history of Easter Island, understanding more about the mystery of Easter Island and how that civilization came to its demise, as well as exploring whether or not this civilization was sustainably minded or not. Researching and going to Easter Island allowed me to apply my liberal arts education to change my understanding of the Rapa Nui culture and place.

The Edge: History and Ecology of Coastal Maine

In May 2012, Kathy to Mt. Desert Island, Maine to study the environmental history of the island and compare it to her studies of the environmental history of the Chesapeake.

Specifically, I wanted to understand the community ecology of Mount Desert Island itself, as well as draw connections of the environment back to the Chesapeake Bay, hoping that this would give me a new perspective on the Chesapeake Bay area. I also wanted to see how coastal Maine was impacted by or reflected in the culture and history of area. At the beginning of this project, I knew very little of Mount Desert Island, nothing more than a quick Wikipedia search or a slideshow of pictures from previous course trips. However, I did know that any area has a unique history, environmentally and demographically, and regardless of that history, it will have been influenced by the surrounding environment.

So many people ask me why history is important and how the environment and history relate to each other. To me, the connection seems so clear. The past is what makes the present significant and to understand where we are now, we need to understand where and what we came from. The environment is what drives people’s actions and people’s actions, likewise, leave traces in the land and water. This trip was an amazing experience and I learned so much about the environmental history and its traces in the land. Walking around, I could see the glacial grooves and valleys, striations in the rock, and remnants of old cottages that were destroyed by fire and overgrown with plants reclaiming their rightful territory. I could see the evidence of environmental and human induced history and to be able to place them in context together was really a great opportunity.

The Effects of Fluoxetine on Zebrafish

In March 2012, Kathy traveled to San Francisco, California to present her research on the effects of fluoxetine on the behavior of zebrafish at the 51st Annual Meeting of the Society of Toxicology.

This past spring break, I had a wonderful opportunity to present my 2011 summer research at the 51st Annual Meeting for the Society of Toxicology in San Francisco, California. As a freshman, I was lucky enough to be accepted as a Hodson Science Fellow, which insured me a summer internship in a science. As a result, from May to August 2011, I worked with Dr. Martin Connaughton studying the effects of Prozac on the startle behavior and exploratory behavior of zebrafish. The experimental process itself was completely transforming and I learning so much about questioning what I saw and developing a solution to the many problems that arose. My experience continued, however, when our abstract was accepted by the Society of Toxicology and we were scheduled to give a poster session. I had never been to a conference before and I was a little anxious because toxicology was not really my field of study, although our study had a connection to environmental toxicology. With our abstract accepted, the Cater Society made my trip to San Francisco possible. My goals for this presentation were to expand my presentation skills and my knowledge about the field of toxicology as well as to get ideas for how I can expand this research and perhaps draw stronger conclusions. We talked to a wide variety of people at the presentation, from students to toxicology experts, and we received a lot of great advice for zebrafish care and questions that triggered new experimental ideas. It was such a great experience to be able to talk to so many scientists who had come together to learn about each other’s research and to ask questions, instead of just analyzing and critiquing each other’s answers. My main fear was that our study would be criticized because our data was not very strong and I was an undergraduate in Environmental Studies and History, but I quickly found that all my researching the past summer and fall had really taught me a lot about the Prozac compound, zebrafish physiology and behavior, and the toxicological ramifications for the fish and the environment. This was my first grant through the Cater Society and it is an experience that I will forever draw upon as a wonderful learning experience and discovery. It really opened my eyes to the state of the field of toxicology and the fact that even an interdisciplinary liberal arts education can contribute to a heavily scientific field.

Areas Of Interest

  • Environmental Science, Marine Biology, American Studies, Anthropology, American History, Environmental History, Enviornmental Restoration

Favorite Activites

Photography, reading, kayaking, hiking, running


Chesapeake Semester (Fall 2010)

Q & A

Hometown and High School? Clarksville, MD/River Hill High School