Studying wetland systems, you see how connected we all are to water, whether it’s the family taking their kids to the beach or the New England fishermen whose livelihood depends on the oceans. Then you quickly realize how many people globally lack access to clean water.
High schoolCohasset High School, Cohasset, MA, 2011
Ashley Howard spent most of her childhood in Fort Collins, Colorado, where rock climbing excursions and field trips to the Rockies cultivated in her a love for the dramatic landscape of the Mountain West. Upon moving from landlocked Fort Collins to coastal Cohasset, Massachusetts in the 8th grade, however, she quickly developed a deep love for the ocean and an interest in coastal sciences.
Like a number of other Thoreau Scholars, Ashley spent several years working at the Center for Student Coastal Research in Cohasset, where she analyzed the health of area wetlands, eventually becoming a student lab manager by the summer after her freshman year of college. Since then, she has conducted research in such varied places as the Camp Davis Field Station in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Biogeochemistry and Environmental Isotope Geochemistry Lab at the University of Michigan. “Studying wetland systems, you see how connected we all are to water, whether it’s the family taking their kids to the beach or the New England fishermen whose livelihood depends on the oceans. Then you quickly realize how many people globally lack access to clean water.”
Insights like these led Ashley to an academic focus on groundwater and its connection to public health. Next stop after college? The School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, where she will study water quality while pursuing an M.S. in Environmental Health Science. “I’m driven by the human aspects of groundwater quality. Most of my coursework to this point has been focused on the hard sciences. Now I want to learn more about the human connection to the science.”
Ashley points to her parents as a major source of inspiration for her intellectual curiosity and idealism. “My dad loves learning. He went back to school at age 45 to earn a Ph.D. simply because he wanted to. He’s instilled that value in me. My mom runs a nonprofit, which is where I get my desire to help people.” These are qualities she has found in abundance among her fellow Thoreau Scholars. “We are all tied together by our love for the environment…for learning about its systems and our passion for protecting and restoring those systems. But there’s a huge range in the way we approach our work, whether it’s photography or field science or sustainable business or advocacy. It’s really stimulating to be part of that kind of network.”
Becoming a Thoreau Scholar has felt to Ashley like an extension of her family. “My parents absolutely love attending the annual Scholars reception at the Museum of Science in Boston. They look forward to it all year long. We are constantly amazed at what the other Thoreau Scholars and alumni are doing. It’s a real source of inspiration.”
Ashley dives off of South Caicos in the Turks and Caicos Islands as a part of a field study at the School for Field Studies, Center for Marine Resource Studies.
Ashley catches and measures fish as while conducting an analysis of river ecosystems in the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.