“I haven’t had the chance to get stuck knee-deep in the mud before.”
Hamilton summer internship funding helps give students a variety of experiences which, for Robbie Rioux ’21, includes spending some time in the mud.
This summer, Rioux is gathering data on aquatic life with the Rome Fish Hatchery, operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). In collecting fish samples and recording bird development, he travels through a series of environments, including wetland areas. He said that he enjoys the hands-on work, which has offered him new learning experiences. “I’ve worked in the field previously and I’ve done research at school, but I haven’t been out in the field doing data collection ... Being able to do this and having Hamilton support me in this is great because now I’ve done it. I can say that I’ve walked knee-deep through swamp muck and can do things like that.”
Major: Environmental studies
Hometown: Syracuse, N.Y.
High School: Corcoran High School
Rioux works within the aquatic toxicant unit at the Fish Hatchery, helping determine the effects of a recent PFAS leak into a creek near the Rome Griffiss Business & Technology Park. PFAS, a type of plastic that repels water and oil, has increasingly been acknowledged as a detrimental contaminant, inspiring the project. As an environmental studies major interested in attending graduate school, Rioux’s sustainability research helps prepare him for future scholarship.
Many of the environmental jobs that Rioux had an interest in applying to this summer were canceled due to COVID-19. Knowing about his predicament, Rioux’s Conservation Biology instructor, former Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Chris Briggs, helped Rioux get in contact with and eventually work for the Fish Hatchery. According to Rioux, because of Briggs, in the span of seven hours he went from not having an internship to committing himself to “a daily drive to Rome.”
Though Rioux had an interest in environmental science when he first started attending Hamilton, he feels that his courses at the College helped reinforce and refine that interest. “I feel like I have a strong grasp on what my interests are and what I want to do,” he said.
During his first semester at Hamilton, he took Geology of the Environment with Joel W. Johnson Family Professor of Environmental Science and Director of Environmental Studies Todd Rayne. “I loved it so much,” Rioux said. “It was the best start to my ecology/science career that I could have hoped for ... Todd’s our hydrogeologist, which I’m really into water problems, and so now I can talk about different aspects of hydrogeology and where water comes from.”
So far, Rioux has enjoyed his summer internship and anticipates completing his final year at Hamilton and continuing his occasionally muddy, environmental work after graduation.