Environmental Research, Public Policy… and A Whole Lot of Spiders

Gifts to the Dartmouth College Fund help make great things happen for our students. Here is one of their stories.

Hanna Bliska ’20 is an environmental studies major from Setauket, New York. She participated in a summer research project in Greenland under the tutelage of Lauren Culler, research assistant professor of Environmental Studies, and Ross Virginia, director of the Institute of Arctic Studies. As a student in the Policy Research Shop at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center, Hanna has co-presented a research paper to the Vermont legislature on treating opioid-addicted prisoners incarcerated by the state.

The community here is what drew me to Dartmouth. Everyone was passionate about academics, but also very welcoming. The professors make a real effort to be available and provide support for their students.

I was paired with Professor Ross Virginia through the Women in Science Project and have been working in his lab since my freshman winter. Working with Professor Virginia and his colleague, Professor Lauren Culler, made it possible for me to study in Greenland this summer.

Greenland was an amazing experience. The ecosystem is so boiled down that there are just a few organisms that can live in that environment. We studied spiders to see how seasonal changes drive population dynamics. We looked at how the mosquito population affected the spider population. What happens when one population booms? If temperature and climate change happen, which habitats are going to change, and which species will be impacted? I'm going to be participating in this same study next year as part of a presidential scholar’s project. You have to love spiders, though. I've become fascinated by them and I think they’re so cool. But when I tell my friends that I'm looking at spiders in my research, they get freaked out.

I have also worked with the Policy Research Shop at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center and had the opportunity to present a paper to the Vermont legislature on medication-assisted treatment for incarcerated individuals. It looked at the opioid epidemic and how it has impacted the treatment of addicted individuals who enter the system.

During the research for our report we were emailing and cold calling state representatives and people who work in the incarceration system, asking for information. I was thinking, “I'm going to call this important person and I need to be prepared because I don't want to waste their time.”

Putting yourself out there and being vulnerable goes hand-in-hand with leadership, and I have definitely stepped outside my comfort zone at Dartmouth. The school helps cultivate that a lot.

My parents ask me what my next step is after graduation. I want to work for a few years before I go to graduate or law school. I've always wanted to be a scientist, so I think research might be the path I take. But no matter where I end up, a background in policy is really helpful, especially along with having a good understanding of environmental law.

I feel well prepared, and after I graduate I think I'll be able to figure it out.