Sean Thatcher, Biology
City University of New York: College of Staten Island
2015 Goldwater Scholar

When asked for what advice he would give to students who are struggling to find their passion, Sean Thatcher answered, “Try everything. It’s the easiest way to discover what you like.”

A senior with the Verrazano School Honors program at the College of Staten Island, Sean discovered his passion in research, and wishes to address the threats to coastal communities caused by sea level rise through his career path. A Biology major with a minor in Geology, Sean has been working with his mentor Dr. Jane Alexander in examining the Palisades Sill in North Bergen, New Jersey, and has presented this research at academic conferences. He additionally works with the Greenbelt Conservancy in Staten Island as a Development Associate.

What makes his accomplishments all the more impressive is that in 2009, Sean went swimming in a lake with his family and was badly injured after diving underwater and hitting his head, breaking three vertebra. The accident resulted in a spinal cord injury that has left him almost completely paralyzed from the neck down.

During his second semester at CSI, Sean attended one of Dr. Alexander’s Historical Geology classes and was instantly inspired, though he realized that being a quadriplegic would make fieldwork for a potential geologist challenging. “There was a steep learning curve,” said Sean, of studying from his wheelchair. “It took a lot of practice but I was lucky in that I had very accommodating professors that also didn’t let me off the hook because of my condition.” Sean has not only successfully engaged in fieldwork in his home state, but has traveled to Arizona for fieldwork experience through the International Association for Geoscience Diversity.

After being moved by the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy, Sean created a project proposal for a Coastal Management Strategy in an effort to help prevent against coastal flooding and storm surge on Staten Island. Sean is extremely grateful for the Goldwater Scholarship, which has helped him continue his research in order to prepare himself for graduate study, and he is now seeking to complete a PhD in Environmental Sciences.

While he is passionate about his research, Sean really enjoys teaching. “I really enjoy helping students with their studies and conveying my passion for research,” he says of wanting to teach at the college level. “I find it to be a very rewarding experience.”