Stephanie Gibson (Class of 2022)

photo of Stephanie Gibson

  • sophomore major in Environmental Earth Science, with a Sustainability co-major
  • from Hamilton, OH
  • spent 3+ weeks in Zambia collecting and analyzing water samples to better understand risks to drinking water quality (Summer 2019)
  • discovered nshima, a food staple common throughout many African countries
"I recommend students to jump on a study abroad experience, especially if it pertains to what you would want to do with your life. My trip gave me a special experience that a classroom setting cannot, and I would highly recommend students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities whenever they can."

Why Miami?

"I have a big Miami family. My mom works here, and my sister is an alumna. Since I was younger I always loved the campus, so Miami was actually the only school that I applied to when I did early decision. Because I can commute from home in Hamilton, it's been an easy transition. Even though I haven't lived on campus, I quickly made some friends and have experienced a bit of the dorm life!

"I've always been a sort of tree-hugger, and I loved being outside as a kid. I get angry at the terrible things that are happening to the environment. No one believes this story, but I've wanted to be an environmental scientist ever since I took a career placement exam in 8th grade. It told me that environmental scientist was my ideal career path. Later, my high school chemistry teacher suggested that I consider working for an oil company to find ways for them to be greener and more sustainable.

"My mom always used to tell me I was going to save the world one day, and I've been on that environmental science path ever since. I also just added my co-major in sustainability this past spring, when I was looking into my study abroad experience in Zambia."

Best Miami Experiences

Stephanie Gibson and project teammates in Zambia

"Having just completed my freshman year, two faculty members immediately spring to mind for the impact they've had on me so far. One is geology instructor Tracy Eads, who taught my Environmental Geology [GLG 121] class, and we really hit it off. She's actually the mom of one of my friends in high school!

"The other faculty member is Jonathan Levy, associate professor of geology and environmental earth science and director of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IES). Dr. Levy really encouraged me to go to Zambia this summer with him and a group of other students to work with local government and university officials in Lusaka and Kabwe on water quality assessments and other environmental projects. It was an opportunity of a lifetime and a fantastic way to cap my freshman year at Miami. This is especially true since not many freshmen do study abroad.

"As my first experience in a foreign country, the Zambia trip made me realize that my work there was something I could do for the rest of my life. I could see myself traveling around the world to do research that helps improve people's lives. This was a big deal for me, and I could see myself doing more of the kind of fieldwork that I did in Zambia or even working at a company to make it more sustainable. Right now, however, I love working directly in the community, which is what we did on this trip."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

Selfie of Stephanie Gibson and friend at their first Miami Hockey game

"The biggest advantage of the liberal arts that I've experienced so far is being able to focus on not just one subject but on many. For my environmental earth science major, I'm learning biology, chemistry, geology, and geography — all these different sciences coming together for one major. They all work hand-in-hand, and I think it's a great concept of education. Combined with my sustainability co-major, it really makes you consider the past, present, and future.

"After one year in Miami I've become much more independent than I thought I could be. While I have the help of an advisor, choosing my own classes to go with my major and other classes that interest me has given me the freedom to set my own goals. I love the ability to pursue what I've always wanted to study, which is why the liberal arts is so important to me."

Improving Clean Water Accessibility in Zambia

"In Zambia this summer, I joined Dr. Levy and 11 other Miami students to work for three weeks with the University of Zambia (UNZA), the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) and the Zambia Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) to collect and analyze water samples.

"I first learned of the trip when Dr. Levy visited my intro geology class to give a video presentation about his past trips to Zambia, and they sounded amazing. At the time, the farthest I'd ever been away from home was Florida. I met with Dr. Levy multiple times with many questions, and he put my mind at ease. Our group received a lot of field experience by helping him collect samples needed for his ongoing research. Everyone was incredibly supportive and responsive.

Stephanie Gibson poses beside the water filtration system that was part of her project in Lusaka, Zambia.

"We collected water samples from different communities around the cities of Lusaka and Kabwe and tested them for bacteria and nitrates. Zambian water trust communities then used this information to try to fix what's wrong with their water and educate the public. We also collected soil samples where there was a lot of waste from the copper mines. We even tested the air quality, which has a high concentration of particles that contain lead. Much of the pollution comes from the mines, but the country's waste management systems in the highly populated areas are not well maintained.

"We obtained water samples from shallow wells inside homes or from boreholes. Boreholes were usually cleaner than the shallow wells; some shallow wells did not have any sort of covering to keep their water supply clean. Drinking water was often separate from water used for washing and plants and so on, but in some cases the local people were using their shallow well water for everything.

"We spent much of our time in the urban area of Lusaka and would visit communities that were about 10-15 minutes away. Kabwe was a smaller city that was a 2-hour drive north of Lusaka. In both cities, we stayed in a hostel along with a bunch of other groups from places like Scotland and Australia.

"One local staple I ate for the first time was a dish called nshima (also known as ugali), which looks like a mound of mashed potatoes but a lot stickier. It's made from ground cornmeal, and people would pinch off a portion, roll it in their hands, and use it to pick up other food. We were treated to some Zambian feasts that featured plenty of nshima, which was eaten together with collard greens, goat stew, and other foods. It's really filling and goes well with flavorful, spicy dishes. You would see nshima everywhere — even near the street, where people would be making it in huge quantities.

"I don't think I personally experienced any culture shock in Zambia, but since my trip I view things here in the U.S. much differently. For one thing, I realize that I'm well off and have more things than I need. I'm no longer using my phone as much, and I've actually been going outside more often and even enjoy driving now!"

Advice to Students

"I recommend students to jump on a study abroad experience, especially if it pertains to what you would want to do with your life. My trip gave me a special experience that a classroom setting cannot, and I would highly recommend students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities whenever they can.

"Expect to do a lot of hard but fun work on these kinds of trips. You'll learn to look at things from outside the box. Seeing things from a completely different perspective can be quite effective, and I'd go back and do it all over again!"

[July 2019]