Undergraduate Research and Creativity Alumni Profiles 

Stan Skotnicki, B.S. ’05

New York State Master Teacher
Major(s): Earth Science Education

What research or work have you done since graduating from Buffalo State?

It took a few years getting comfortable in my position as a teacher before I started to pursue additional research that would enhance my career and my own personal passion for working in the field. After looking around I found a program called PolarTREC, which takes school teachers and links them with scientists and assists them with their current fieldwork assignments. The first expedition lasted for seven weeks in the summer of 2015. I was paired with Mike Loranty, Ph.D., from Colgate University to study the vegetation impacts on Permafrost in the Arctic regions in Northern Alaska. We travelled from Fairbanks, AK all the way up to Prudhoe Bay taking samples at various field sites along the way. The following summer I travelled to Cherskiy, Russia in Northeastern Siberia to collect similar data at field sites along the Kolyma river.

Can you translate your work for the general public?

The goal of the project was to understand how varying terrestrial ecosystems are influencing permafrost temperatures. There are places in the Arctic where climate is warming but the permafrost temperatures are stable, while at other places permafrost temperatures are rising rapidly with climate. Soil and vegetation that sit on top of permafrost can either promote heat transfer or act as insulators. Our project uses field measurements at research sites throughout Alaska and Siberia to identify broad trends in relationships between ecosystems and permafrost temperature dynamics. At research sites in Siberia we took detailed measurements to identify the processes responsible for these trends. This work will help to understand the effects of Arctic vegetation change on permafrost temperatures.

Why did you decide to get involved in undergraduate research?

My passion for the natural world came early as my father—a true outdoorsman—took every opportunity to point out details of birds and identify their songs while we hiked and backpacked through the woods. We also stopped to notice the different rock types and changing forests. An avid fisherman, my father took me up streams looking for features that supported trout holding patterns and encouraged me to notice the hatch patterns as we prepared our fly rods for the day. Back then I was just anxious to get to the stream and fish, but in hindsight I appreciate the impact on these experiences had my career. It turns out that I was learning the basics of fluvial hydrology, recognizing cut banks, sandbars, rock types, stream velocity, and a stable ecosystem.

When I decided to go back to college for teaching, I realized how much my past experiences fueled my passion for field research. Entering Buffalo State College at a non-traditional age I took full advantage of the experience and excelled in the geosciences, especially when it came to field work--seeing and doing science in its most natural form. I filled my course schedule with courses that had opportunities for field excursions. This lead to an undergraduate field research project about the metamorphic strain at the Hooper Garnet Mine in the southeastern Adirondacks that gained national recognition from the Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR). Professor Dr. Gary Solar and I travelled to Washington D.C. to lobby for the importance of research at that level and presented the research on capitol hill and at a Geological Society of America (GSA) conference in 2005, Albany.

How did your undergraduate research experience influence your career path?

Having the opportunity to work closely with professors at Buffalo State helped me realize the importance of fieldwork to the scientific ideas and gave me the confidence to apply to teacher/researcher programs like PolarTREC. PolarTREC links teachers with field researchers to help them conduct current scientific studies. In particular, I spent two summers in Alaska and Siberia studying how vegetation impacts the permafrost regions in the high Arctic. I shared this experience with all of my students and other educators through online journals, videos, lesson plans, and live webinars from the field. Upon returning to the classroom, I created labs and activities based on the data collected from the field and shared these with other educators. In addition, the skills I learned writing abstracts, preparing posters, and presenting to larger audiences as an undergraduate made teaching and presenting less intimidating, allowing me to enjoy the experience.

Working in the field again after teaching for many years allowed me to see how the science we teach in middle and high school directly transfers to real life scientific problems. For example, while in the field, we used metric rulers and tape measures to mark off field areas and measure volume of soil samples. We used triple beam and electronic balances to gain the mass and calculate bulk density using the same formulas we do in eighth grade science. Having this knowledge and being able to share it with my students directly is very powerful.

Describe the research you did and if you presented it at any professional conference, juried art exhibit, or other off-campus location.

I presented my undergraduate research project to the CUR celebration in Washington, D.C. to an audience of undergraduate participants from across the country. In addition, I also travelled to the Geological Society of America (GSA) conference in Albany, NY the following year. The title and focus of our research was "An analysis of petrofabric variations in mettagabbro of the abandoned Hooper Garnet mine in southeastern Adirondacks". To conduct this research, I spent many hours in the field collecting data to map detailed structural geology features such as strike and dip, lineation, and garnet crystal size and growth to determine the type of strain projected on the area.

Undergraduate Research Mentor: Dr. Gary Solar