[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trmkutPIheU[/youtube]Sean Thatcher, a senior with the Verrazano School Honors program at the College of Staten Island (CSI) was recently named a 2015 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, one of only 300 students nationwide to earn this prestigious distinction.

A Biology major with Geology minor, Sean has been working with Dr. Jane Alexander in examining the Palisades Sill in North Bergen, New Jersey as well as with the Greenbelt Conservancy as a Development Associate.

Sean was introduced to the Goldwater Scholarship program when he attended a Career and Scholarship workshop led by Michele Galati, who eventually nominated Sean for the Scholarship due to his impressive GPA, excellence in the STEM fields and ambition for research, which was validated by his project proposal for a Coastal Management Strategy in an effort to help prevent against coastal flooding on Staten Island as a result of storms and future sea level rise.

What makes Sean Thatcher’s accomplishments all the more impressive is that in 2009 he had an accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury that has left him almost completely paralyzed from the neck down.

Just after completing his freshman year at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, Sean went swimming in a lake with his family and was badly injured after diving underwater and hitting his head, breaking three vertebra. After two years of therapy, Sean decided it was time to return to school so he enrolled at CSI for the convenience—Sean is a Staten Island native—but soon realized that CSI had given him the tools to do exactly what he wanted to do.

During his second semester at CSI, Sean attended one of Dr. Alexander’s Historical Geology classes and was instantly hooked, 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.” This was made the most apparent during Dr. Alexander’s classes’ field trips to the Palisades Sill where Sean was given “different types of work to accomplish, but never easier.”

Sean became an efficient manager of data that the other students collected. He collected the notes and collated them making them simpler and easier to understand.

Sean has presented research on the Palisades Sill at the Geological Society of America (GSA) Conference in 2014 and 2015, and the research team he is currently a part of is investigating a mineral discovered in the metamorphosed rocks, called smoky quartz, which may have broad-reaching implications on the understanding of how the Sill altered the chemistry of the preexisting rocks millions of years ago. The presentation of the results for the smoky quartz research took place on April 30 at the CSI’s Annual Undergraduate Conference on Research, Scholarship, and Performance.

Along with his work with the Palisades Sill, Sean is also working with the Greenbelt Conservancy, a not-for-profit, whose mission it is to “promote, sustain and enhance Staten Island’s 2,800-acre Greenbelt through education, recreation, conservation and research.”

Sean wants to use the Goldwater Scholarship to help him continue his research and seek 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.”

Sean will spend his upcoming summer working with CUNY Pipeline along with Dr. Jane Alexander. During the six week program he will be participating in GRE prep courses, take part in research seminars and will start an independent project which he will present at the CUNY Graduate Center during the Spring Semester.

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

The Goldwater Scholarship was established by the United States Congress in 1986 and is the premiere federally funded undergraduate award of its type. It is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers and PhDs in the sciences, engineering, mathematics, computer science and related fields.