Matthew Wright ‘23 working with Dr. Ravi Darwin Sankar

Since 2014, Longwood students apply for and are selected for the PRISM paid summer research program. For eight weeks during the summer, these talented and ambitious students engage in intensive research and study alongside a faculty mentor to complete a research project. PRISM alumni have gone on to careers in medical research, academia, and private business in the STEM fields.

This year we are catching up with the students who are engaged in PRISM research to highlight their work. Matthew Wright ‘23, of Cumberland, is working with Dr. Ravi Darwin Sankar, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Geography, on studying shoreline changes at the Gerald L. Baliles Center for Environmental Science at Hull Springs Farm.

How is the shoreline at the Baliles Center changing?

Change is definitely happening, and it’s because of a number of factors. Storms are getting stronger, the sea level is rising, and parts of Virginia are sinking. Those things and more are all creating a changing situation at the shoreline near the Chesapeake Bay. Longwood students and faculty installed a living shoreline at the Baliles Center more than a decade ago, so we are looking at the long-term evolution of the shoreline there.

How are you studying change over that long a period of time?

We’re analyzing really high resolution satellite imagery, the same kind that the United States Geological Society uses to for all their GIS needs. There’s a lot of data that we can compare over time and draw conclusions from that.

What’s a typical day for you in the lab?

It’s a lot of data analysis. That was really a surprising thing for me when I started this research in geomorphology – the amount of time spent in front of the computer. It’s actually a really nice balance between field work and data analysis.

What is geomorphology?

It’s essentially the study of landscape change over time. Geomorphologists combine satellite imagery with field-based data to come up with conclusions about how landforms are changing. That’s why we are looking so focused at the coastline at the Baliles Center.

What do you hope to accomplish with this research?

We’re hoping the results of the research will be useful to both Longwood and Westmoreland County, where the Baliles Center is located, so we can investigate ways to combat significant sediment transport over the coming years.

Did you have this area of geology in mind when you came to Longwood?

Honestly, I never thought that I would do something like this when I came to college. I thought I’d just do my coursework and graduate with a degree, but when I found out about the opportunity to research through PRISM, I decided to try it. I think it’s really beneficial to me because it’s furthered my interest in geomorphology and has opened up other career paths that I might want to pursue. It really isn’t something I ever thought I would do, but here I am doing it.

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