Student Research Coordinator, Population Studies Center
The University of Pennsylvania, Master of Science in Applied Geosciences ‘19—expected
Hanover College, Bachelor of Arts in Geology and Earth Science ‘17
“Geology is not just local but global,” says Esther Arthur, an engineering geology student in Penn’s Master of Science in Applied Geosciences. “One thing that happens on one side of the earth affects everything around it.” For Esther’s research, that principle applies to more than just the long-term effects of volcanic upheavals or climate change: her master’s thesis research takes her to one of the world’s largest dump sites for electronic waste, which is located in her native country of Ghana.
When industrialized countries including the United States export their e-waste to Ghana after usable metals and electronics are salvaged the rest is burned, releasing chemicals that leach into the ground and contaminate nearby water sources. Esther’s capstone project involves collecting and analyzing samples of soil and ash and comparing sample toxicity to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended levels, followed by suggesting steps to mitigate damage or clean up the site. Although Esther envisions a long-term career in waste management to contribute to Ghana’s environmental health—“That’s the dream!” she says—she plans to augment her geosciences education with more field experience, as well as business courses to help shape economically and environmentally sustainable waste management solutions. “Geoscience is more than just rocks,” she adds. “It’s engineering, it’s a lot of math and statistics, it’s environmental science, it’s design, it’s all of these things coming together.”
In the meantime, Esther has taken a similarly inclusive and broad-ranging approach to her full-time studies at Penn, taking on multiple work-study positions and leadership roles at the University. “I work with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Black Graduate Women’s Association, and I’m also on the graduate advisory board for the MSAG program. I do a lot of things,” she laughs. “I’m more productive when I’m busy.” Esther has similar advice for new students of the Master of Science in Applied Geosciences program. “I enjoy my classes,” she says, “but Penn is much bigger than that. Get out of Hayden Hall, see other places on campus and talk to other people from other schools.”