Main content

Samantha DeTurris ’24

From Queens to Acadia

Once Samantha DeTurris ’24 (environmental studies) heard Assistant Professor Allyson Jackson speak about the possibility of accompanying her on a summer research trip to Maine, she jumped at the chance.

In the summer of 2022, she spent two weeks in Acadia National Park, collecting samples to further her professor’s research. Two fellow students, Anjelina King ’22 (biology, cellular/molecular biology concentration) and Kristen Pareti ’23 (environmental studies, ecology concentration, biology minor), joined them.

Jackson’s research broadly involves wildlife ecology, avian conservation, contaminants, and food webs, with a specific interest in mercury exposure.

The team sampled the food web, including single-celled zooplankton, invertebrates, and fish in five different lakes, as well as terrestrial invertebrates and songbirds. Two weeks of work in the lab followed the fieldwork.

First Time in the Field

While DeTurris had spent time vacationing in Maine, she’d never experienced working in the field.

“It was the most amazing thing ever. I learned so much on the first day,” she says. Upon hearing the team leaders describe the project and methodology, “those are things that I just heard in passing in classes. I had never seen it applied in the real world.”

The team safely captured birds in nets to draw blood samples to test for mercury and stable isotopes. DeTurris held them as they were released, ensuring their safety and ability to fly. She also searched the water for snail eggs attached to rocks and captured dragonflies in the woods.

The hands-on work made a huge impact. DeTurris even opted to work 14 hours on a scheduled day off.

City Nature

So how did a kid who grew up in Queens become interested in the environment? It started with stink bugs. DeTurris has been making resin jewelry since the fourth grade and, along the way, decided to suspend bugs in her necklace designs.

Now, spotting any bug gives her an adrenaline rush. It could be a dead bee on campus or a cicada exoskeleton on a city sidewalk. “Every time I see a new bug, it’s in my brain.”

And even though she lived in the city, she still grew tomatoes with her grandfather and sunflowers with her best friend to help the bee population. Her interest in the environment grew over time.

But bugs hold the greatest appeal. She’s a junior this year and just beginning to think about her senior project. She’s leaning toward studying the environmental impact of mosquitos and what it might look like for the planet if they were totally wiped out. She then hopes to study entomology in graduate school.

The Purchase Culture

While DeTurris considers herself more of a crafter than an artist, the prevalence of the arts heavily influenced her decision to attend Purchase, even though it’s not her main area of study.

“It’s so cool to be in an environment where I can study science but also meet other people that like to do similar things to me,” she says.

The Moth and the Mantid

With limited bug species prevalent in Queens, DeTurris is always scouring Purchase and its grounds for bugs. She’s on the hunt for the elusive praying mantis. “We don’t have any in Queens, and I haven’t seen any campus yet this semester.”

Another elusive species inspired an artistic reaction—she recently had the image of a rosy maple moth tattooed on her arm. Before this summer, she’d only seen them in pictures, but in Maine, she spotted the bright pink and yellow beauties on two separate occasions.

“That was one of the most exciting bug sightings I’ve ever had. I can’t explain how excited I was that day. The universe was telling me this is where I have to be,” she says.

Winner of the Inaugural BioBlitz

In September 2023, the Environmental Studies program and the Sustainability Office  collaborated on the first BioBlitz to see how many species could could be documented in 48 hours throughout the 500-acre campus.

No surprise, DeTurris came in first with 193 observations and 103 different species. Learn more about the BioBlitz.

Sustainability Leader

DeTurris serves the campus as Compost Master for 2023–24 and she’s a student representative on the Purchase College Senate’s Sustainability Advisory and Outreach Committee.

DeTurris volunteers tending to the Purchase Native Pollinator Garden and is an Einstein Corner peer tutor to students enrolled in Introduction to Environmental Studies.