“Maximize your joy in learning.”
This is what Aliza Leit ’17 says we should all strive for; and she is doing just that.
Aliza joined Harley in Grade 7, following in the footsteps of her brother Jeremiah ’14, who was already here. Their parents decided to move Aliza and her siblings Aidan ’20 and Josefina ‘23 from the Brighton School district. Aliza was so excited to join The Harley School as “Brighton had large class sizes and I wanted more one-on-one. That is what I love about Harley.” She said that Peter Hentschke’s (2010-present) biology classes brought “joy to life” and that she loved her work with Food and Farm Coordinator, Lisa Barker (2018-present), and recently retired history teacher, Bill Schara (1997-2021). She shared that the teacher and experience that was most influential for her, was with former Director of Social and Environmental Sustainability, Chris Hartman ’93 (2007-2016), in his Food and Farm Lab and, also, working in the Harley Microfarm. She said Harley teachers offer unique experiences and when they are excited about their subject, the students can feel it. “Psyched teachers get kids engaged.”
Aliza says she is a person who wants to learn and looks for opportunities to gain more knowledge, so when she was doing her research for college, the College of the Atlantic stood out. She said the college had small class sizes, a beautiful campus right on Frenchman’s Bay in Bar Harbor, Maine, a trail leading into Acadia National Park right across the street, and, the biggest selling point, two certified organic farms. She was looking for a school that had an environmental focus like Harley, and she found it. When she applied, she wrote about her adventures backpacking for 30 days in Alaska on a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) trip she took the previous summer. Impressed by her experience and obvious appreciation for the outdoors, she was not only accepted, but received a presidential scholarship to attend.
Her plan when she entered the College of the Atlantic was to be a Horticultural Therapist, to learn how to use farming and gardening as a therapy technique. But, she took one marine biology class and said, “I have to go out into that ocean” and began her work in research in local fisheries and aquaculture. Always seeking ways to learn more, she started looking for opportunities within the College of the Atlantic’s EcoLeague program, which is a consortium of six schools that share commitments to sustainability. She discovered an interdisciplinary program at Prescott College’s Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies in Sonora, Mexico. During her sophomore year she lived in Mexico with a small cohort and studied marine conservation through community-based fieldwork. She then took a semester in Dunedin, New Zealand during her junior year to focus on laboratory-based research. At the University of Otago, she conducted research on Chinook Salmon and Abalone.
All of this experiential work helped prepare her for her senior thesis where she conducted research measuring and identifying variation in juvenile clam recruitment in two bays: Blue Hill Bay and Frenchman Bay. The experiments utilized recruitment boxes placed in six different mudflats on Mount Desert Island, Maine. The study suggests that clam survivorship is very low, almost certainly due to predation from an invasive species of green crab. She loved the hands-on research in the mud flats, wearing waders, going out into the water, and engaging with the community. So many of her experiences in college were just like this, including work on an oyster farm and a seaweed farm.
Working throughout her senior year, she did not rest on her laurels and started looking for post-college lab work in invasive species and fisheries. With the help of her advisor, she discovered the Belmaker Lab at Tel Aviv University’s School of Zoology in Israel. They are working on dynamic climate change and invasive species studies affecting the ecosystems of the Mediterranean and Red Sea. These two distinct bodies of water became connected when the Suez Canal was constructed in 1869, forever changing abiotic factors such as temperature as well as species composition. The warm water of the Red Sea now mixes with the cold water of the Mediterranean, pulling along plankton, adult fish, and other marine organisms not native to the cooler waters. Aliza has been accepted into a Master’s Degree program at Tel Aviv University where she will be joining a research team as they study how to conserve and restore marine communities along the coast.