PhD student Marsha Allen is driven to prevent water shortage on her home island of Tobago. Along with much of the Caribbean, Tobago has experienced a massive drought over the past decade, spurred by shifts in the climate.
Marsha’s research focuses on fractured-rock aquifers — large, underground water bodies that can store and transport large amounts of water. Specifically, she studies their composition, storage capacity, direction and speed of flow, and how much water can be consumed before they run out. “Understanding aquifers is imperative to the sustainable use of this essential resource in our changing climate,” she says.
Born and raised on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, Marsha came to the United States in 2007 for a college education. She first earned an associate degree in business administration from Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York. After winning a Frances Perkins Fellowship, she transferred to Mount Holyoke College and graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in geology. She went on to earn an MS in earth and environmental sciences at Brooklyn College, with summer stints researching meteorites at the Museum of Natural History in New York.
It has been all the way up — or underground — from there for this water-management expert.
Marsha comes from a large family and is the second of her seven siblings to have earned a master’s degree. But she didn’t stop there. She applied to the UMass PhD program and, in 2017, started to work with her current advisor, David Boutt. “Marsha is ambitious, determined, insightful, and joyful,” says Boutt. “She has faced lots of challenges in her life and her graduate career at UMass and has handled it with a smile, a laugh, and determination to succeed.”
Referring to her professor, Marsha says, “the stars aligned,” because her dissertation aims to address all of the unanswered questions in Boutt’s research on Tobago. Boutt stresses the importance of Marsha’s research on the resources and geochemistry of freshwater on the island of Tobago and the impact it can have on how water resources are viewed both there and regionally. The two recently published their work in Hydrogeology Journal.
Marsha encourages other BIPOC students, especially women, to explore STEM, despite the obstacles in their path. She emphasizes the importance of pursuing one’s interests. “A wise woman told me 15 years ago to explore my passion, because once you make it your career, it never feels like work,” she says. “To this day, I wake up excited to do my research because it's so much fun!”