Adventure Scholarship Update – Maya Dizack
We were excited to celebrate Maya Dizack’s return from her paddling adventure on the Mississippi River when she gave a full presentation on Thursday, January 21st 2021 that was sponsored by the University of Vermont Green Mountain Club and was part of their Outdoor Adventure Speaker Series. Maya graduated from UVM in 2020 with a Bachelors in Environmental Science. We are proud to have granted her an Adventure Scholarship award in 2019 for her trip during which she paddled the 2,152-mile length of the Mississippi River while conducting microplastics research along the way. Maya is the youngest documented woman to complete this epic journey and she did so along with fellow UVM graduate and best friend Michael McGuire.
Her trip took 62 days from May 25th through July 24th and she collected 67 water samples every 50-100 miles. She relied heavily on locals who had made the trip themselves for morale and meals. They warned her about deep whirlpools, low hanging branches, wily carp that jump out of the water when disturbed and rats. But her greatest fear was navigating the political tensions in the area as well as the natural danger that come when meeting strangers for the first time.Maya lamented the major flooding that had occurred before she embarked on her trip, which deeply affected people’s lives and livelihoods in the area. She shared with us how she was inspired by another researcher who had sampled the Mississippi River for microplastics in prior years and after receiving support from the University of Vermont and Flyin Ryan (thanks for the shout out Maya!) her dream became a reality. Michael helped document the trip in photographs and video so they could
share their full experience afterward. Maya taught us about the history of the River, such as that it was used to transport slaves but also to free them, and how 15 million people rely on its tributary for their water.
She also told some interesting anecdotes, like when she had to enter a remote bar at only 20 years old for fresh drinking water which resulted in meeting kind strangers who shared with her batteries, a ride into town and some great local advice. She told us about her stay with a River Angel (people who provide assistance to river paddlers along the Mississippi) who invited her to a blessing ceremony called a Moon Dance which is performed at night by women to give gratitude to nature. The ceremony is given in both Spanish and English and they tell stories about local history and dance around a fire.Her research has been sent to St Louis University and has not yet been tested since their labs have been closed due to Covid. Maya returned with a sense of connectedness to those residing along the river as well as the river itself.
So what’s next for Maya? She is living in Washington and taking some time to explore the public health research field and the intersection between the environment and human health. This includes climate change, infectious disease and health inequality for minorities.