Off the field, softball player slides into science in The Water School

5 – minute read

Maria Angelino isn’t yet locked into a specific path to take in the future. But she’s sure of one thing: It will involve water.


“I think water is one of the most important resources on Earth, not only from a basic need standpoint but for all of the other values it has around the world: culturally, aesthetically, for recreational purposes,” says Angelino, an FGCU softball player who’s pursuing an environmental science master’s degree and expects to finish her thesis by 2026.


“I think it’s interesting that people value water for different reasons and that there are so many areas of focus, whether it be restoration efforts, water quality, access to safe drinking water, water usage. There is also something new to learn and areas for improvement in our policies and practices in order to sustain healthy ecosystems.


“There are big movements right now toward cleaning up the nation’s waterways and restoring rivers to their natural state, so I really just want to get involved in the policy side of that movement, whether that be advocacy, managing or leading restoration projects, consulting or research.”


Water has been at Angelino’s core since her earliest memories of growing up in Southwest Florida. She was always around or on the water — whether it was chilling on the beach, kayaking, staying with her grandparents on Sanibel Island when they visited, getting up early on Sunday mornings to go fishing with her family or vacationing at a house on Lake Bonaparte in New York over summer breaks.


Her heart was crushed in 2018 when Southwest Florida captured the nation’s attention — in an ignominious way — with harmful blue-green algae blooms.


“I knew people who had really bad respiratory problems and small-business owners that relied on tourism who were struggling,” she says, “and we obviously couldn’t go fishing or enjoy the water during those outbreaks.”

Headshot of softball player in green jersey with FGCU
Maria Angelino is an FGCU softball player who’s pursuing an environmental science master’s degree.

But it wasn’t until Angelino arrived at Dartmouth in 2019 that the issues — and her desire to find solutions to them — became etched in her psyche. At freshman orientation, she met geography professor and Guggenheim Award winner Francis Magilligan, who was teaching a “Water Policy and Politics” class that piqued her interest.


“I ended up falling in love with the material and realizing how passionate I was about the environment, specifically water resources and people,” she says. “I learned how complex and interconnected the Earth really is and wanted to explore how, as a society, we can do a better job of valuing the beauty of how these natural systems work.”


While majoring in geography and minoring in environmental studies, Angelino also was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa and played softball for four years, earning a spot on the All-Ivy League Academic Team in 2022 and 2023.


After graduating from Dartmouth in 2023, she had two years of NCAA softball eligibility left because the Ivy League did not compete during the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the Ivy League doesn’t allow graduate students to participate in athletics, she had a brief stint at the University of Arizona. There, she realized that FGCU had what she really wanted: the environmental science master’s in The Water School and a softball program willing to accept her as a midyear transfer with two seasons remaining.


“I can’t say enough how much I’ve enjoyed the softball part — from the coaches to the players to the support staff and how the softball program is run,” she says. “Everyone wants to play the game the right way, make each other better and have a good time doing it.”

Softball player #32 in blue visor, white shirt and blue pants holding glove in left hand and softball in right hand
FGCU softball player Maria Angelino in a February game against Boston College.
A group of softball players in blue jerseys and white and blue striped pants celebrate in front of a dugout
Maria Angelino, #32, celebrates with her teammates on the FGCU softball team.

However, the academic part is what really drives her as she narrows her focus on which road to take. After she graduated from Dartmouth she interned for American Rivers, a national organization focused on clean water and river health while executing strong policy expertise and advocacy. Using regional teams, it protects and restores rivers and waterways through partnerships with local communities and other stakeholders. Angelino worked under the associate director of the National Dam Removal Program and the senior director of the River Restoration Program.


“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far, and I learned so much about the role non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play in data collection, advocacy for legislation and supporting certain causes,” she says. “I think I would be happy with any job relating to water policy, but I think the next steps will be finding my place in an environmental NGO or continuing my research at the Ph.D. level.


“I want to be in a position where I can help communicate across disciplines — physical science, political science, economics, engineering — to develop policies and practices that will protect our water resources.”


Who knows? Angelino may end up staying here. Southwest
Florida certainly hasn’t solved its water-quality issues.


“Now that I spend a lot of time learning about what’s going on, it feels like any water-quality issue — or climate-change-related issue — has some type of emotional impact on me, just because this is what I want to spend my life trying to find solutions to,” she

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