Students and alumni of the College of Charleston’s BEnthic Acoustic Mapping and Survey (BEAMS) Program came together on Friday and Saturday, April 21 and 22, for the 2023 BEAMS Program Symposium at the Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston. The event showcases student research, highlights alumni working in the seafloor mapping/hydrographic field and provides networking opportunities to students for internships and prospective jobs.  

Leslie Sautter, BEAMS director and professor emerita of geology and known affectionately as “Doc” to her students, launched the symposium last year after COVID had shut down professional meetings and networking opportunities for the previous two years. After a strong turnout and positive response, Sautter decided to make the symposium an annual event. 

“The BEAMS symposium is like no other professional meeting in the hydrographic field,” says Sautter. “The symposium is focused on the students. The visiting professionals and alumni come specifically to meet and potentially recruit students to their workforce. The students are in high demand. In fact, all who seek employment after graduation are hired within days or months! 

“Alumni return not only for a reunion, but to meet their future colleagues,” she continues. “It is wonderful to see how amazing these former students are and what they’ve accomplished. And the current students are inspired by the alumni and see the multiple paths that can be chosen with the base knowledge gained through the BEAMS Program.” 

people mingling around research posters

More than 60 students, alumni and hydrography professionals attended the symposium. (Photos by Catie Cleveland)

A total of 21 BEAMS students presented a poster or gave a talk on research and internship experiences during the symposium. In all, 42 hydrography professionals (seafloor mappers from private industry, government offices and independent contractors), 22 of whom were BEAMS alumni, attended and mingled with students. 

Shelby Maier, a senior geology major, was among the students to give oral presentations. She highlighted her recent internship with Geodynamics – a North Carolina–based firm that supports data collection and analysis for engineering, management and research – which she landed through the inaugural BEAMS symposium in 2022. During her time with the company, Maier helped conduct surveys of Lake Michigan’s Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast.   

Eric Wehmeyer

BEAMS student Eric Wehmeyer talks with symposium attendees about his research.

“We were updating nautical charts and also found a lot of uncharted shipwrecks along the way,” says the native of Charleston, who has always enjoyed working on the water, but hadn’t considered sea floor mapping as a career path until she took Sautter’s introductory course. “Doc introduced me to a new side of the field, and, all of a sudden, it just kind of clicked and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.'”

Senior marine biology major Eric Wehmeyer presented his review of data from the Kurchatov Fracture Zone on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge off the coast of Portugal, which highlighted some previously unknown deep-sea coral ecosystems, as well as a large population of orange roughy around a volcanic sea mount. 

Having never considered the connection between seafloor mapping and marine biology until he took Sautter’s seafloor mapping class, Wehmeyer says his experience in the BEAMS Program has given him new skills and career paths to explore as he prepares to graduate next month. 

“Once I realized [seafloor mapping] wasn’t just looking at the seafloor, and there are so many more outlets within it, it made me way more interested,” he says. “There’s a lot of different routes you can go with this career.” 

And BEAMS alumni, such as Chrissy Maschmeyer ’14, who was the keynote speaker at the 2022 BEAMS symposium and returned this year to recruit students, can attest to the marketability of the skills she learned through the program. A double major in geology and international studies during her time at the College, Maschmeyer is now a geomatics lead at 3D at Depth in Houston.  

lydia heath and anastasia sillsbury

BEAMS alumni Lydia Heath and Anastasia Sillsbury speak with students at the symposium.

“It’s great to see what students are currently doing in terms of research and recruiting for future open positions,” says Maschmeyer, noting that there are currently five College of Charleston alumni working at 3D at Depth. “We love College of Charleston geology majors and BEAMS students.” 

Alumnae Lydia Heath ’21 and Anastasia Sillsbury ’21, both of whom majored in geology and minored in geoinformatics, also attended the symposium, representing their employer Echo81, a hydrographic consulting and equipment company based in Hartwell, Georgia. 

Heath and Sillsbury, who are both systems specialists with Echo81, say BEAMS was integral to shaping their career path and giving them marketable skills. The symposium, they agree, is a great way to build a connection between students, alumni and future employers. 

The symposium opens [students’] eyes to how many job opportunities there are, and I think that’s great,” says Heath. “Without an event like this, you wouldn’t really know what you can get into.”