Professor goes from caves to classroom



By Genevieve Adams

What is learned in the classroom is only half of one’s education.

This is the mentality one UK professor tries to bring to her students. As a cave diver, teacher, adventure seeker and published author, Stephanie Schwabe seeks to not only teach her students about geology, but the wonders of the world they don’t see.

“I try and bring my experiences and the excitement that I feel for what I do to the students,” Schwabe said. “I want them to be excited about this amazing planet as I am. That is the main reason for teaching. It certainly isn’t for the money.”

Although giving lectures is her day job, her love for the water and exploration has catapulted her to the head of her field. Her first step to “Growing Some Gills,” the title of the first chapter of her book, “Living in Darkness: A Woman’s Scientific and Exploratory Adventures into the Underwater Caves of the Bahamas,” was taking a scuba diving class in college. She fell in love with underwater life and discovering the unknown. She became an avid cave diver and hasn’t looked back since.

“Cave diving is when you enter a water-filled cave system,” Schwabe said. “It’s like a big dry cave system like Mammoth Cave here in Kentucky except it is, in my case, totally filled with water.”

Over the years Schwabe has gone diving in South Carolina, England, Scotland and often the Bahamas. But it was her first dive that got her hooked — examining a sunken ship from the 1950s off the coast of the Carolinas.

In her book she described the feeling and intensity that goes into one’s first dive.

“I completely forgot the danger when I saw my first school of Atlantic spadefish. This beautiful gray and white colored ribbon of fish that swam within arms reach of me was something that I had never experienced before. I was hooked … In that short period of time, I had become a true dive junkie,” she said.

Other than the awe-inspiring view, Schwabe said during her dives she looks for interesting features in the walls that support her hypothesis that caves are formed by bacterial acids and collects samples to further her research. Taking samples from rocks and soil allow for further research in how and when these caves were formed.

Schwabe has also found many interesting artifacts and important historical discoveries such as recovering the first ceremonial canoe made by Native Americans from within a cave.

“I surveyed the bones and artifacts and worked with experts around the world on understanding the Lucayan culture,” Schwabe said.

Growing up in South Carolina, Schwabe received her bachelor’s degree in geology from the College of Charleston in 1990. She went on to study geology at Mississippi State University, international environmental law at the University of Queensland in Australia and earth science at the University of Bristol in England.

Schwabe has appeared in television documentaries and interviews and has been featured in numerous books and magazines. Despite cave diving being a dangerous venture, Schwabe stands out as one of the only women in the field.

“As far as I know, I am the only woman doing exploration and science in underwater caves,” she said. “There are some other women who cave dive but they do it for exploration only and for a short time only.”