Stephanie Joan Hibberts was born May 26, 1996. As a little girl, Stephanie said that she knew she would be a scientist. Stephanie grew up on Kwajalein Island in the Marshall Islands and loved the ocean and being near it. Her passion for understanding coral reef ecosystems and promoting understanding and actions to address climate change come from her time in the Marshall Islands.
Stephanie was well-loved and involved in her community. She was a competitive swimmer and represented the Marshall Islands in the Arafura games in Darwin, Australia. She also coached young swimmers on the island for years. She was a leader on Kwaj and helped plan and hosted dozens of service events and fundraisers for the local and greater island communities.
At Clemson University from 2014-2018, Stephanie majored in geology and minored in biology. As Clemson Earth Day Challenge winner, Stephanie received a Geopaths fellowship in spring 2017. With Clemson Geopaths, a group working to promote geoscience education and involvement, she joined a two-week expedition to Dominica. Among other projects on Dominica, she collected sediment cores for her senior thesis project. In 2017, the Southeastern Section of the Geological Society of America awarded Stephanie an Undergraduate Research Grant to support her senior project. She was a member of the Clemson water polo team and Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority.
Additionally, during her junior and senior years at Clemson University, Stephanie worked as an intern promoting geoscience education in the Marshall Islands. During the summer of 2018, she imaged multiple coral reef sites with a 360° camera to create immersive educational content for students in introductory geology classes. This work also provided an opportunity to participate in efforts by the Marshall Islands government, U.S. Army and Pacific Allies program (at the University of Hawaii) to increase climate change awareness, by creating and leading an interactive reef health and climate change activity for Marshallese students at a marine science summer camp.
In the Florida Keys, Stephanie assisted with coral outplanting with a restoration team and conducted damselfish surveys. She also created and operated a virtual dive station for an educational theatre production. Nearly 3,000 elementary students from upstate South Carolina were able to watch a play and rotate through 10 stations designed to connect them with the ocean and have them engage with environmental issues.
In fall 2019, Stephanie began her master’s degree program in marine and environmental science (MMES) at the University of the Virgin Islands. Her thesis project was on recovery and restoration of red mangroves in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the spring of 2021, Stephanie’s research with her 2019 MMES cohort was published in Frontiers of Marine Science. She had completed two years of the program and was on track to graduate in May of 2022 when she passed away the evening of July 13, 2021.
Stephanie Joan Hibberts was survived by her mother, Terri Rawlings Hibberts; her father, Glenn Hibberts; her twin sister, Jennifer Hibberts; and youngest sister, Allison Hibberts, of Kwajalein, Marshall Islands; her grandmother, Joan Boswell Rawlings, of Due West, S.C.; and her grandfather, Mark Hibberts of Randleman, N.C.; aunts, Doria Rawlings Cullom, Sherri Rawlings Ross, Ginger Swanson; uncles, Carl Hibberts, Darrin Swanson, Robert Cullom, Andy Ross, Jonathan Rawlings, Gregory Rawlings; and cousins, Kathryn Rawlings, Duncan Rawlings, Courtney Ross, Leah Ross, Mackenzie Cullom, Finn Cullom, Zachary Swanson, Alex Swanson.
There will be a celebration of life in Simpsonville, S.C., on Saturday, July 24, from 1 to 3 p.m.