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Animal Tracking at MacLeish

24 Jan

Hi and happy New Year! My name is Hayley Reifeiss and I’m a senior Biology major who just spent her first J-Term on campus. With graduation fast approaching I wanted to take advantage of J-Term classes while I still could. One of the classes I took was Animal Tracking with Scott Johnson. It was a three-day (two days because of snow) class where we learned how to recognize and interpret signs of wildlife in order to track them. I wanted to take the class to learn a bit more about the local fauna and surrounding environment. I was also hoping to practice some outdoor skills that might be useful for a Biology career doing fieldwork.

The first day of class was primarily spent learning about the different types of tracks and walking patterns. For example, canines and felines walk in an arrangement called “perfect stepping” so their prints look like there’s only two feet because the back ones land in the same place as the front ones. You can tell the difference because a canine print will have four toes in a parallel arrangement with the nail imprint visible while feline prints have four toes more splayed out and no nail imprints. But because the print isn’t always perfectly preserved animal trackers will often rely on how the prints are arranged as well as other signs such as scat and surrounding smells to make an ID. On our first day we used those signs to identify fox activity around the sports fields. While walking by paradise pond we noticed a musky smell and found scat in an obvious placement (in this case on top of a manhole) which is how canines mark their territory. We knew it was a fox by the specific smell and the material found in the scat. There was also signs of its digging.

The winter landscape at MacLeish.

On the second day of class we went to the MacLeish Field Station to test our skills in a more rural environment. MacLeish was full of animal activity and we found numerous tracks in the fresh snow that had fallen the day before. There were signs of squirrels, foxes, and deer, which are relatively common, but the most impressive animal we tracked was a bobcat -whose prints we followed for several hundred meters in order to be positive in our ID. It seems that this particular bobcat has made MacLeish its home because we found tracks almost everywhere we went.

The bobcat track at MacLeish (left) next to my hand print (right) for scale.

We also found a porcupine den -recognizable by the surrounding tree type, scat, and the most obvious sign: the quills. We tracked the porcupines to the trees which they climbed up as evidenced by the urine markings on one of the branches. It was really cool to experience the forest in this way, and at the end of day I think we all came away from the class with a greater appreciation of the animals we share this land with.

The tracking class takes a break in the camp shelter at MacLeish.

-Hayley lives in Tenney House while at Smith. She is originally from Plymouth, MA.

Proxy Carbon Pricing at Smith?

11 Dec

Environmental Science and Policy major Breanna Parker (’18) recently presented an interim report on her thesis “Proxy Carbon Pricing at Smith: An economic transition strategy to lower carbon emissions through informed decision-making”. The inspiration her work, as she explained it, was the report which was released this spring by the college’s study group on climate change. The report provided a series of recommendations to develop and internalize constant carbon emissions such as a carbon proxy price to help guide major problems in budget management along with other decision-making processes. Smith College currently emits 27,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. While there are already a variety of new projects underway at Smith that will be more energy efficient (e.g. the new library), in order to significantly reduce our emissions, Parker recommends that the college apply proxy carbon pricing. With this honors thesis, Parker seeks to engage Smith stakeholders in order to standardize and incorporate the acceptance of carbon emissions into the decision-making process.

The specific mechanics of applying a carbon proxy is vital for a sustainable approach. Ultimately, this is an additional design criterion that people can use to evaluate different options. For instance, when evaluating a new purchasing offer, we first consider the quantities of carbon emissions obtained, then we modify the units to compare it with other options, and apply a proxy over the lifetime or life-cycle of a project since carbon emissions will continue to be released as the product is used. To this evaluation, we also add the initial and maintenance costs. With this method the complete carbon emissions cost can be used in comparison with other choices in order to select the most energy efficient and affordable plan. To help the audience better understand the process, Parker used the example of purchasing a light bulb. Which is a better choice- incandescent or LED? The incandescent light bulb has a cheaper initial cost, but has an expected lifetime of only about 1 year. In comparison, the LED light bulb has a lifetime of approximately 22 years. Since bulbs generate additional costs each time they must be replaced, even before it gets turned on, the incandescent starts out with a higher hidden cost. Moreover, incandescent light bulbs use more energy, which cause more carbon to be emitted. In comparison, the LED light bulb, although it has a higher initial purchasing cost, has a slower operating system that requires less energy and produces fewer carbon emissions. This, combined with its longer replacement interval, makes it the better option. This simple example highlights the importance of considering the entire lifetime cost of a system or component, which is not always considered.

Parker then spoke about some of the ways that Smith might be able to benefit from using proxy carbon evaluation. One example was in the renovation of Washburn House. When thinking about heating systems, there are two main approaches: geothermal or natural gas boilers. The latter is more common given its lower initial cost. Nonetheless, if the cost comparisons include long-term maintenance  and carbon emissions, the natural gas boilers have significantly higher life costs and higher carbon emissions, suggesting that a geothermal approach would be a better choice. She noted that carbon proxy evaluation can be used in other situations, too, and it is important and interesting to also consider the vehicles used at Smith. For instance, vans rely on gasoline, but with the availability of an electric parking station near campus, over the long run a transition to electric cars would mean lower carbon emissions and lower monetary costs.

Other universities have implemented different methodologies to acknowledge and lower their carbon emissions. For instance, Yale University has a carbon fee ($30) that is applied to all administrative units individually (buildings). Through some modifications in their infrastructure, they are able to read their carbon emissions levels, so if an academic building has lowered their carbon emissions, then they are able to gain a monetary revenue for other projects. Princeton University has a proxy carbon price similar to what Smith is considering. In this method, a tool was created for administrators to record the initial costs, operating and maintenance expenses, and apply a proxy carbon price to their projects. Swarthmore College has a combination of both a carbon fee ($100) and a proxy carbon price calculator.

Parker hopes that like other colleges and universities, Smith College will acknowledge its carbon emissions and move towards using carbon proxy evaluation for future projects so that the full cost- both environmental and financial- is part of the decision making process.

-CEEDS Intern Erika Melara (’20) is an Engineering major. She comes to us from El Salvador, where she enjoys eating pupusas and going to the beach.

HCC-ALC: Owl Pellets Lab

6 Nov

After an owl hunts, how does it eat its prey? With a fork and a knife? Although modest, owls prefer to keep it simple by swallowing their prey whole. Impressive as it sounds, Jessika, a student at HCC- Adult Learning Center in Holyoke, asked, “Does that mean owls can digest bones and feathers?” The answer is…no! The undigested parts form a tight pellet that is later regurgitated. Gross! But not as much if it’s sterilized.

This past Wednesday (Nov. 1), through STEM Outreach, Thomas Gralinski, Ellen Sulser (‘18) and I (Erika Melara ‘20) visited the learning center and introduced the concept of Food Chains and Food Webs to a small class of pre-GED adult learners. After delivering a baseline presentation, we prepared a lab activity to dissect owl pellets. We particularly focused on the barn owls which usually prey on insects, reptiles, bats, and small rodents. An interesting fact about these owls is that they can hear a mouse’s footsteps from 30 yards away! This is fascinating, considering most of us can barely hear our names being called across the room.

Although some students were reluctant at first, by the end of the lab activity, they were determined to find and classify each of the bones to later boast about their owl’s appetite. Personally, I was bewildered about how some of the bones (i.e. skulls) were intact and well-preserved. Take a look at some of the pictures!

-Erika Melara is a Scorpio, who comes from El Salvador, where she enjoys eating pupusas and going to the beach.

A Rainy Day Adventure: Theory into Practice

24 Apr

A heavy April downpour set the perfect tone for our first Water Inquiry Story Workshop, held in the Design Thinking Lab of Smith College. Skilled educators from four elementary schools cast dripping umbrellas aside before digging into the learning adventures of Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings, our newly published storybook. Pilot teacher Katy Butler introduced the interactive text as she did with her first graders, saying: “It’s a picture book story with characters… the kind of story where we will stop and talk, stop and think, stop and go. You will get to do the activities.”

Katy Butler reads “Inquiry Inc and the Case of the Missing Ducklings” at the Water Story Teacher Workshop.

Teachers then had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the student mindset, studying images of storm drains and ducklings, discussing the questions: “Where do you think the water goes?” and “Where will the ducklings go?” before working together to show their ideas about drain design and water pathways. In his new book Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions, James E. Ryan– Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education– writes that, “Inquiry… should always precede advocacy,” and it was, indeed, this sense of participatory engagement that characterized teachers’ efforts to “think… talk… and go” in preparation for doing so with their students. Read more at the Water Inquiry Blog

Smith team takes on climate change video challenge

27 Feb

Each year the Environmental Engineering and Science Foundation (EESF) and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) put out a call to current undergraduate and graduate students studying environmental engineering or sciences worldwide for a video competition.

This year’s theme, “What can individuals do to help reduce climate change?”, inspired Jocelyn Yax ’18 (engineering), Amelia Wagner ’18J (engineering/government), and Jasmine Pacheco-Ramos ’19 (environmental science and policy) to take on the challenge. Assistant Professor Niveen Ismail in the Picker Engineering Program acted as the faculty advisor for the project.   Check out their video on YouTube.

The winning teams will be announced at the Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science awards ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on April 13, 2017.

eesf_logoMore on the contest rules:
The video should be targeted to motivate 8th grade and higher students to change daily habits that contribute to climate change. The video may also be used more broadly to motivate the general public to change simple patterns that contribute to climate change.

The video should motivate individuals to change daily habits that cause carbon emissions that may contribute to climate change. People have varying views on climate change. Contestants are urged to develop a message that acknowledges the breadth of opinions on this issue but that encourages everyone to make changes that will help with climate change. Because most people do not understand the roles of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, the video should end with brief reference as to how Environmental Engineers and Scientists are working on climate issues.

Planning and Piloting

25 Jan

News from Water Inquiry: January 2017

waterinquiry_jan17

 

“I have too many ideas” was a pleasing lament to hear on an icy afternoon in mid-December. Nestled inside a first-grade classroom at Jackson Street Elementary School, Katy Butler (’12, MAT ’18), classroom teacher and Water Inquirer extraordinaire, guided her students through an exciting encounter with our interactive story, Inquiry, Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings. Collaboration was the modus operandi of our Water Inquiry team this semester.… read more

The Future of Sustainable Livestock Farming

17 Jan

We are students from Professor Washington-Ottombre’s ENV 101 class. For our final project in December, we made a short video about the future of sustainable livestock farming, which explores the current state or “regime” of the U.S. livestock system, and possible improvements the industry could make to move to a more sustainable regime. Our video is a mixture of animation, footage from one of our farms, and system models we learned to make in class. The models show where the livestock industry is now and where it could go from here based on a few variables.

Take a look at our video here!

The main idea in our video is a hypothetical non-profit organization we created called F.A.R.M. which stands for Farm Assessment Re-envisioning and Maintenance. The organization helps already sustainable farms stay sustainable and gives them a grade based on their level of sustainability, similar to LEED certification, but at no cost. In addition, the organization helps farms that don’t meet the requirements of sustainability transition to being more sustainable at no cost.

We hope you enjoy our video and that it sparks ideas and interests surrounding today’s agriculture system, perhaps even on the way toward re-envisioning a more sustainable future.

photo-4Emelyn Chiang ’20, Kimby Davis ’17, Tori Greco Hiranaka ’19, Elsbeth Pendleton-Wheeler ’19 and Claire Rand ’20

Where is She Now? Update on a Recent Grad

15 Mar
image (1)

Jackie at work.

Jacqueline Maasch (’16J) is now a diagnostic technician at the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine in Cambridge, MA. Jacqueline graduated this winter with a major in anthropology and a minor in environmental science and policy. Her participation in the sustainable food concentration taught her the importance of molecular genetics to agriculture and conservation, and ultimately lead her to pursue work in clinical genetics after graduating from Smith.

Jacqueline’s new job is through Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine and the Human Genetics Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital. As a technician, she is responsible for extracting, quantifying, and sequencing DNA, as well as analyzing sequences for the presence of variants. 

Jacqueline has not abandoned her interest in the environment and hopes to use her skills in molecular genetics to improve human and environmental health.

Welcome to Smith Summer Programs!

13 Jul

Last Monday, July 6th, I took the ‘Hidden Lives: Discovering Women’s History’ students out to the Challenge Course. This is one of the Smith’s Summer Programs groups and they came to the MacLeish Field Station for group bonding. I facilitated the group on their first official day together after arriving to Smith on Sunday. We played names games, did trust falls, and and went on the elements for the afternoon. Together we completed several elements- the Full House, Whale Watch, and Around the World (that was their favorite one)- with some time at the end for debriefing in the hanging tree fort. By the end of our time together, we were all laughing and having a dang-tootin’ good time.

IMG_2217
The student participants preparing to ascend to the tree fort.

Have fun these next two weeks, ‘Hidden Lives: Discovering Women’s History’ students, and I hope you enjoyed the Field Station and the Challenge Course!

-Laura Krok-Horton ’17 is a summer intern at the MacLeish Field Station where she gets to do a little bit of everything. During the school year she focuses on architecture and landscape studies.

Education in and for the World- Students in the Coral Reef EdVentures program are at it again!

6 Jul
Coral Reef Ed-Ventures is an environmental education collaboration between Smith College’s environmental science and policy program and Hol Chan Marine Reserve on Ambergris Caye, Belize. The Coral Ed program uses experiential, place-based education to build a community of youth who are confident stewards of their local environment. Each summer, Smith student teachers head to Belize to lead local children in research, facilitate the creation of art and music, play games, and provide opportunities for the children to interact with and learn from community members engaged in conservation work. This year, six Smith students are in Belize running the program for its 16th summer.
cropped-CE-2015-2
The 2015 team, from left to right: Elena Karlsen-Ayala, ’16; Shabnam Kapur, ’16; Laura Henry, ’16; Riley Gage, ’15; Emily Volkmann, ’16; Mandy Castro, ’17

We asked biological sciences major (track 5: biology and education) Mandy Castro, ’17 to take a moment out of her busy day to answer a few questions for us:

Q: What inspired you to apply to participate in Coral Ed?
A: This is exactly what I aspire to do as a profession, which is to teach biology to kids. Coral Ed also has given me a wonderful opportunity to do just that and partake in various forms of research from scuba diving and surveying sea fans to taking kayaks to the mangroves and getting my feet wet with drone research.
DSCN0817                           Mandy, left, and team mate surveying sea fans in Belize.

Q: What do you hope to take away from your experience this summer?
A: I hope to acquire better classroom management skills and more practice creating curriculum for varying age groups.

Q: What has been the biggest adjustment for you now that you are in Belize?
A: The biggest adjustment for me would be the heat and the humidity. I am a California girl born and raised where we only experience dry heat. So this totally took me outside my physical comfort zone.

Q: What has been a highlight of the experience thus far?
A: One of my favorite experiences was the crocodile trip through the lagoon during advanced camp. Seeing the crocodile wrangler in action by jumping into the water and capture a crocodile was an exciting experience for the campers and as well as for us, the teachers.

Read more about the Coral Ed program, follow the students’ blog (click on the year on the top menu) and more at http://sophia.smith.edu/blog/coraledventures/coral-ed-2015/