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Adventures in Belize!

25 Jun

Coral Reef Ed-Ventures is an environmental education collaboration between Smith College’s Environmental Science and Policy Program and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on Ambergris Caye, Belize.  This program for local children, which runs each summer on the island in Belize, is currently led by Professor David Smith (Biological Sciences and Environmental Science and Policy) and Dr. Denise Lello (Lecturer and Research Associate in Biological Sciences and Environmental Science and Policy).  Coral Reef Ed-Ventures began 19 years ago with two Smith student teachers and a few children.  This year’s team comprises six Smith student teachers who will engage over seventy children in two education camps!

This year both of the camps (The REEF Program [Advanced] and the Youth Program) are organized around the theme CONNECTIONS: participants will explore the connections between nature, the environment, and the community. The campers will also be introduced to research methods like mapping and coral identification, techniques the student teachers will themselves use when they analyze the data they collect in Belize.

L to R: Aidan Coffin Ness ’20 (SPN/EDC), Katherine Akey ’20 (EGR), Carla Schwartz ’20 (BIO/MSP), Dana Vera ’19 (EDC/MTH), Liz Nagy ’18 (ENV/EAL), Emiline Koopman ’18J (BIO/MSP).

The students are just starting week 4 in Belize. You can see pictures and read more about their experiences on the Coral Reef Ed-Ventures blog.

The Coral Reef Ed-Ventures program could not function without the generous financial and in-kind support of the people of San Pedro, Belize; the Hol Chan Marine Reserve; the Environmental Science and Policy Program; generous alumnae donors; the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability; and sources of endowed student support, including the Agnes Shedd-Andreae ’32, and B. Elizabeth Horner Funds. Thank you for your support!

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.

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.

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

A Look Inside Hopkins House

7 Dec

Eliana Gevelber ’19 and Ariana Banks ’18, students in ENV 311 Interpreting and Communicating Environmental Information, write about Hopkins House.

eliana-blog

The Hopkins House cooperative is a Smith house where students cook and do chores together. Because Hopkins residents are not on the meal plan, they have to make their own meals. Food is typically bought in bulk.

Hopkins co-op residents, also known as “Hopkids,” try to be conscious of where their food comes from. One way the co-op does this is by having people fill out a food survey just before each semester. Questions on the survey not only ask about people’s dietary restrictions, but also from where they want to buy vegetables, meat and other animal products. Hopkins gets produce from Hampshire College’s farm CSA in the fall and from various farms at the local farmers’ market in the winter. Also, the carnivores in the house weighed in about whether they wanted to only buy local, organic and humane meat or whether factory farmed would be okay. The survey results from the beginning of the semester showed people prioritized having local meat over having meat often; since local meat is more expensive, we only rarely consume meat. In fact, we’ve only had meat once or twice so far this semester. Hopkins gets bulk dried goods ordered and delivered by the Florence-based cooperative called Pedal People. Ordering large quantities of food reduces the packaging and emissions from shipping associated with food.

bread-eliana

Hopkins residents minimize food waste by utilizing excess and leftover goods. The extra food is stored in a pantry and refrigerated bins and cabinets. Excess produce is even chopped and canned into mason jars for later use. As shown in the picture at the top, Eliana, a resident of Hopkins, made chutney from the abundant green tomatoes that were rescued at the end of the growing season from the Smith Community Garden. There were two grocery bags full of green tomatoes that were not being used, so Eliana made them into a flavorful sauce. The house also relies on composting to ensure food scraps and other compostable items are not going to waste. Compost bins are emptied twice a week into a larger compost bin behind Chapin House.

compost eliana.jpg

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.

Out with the Old, in with the Insulated: The Renovation of Lamont Windows

19 Feb

One might consider general upkeep around a college campus to be pretty generic work; indeed, campuses like Smith consist of countless old buildings and houses that do not perform at modern standards. As students, we rarely think about how much these improvements benefit us. Additionally, we rarely think about how much of our comfort in our built spaces is inherently connected to the preservation of energy.

Lamont windows

Left: (Before) Original single pane wood windows. Right: (After) New Marvin aluminum clad wood with argon insulated glass.

Lamont windows_2

Left: Low-expansion foam insulation being installed behind frames. Right: Air filtration and water penetration testing.

An example of this is the renovations to Lamont House completed this past summer. Located on upper Elm Street, Lamont had all of its traditional single-pane wood windows replaced with double-pane aluminum-clad wood windows. In addition to improving the type of window, the new windows were tested to be sure that water and moisture will not find a way in between the sashes or around the frame. The edges behind the window’s frames were fully sealed with low-expansion foam to keep warm air from leaving and cold air from entering the rooms.

The results are noteworthy. Lamont House looks better, and it should be much more energy efficient and more comfortable for student residents.  

“A lot of the houses on campus have very old windows that do not have insulated glass, or the double pane set up, so a lot of heat that would otherwise be preserved escapes.” said Karla Youngblood, project manager and assistant director of facilities management, during an interview. She recalled going into a student’s room once and seeing three thick strips of duct tape placed over the cracks around the windows. She also remembered a time when she entered a room and saw the student’s bed moved to the furthest corner away from the window.

Youngblood reported that in recent years, students complaints on the cold and lack of insulation in their rooms have been on the rise. In a campus where community and collaboration dominate the daily routines of most students at Smith, Youngblood argued, no student should ever feel uncomfortable in the one space on campus that is entirely theirs. “Even if we are certain that these new window installations will help Smith’s energy bills, my biggest priority is always occupant comfort.” she said. Youngblood said that the Lamont window project is part of an ongoing effort on campus to update and insulate all of the houses. “Recently, we insulated the roof of Dewey, which is one of our oldest buildings on campus. Lamont was on our list for this summer, but houses like Tyler are definitely due to be renovated.”  

These improvements often go unnoticed by students and faculty at Smith; however, things do not have to be this way, said Dano Weisbord, director of campus sustainability and space planning. “We want to get the word out about these projects so that we can hear feedback from students who live in Lamont, and other houses that have been renovated to be more energy efficient and comfortable.”

Lamont_outside1

Before: Lamont House, west elevation.

Lamont outside_2

After: Lamont House, west elevation.

So, Lamont students, what is the verdict? As we move through February and the nights are consistently chilly, do you feel that your rooms are warmer and better insulated? The office of Campus Sustainability would love to hear your thoughts!

-Andrea Schmid, class of 2017, is an environmental science and policy major and a recently declared climate change concentrator. She is interested in environmental journalism and the role that digital media plays in the environmental movement.  She currently works as the communications intern for the Office of Campus Sustainability.

Student Spotlight: Julia Graham ’16

14 Dec

Julia Graham ’16 has a lot going on. She is an environmental science and policy (ES&P) major, a sustainable food concentrator, and potentially a Latin American studies minor. Graham is interested in how indigenous cultures and the environment in Latin America have been impacted by colonialism.

When JGraham.jpgshe transferred to Smith from Warren Wilson College her sophomore year, she decided to change directions, and instead of continuing to focus on Latin American studies, she jumped with two feet into ES&P. This jump was guided by Graham’s experiences during her year off, when she worked on two farms, including one associated with the Heifer International Program.

Julia Graham has undertaken a range of environmental work during her time at Smith. Her sustainable food capstone course has her scoping out the potential for a biogas reactor at Smith. Her special studies with professor Bob Newton (geosciences) involves exploring the relationship between vegetation, environmental history, and geochemistry. Graham even used to coordinate the House Eco Reps. She currently works as a MacLeish intern at CEEDS and as an intern for ES&P.

As part of fulfilling her sustainable food concentration requirements Graham went to Ecuador to work in a permaculture biosphere with Third Millennium Alliance. Since then she has earned a permaculture design certificate and even designed a permaculture garden in her parent’s backyard.

After Smith, Graham would like to work with a trail crew. She built trails in Alaska and the Colorado Rockies during her junior and senior years of high school, and she would love to continue the work after college. Ultimately, she would like to wind up in environmental education.

The one piece of wisdom Graham would like to pass on is how important it is while you are a student at Smith to realize that there is life beyond the Smith campus. Take a step back from academics, get off campus, see what is happening in the rest of the world.

– Brittany Bennett is a senior Engineering Science major and hails from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She hopes to educate engineers on how to best create a more sustainable world.

Trying My Hand at Scientific Journalism

6 Oct

This summer, as I wrote about in a previous post, I helped the Bellemare lab with research surrounding the effects of hemlock tree decline in western Massachusetts. The research projects going on there inspired me to begin working on an article concerning their work. I hope that this article will shed light on the environmental issues going on in our own Western Massachusetts backyards as well as the hard work being done by researchers such as Michelle Jackson ‘15, Elizabeth Besozzi ‘16, Anna George ‘17, and Aliza Fassler ‘17. Furthermore, I hope to communicate the importance of research facilities such as Smith College’s MacLeish Field Station, where much of the research pertaining to hemlock forests by the Bellemare lab takes place.

I am passionate about both writing and science, especially ecology, and as I work to complete the requirements for both the biological science and English majors here at Smith, scientific writing is one of the career paths that I am considering. I am convinced that clear and effective scientific journalism- the communication of scientific data into colloquial terms without compromising scientific integrity or complexities- is the key to creating a more informed populace. Only then can decisions be made, individually and communally, that truly benefit and fulfill the needs of both people and the environment.

I hope to have the article completed and submitted for publication at some point this fall and will post again with an update!

IFielding

-Isabella Fielding ‘17 is a junior from Warwick, RI. She is majoring in biological sciences and English and aspires to be a scientific writer.

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/