Tag Archives: Environmental Science and Policy Program

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.
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/

SURFing Uncharted Waters

23 Jun

After an exploratory first year at Smith, I’m working as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) with Camille Washington-Ottombre, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Dano Weisbord, Director of Campus Sustainability, and Andrea Schmid ‘17.

We are studying the resilience of Smith College.

The Resilience Alliance defines resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” That’s not exactly cut-and-dried, and in the face of climate change, we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty.

I’m two weeks into my research, and the most difficult part of this project is pinning down a research question that fully encompasses and properly frames our work for the summer. The study of resilience is a fresh field of inquiry and planning. In fact, there are no published papers or case studies specifically assessing the resilience of a college or university. This is not, however, a neglected approach. Many municipalities and watersheds have applied resilience thinking to their planning. Now, after years of mitigation and management, campus sustainability planners ride the crest of a breaking wave. Academics and professionals are understanding the need for campus sustainability to evolve into a holistic systems-based approach that equips institutions with the tools to adapt to the challenges of climate change. Our work is primary research.


We’re not simply exploring uncharted waters, we’re mapping them.

– Callie Sieh ’18J studies Environmental Science and Policy and interns in the Office of Campus Sustainability. In her free time she experiments with sound and image, talks to strangers, and explores New England.

Environmental Justice Radio

15 Dec

I created this podcast, Environmental Justice Radio, as an extra credit project for Environmental Integration I: Environmental Perspectives.


As I study environmental issues, ranging from the disruption of biogeochemical cycles to the economic and social costs of climate change, I find myself continuously returning to the interconnectedness of environmental and societal health. This concept reveals the disproportionate impacts of climate change on groups of people, often coinciding with racism, classism, sexism, and many other forms of oppression.

Since coming to Smith, the themes of my academic work have inspired me to independently research environmental justice in the United States. Attending the People’s Climate March in New York and joining the Divest Smith College network have been influential in my thinking about the intersectionality of social and environmental issues.

I have come to realize that all of the issues I previously felt passionate about are strung together by a not-so-thin thread.

This podcast is a small example of how climate change is not a problem affecting only distant “Others.” The impacts fall on people in our own country, and we need to raise their voices up. To me, one of the most important steps to sparking change is reworking the ways in which we communicate environmental issues.

– Callie Sieh, ’18J transferred to Smith this fall. She studies Environmental Science and Policy, and in her free time hosts a radio show on WOZQ, is an active member of Divest Smith College and explores coffee shops in the Pioneer Valley.

Meet this summer’s CEEDS Interns

6 Jun

My name is Jen Rioux and I am a rising senior at Smith College majoring in Environmental Science and Policy and minoring in Landscape Studies. I am one of the two CEEDS interns working with Reid Bertone-Johnson at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station this summer through Smith’s Summer Research Fellows program (SURF). SURF facilitates formal summer research opportunities with Smith College faculty. I am excited to explore the field station and learn more about its history and envision ways it will be used in the future. I am especially interested in the effects of oriental bittersweet, an invasive, non-native vine that is taking over parts of the forest. I hope to create some sort of management plan for keeping the vine from spreading further. I will keep you updated.


I’m Jo Harvey and I just completed my first year here at Smith as an Ada Comstock Scholar after transferring from Southern Maine Community College in Portland. I hope to apply my science background from previous biotechnology studies toward my current major of Environmental Science and Policy. Since my job immediately prior to coming to Smith required sitting at a desk in front of a computer, I’m thrilled that this internship at MacLeish will allow me to be outside for the summer. I expect to learn a lot from this experience, and now that we’re midway through our second week working at the field station, I’m excited to help find ways to increase the use of the property by Smith students, faculty, and staff.

Jen and Jo (l. to r.) at MacLeish.

During the first two weeks of our internship we’ve been working on maintenance projects that have allowed us to become more familiar with the property. We have wrapped up many school-year projects, repaired an all-terrain wheelchair as well as the solar panel for an electric fence, done general trail maintenance, begun taking steps to sheet mulch the Fruit Orchard (established with a generous gift from former College President Carol Christ), and we have completed a large portion of a new connector trail from the building to the fire pavilion. Through this work we have come in contact with a variety of invasive species. Check back next week for a post about invasive species at the MacLeish Field Station.

-Jen Rioux (‘15) and Jo Harvey (‘AC)

Filling in the Gaps: Understanding the Effects of Hemlock Decline at MacLeish

3 Jul

With climate change altering species’ distributions as suitable habitats move, and with our increasing rates of global travel, biological invasions are becoming more widespread.  The hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), for example, an exotic insect accidentally introduced to eastern North America that feeds on eastern hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis), has been steadily moving northward as a result of a warming climate and relatively easy transport via the wind, deer and human activity.  The woolly adelgid has now just reached the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station, where the hemlocks that dominate the forest there are starting to show signs of infestation.  Hemlocks can’t defend themselves against these insects and can die within as few as four years of becoming infested, leaving skeletal forests behind.

Woolly adelgid on an eastern hemlock tree at MacLeish.

The decline of hemlocks is of particular concern because eastern hemlock is a foundation species.  This means that the species (e.g., eastern hemlock) influences the conditions of the ecosystem they inhabit in such a way that their presence helps determine which other organisms can live there.  Because hemlocks create a unique “microclimate” in the forests they dominate – one that is cool, dark, and damp – and tend to acidify the soils beneath them, the removal of this species and replacement by deciduous tree species is bound to produce large changes in the forest.  These changes will be both in environmental conditions and ecosystem processes as well as in the animal and plant communities that inhabit these forests.

I started working on the question, “What are long-term effects of hemlock removal on New England forests?” early in my Smith career and, after completing a senior thesis on this topic, I am now spending the summer before grad school as a SURF intern continuing to collect long-term data.

The Field Station offers a unique opportunity for us to look at what forests devastated by adelgid infestations might look like in twenty years, a result of logging that occurred before MacLeish became a research site.  In the late 1980s, patches of hemlock trees were logged as part of a larger cut to help promote the growth of maple and other economically valuable trees.  Young black birch trees (Betula lenta) have since grown in these logged patches.  This logging activity produced an “accidental experiment” for us to use, in that we can compare environmental conditions in the young black birch patches to those in the hemlock-dominated forest next to them.  This data will help us predict what the forests in New England may look like decades after the wooly adelgid infestation causes hemlock populations to decline and disappear. 

Several labs at Smith have been using these plots and exploring this question.  I’ve been working since my junior year with both Jesse Bellemare in Biological Sciences and Amy Rhodes in Geosciences, and with several other students in the professors’ labs, to predict how nutrient cycling and other ecosystem processes change with the loss of eastern hemlock.  I examined several facets of this question for my thesis, exploring precipitation chemistry, leaf litter decomposition, and soil nutrient cycling.  This summer, I am primarily continuing our work on soil nutrient cycling, comparing nitrogen cycling between a hemlock forest, a young black birch forest, and a mature deciduous forest.

To do this we measure the production of nitrate (NO3) and ammonium (NH4+), nitrogen-containing compounds that plants can use and that are produced when microbes digest leaf litter on the forest floor, by performing regular soil incubations.  For each incubation, we take soil cores from each plot and measure “initial” concentrations of nitrate and ammonium in our lab at Smith.  For each soil core we take back to lab, we leave a second soil core, obtained next to the first, in the ground in a PVC sleeve.  We come back to the forest after at least three weeks, bring those incubated cores back to lab, and measure the “final” concentrations of nitrate and ammonium in those samples.  We then use the difference between the initial and final nitrogen concentrations to calculate the rate at which these compounds are being produced in the soil, and use these rates as a quantitative way to compare nutrient cycling between the three forest types.

Soil cores ready to go back to the lab for processing (left), and a soil core incubating in a PVC sleeve in the field (right).

Our research hasn’t always gone as planned.  In 2010, professor Rhodes’s lab established their hemlock plot as one representing a “healthy, mature hemlock forest.”  Last year, however, we started to notice the adelgid near this plot, and began to see an increase in the amount of nitrogen produced in the soil as well, a typical sign of adelgid invasion.  This summer we want to see if this trend is still evident, and though we can’t really think of this hemlock plot as our “healthy hemlock forest control” any more, now we can track how the soil changes at the beginning of an infestation, using the data collected before the infestation as our baseline.

Our work and the work of other Smith students and professors will contribute to the growing body of literature on the effects of the hemlock woolly adelgid infestation on our New England forests.  This will help scientists, foresters, and policymakers confronted with the daunting task of dealing with the adelgid infestation to make more informed management decisions.  And though I’m not actively working to eradicate the adelgid, I’m proud to be doing my own small part, gathering information that might be useful for managing this invasion and other similar biological invasions as well.

–       Jenna Zukswert ‘13

Jenna graduated in May with a double major in Biological Sciences and Environmental Science and Policy.  She will be attending the University of British Columbia in Vancouver this fall to pursue a Master of Science degree in Forestry. She hopes to pursue a career in science education.

Student Spotlight: Sarah Tucker ’13

8 Mar

Sarah is a Biology major, Environmental Science and Policy minor, but upon meeting her you wouldn’t be able to tell that she spends most of her time with marine animals.

ImageSarah’s fascination with marine biology started at an early age. Coming from a family of sailors, she spent a lot of time outdoors, encouraged to explore the environment; she was five when she decided she wanted to be a scientist. This fascination only deepened as she got older. A string of inspirational biology teachers often encouraged her to participate in science fairs and projects. It is no surprise then that Sarah was later selected by Smith College to participate in the Achieving Excellence in Mathematics, Engineering, and Sciences program on campus.

As a first-year, Sarah started doing research with Professor David Smith, professor of biological sciences. This experience propelled her into an internship supported by a Clark Science Center Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship for the summer before her sophomore year. Much of the research Sarah did then was on phenotypic plasticity, the ability of an organism, in this case an invasive crab species in the Gulf of Maine, to modify its phenotype in response to the environment. She has continued this research through a year-long honors thesis, with David Smith and Laura Katz, also a professor in the Biological Sciences, as faculty advisers. Image

Sarah explained the process and challenges of doing work in the field of marine science. Part of the research she does compares the morphology and genetics of northern and southern Gulf of Maine green crab populations. As the green crab expanded its range into the Gulf of Maine, it has faced a broad range of environmental conditions that continuously challenged its survival.  The crab adapted, and has now been able to expand its range into water previously thought too cold. Sarah enjoys this work because it has real life application. The crab she studies has invaded all continents with temperate shores and has caused significant ecosystem disruption. One thing she dislikes is the fact that methods are always changing; “You can be doing all this work a certain way one day and come in the next day to find out that that’s not how its done anymore.” It also means being resilient and adapting to change and unexpected events, like samples dying in the lab or a storm destroying sample collection areas- not unlike the crabs have had to do.

But Sarah is not just a scientist. In the spring of her junior year she went abroad to Russia; an experience that she enjoyed and appreciates. As president of Best Buddies, an organization that “pairs people with intellectual disabilities in one-to-one friendship with volunteer[s]”1, here at Smith she was able to get an internship with the Moscow branch. Sarah was keen to talk about the issues related with awareness and accessibility of disabled people in Russia.

However, Sarah did not go a whole semester without some science. The university she studied at did not offer any science classes, but did allow a local high school to use one of the buildings. Sarah took this opportunity, not only to keep her own skills sharp, but to observe the differences between the American and Russian way of teaching science to young adults. There, she noted, high school students are not exposed to lab until their senior year and only if they have committed themselves to studying science in college.


Sarah came back her senior year ready to finish her honors thesis and with the intention of applying for a Fulbright- a U.S. Department of State program that provides grants for the purpose of conducting research or a project. She did apply,  and was awarded a fellowship to travel to Bali, Indonesia where she will investigate tropical fisheries and work as a conservationist. It was surprising to hear that her main focus would not be research, but Sarah said that it’s time now to work to save the oceans she has studied. With issues like climate change and development propelling marine science-related issues to the fore it seems the perfect time to promote conservation. Sarah believes that ocean ecosystems play an important role and that they need to be protected to ensure that they will survive and continue to provide the goods and services so necessary for so many organisms- human and otherwise.

Even though Sarah is optimistic as she prepares to move on to her next adventure, she expressed mixed emotions about leaving Smith. She will miss the research and environment of Smith and is sad to leave so many unanswered questions. But she is also glad that new students will come to ask and answer at least some of those questions. Her final words of wisdom for the next ‘generation’ of  students who work in the lab? “Crabs are escape artists. Make sure the lids are tight. And ask a million questions.”

-Stefanie Cervantes, ’13

Photo Credit: Shauna Purpura

1. http://sophia.smith.edu/bestbuddies/mission.html

Student Spotlight: Siiri Bigalke ’15

20 Nov

Siiri Bigalke is a sophomore with a strong interest in environmental policy. She is highly involved on campus with the student group, Green Team and also does work outside school to pursue her interests in the environment. When Siiri came to Smith she already had the background to be a great environmental advocate; she was involved in a youth environmental group in high school and had gained experienced in the policy side of environmentalism.

Coming to Smith, she found she could still do want she loved as a Green Team Facilitator. As a first-year, she worked with the House Sustainability Reps to expand the Earth Day Festival in April to Earth Week . Earth Week brought awareness, in the form of a trash audit, and fun, in the form of a carnival, to sustainability. This year, Siiri and Green Team are focusing on a Divestment project. This is an attempt to encourage Smith to invest in a socially responsible way by withdrawing investment they might have in the fossil fuel industry. Green Team is collaborating with 40 other schools nationwide who have similar goals and with other schools that are in the same investment group as Smith. Another project that Green Team is working on is making composting and recycling more accessible in academic and administrative buildings. The goal with this project is to provide more locations for composting and recycling and then provide a map of campus with these locations land marked.

This past Summer, Siiri attended Rio +20 conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and at the end of November she will attend the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP 18. She will be attending the COP 18 as a Youth Advocate to ensure that the goals of young people are met in the outcome of the conference (you can follow her as she blogs about her time at COP 18 here). One thing that Siiri noticed at Rio +20, and that she is aware will happen in COP 18, is that delegates are often unwilling to implement policy that will make a difference, especially when it comes to the “super powers” like the US and China. This is a frustration that Siiri has, but she realizes that there is not always an instant change and it is a struggle to implement environmental policy. She hopes to gain international experience that she can transfer to her work at Smith.

Siiri hopes to be able to connect what she learns at these conferences and in academia with what is happening outside of Smith. In the near future, Siiri is looking into possibly studying abroad and continuing her research and work. She is also planning on attending grad school in environmental policy or sustainable development. When it comes to future career, Siiri wants to work in the context of environmental policy, but is still unsure about whether she wants to go into national or international politics.

-Stephanie Cervantes ’13, CEEDS Intern

Postcard From Coral Ed-ventures in Belize

14 Jun

As the Smith College Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program enters its 13th year, students participate in another fun and educational summer running youth camps in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize. Below is a recent email update we received from the Smith women spending their summer teaching and learning abroad in Belize. 

A view from the Mayan Princess, where students stay before relocating to their apartment:

Dear Coral Ed Alums, family and friends,

Greetings from La Isla Bonita!

We arrived in San Pedro Monday mid-morning to a bit of a overcast and gloomy day. After checking in at the Mayan Princess we said hi to all of our many friends and colleagues on the island. After moving into Mellie’s apartment, we started visiting schools and making appointments to advertise for camp. When we stopped in at Hol Chan to talk to Miguel and Mariela, we met Kirah, a biologist, who suggested the students in advanced camp could participate in a long-term sea grass density project. This project will involve students working along shallow transects and collecting core samples and data on sea grass density, salinity, and water temperature. We’re really excited about this new opportunity for our advanced campers! And also for providing helpful hands for Hol Chan’s research!  Our students may also have a chance to compare their data to data from other sites where information has already been collected.

The three returners are happy to be back!  The three new team members are excited and getting acclimated to the heat! Megan has started SCUBA with Eddie and the rest of the team is looking forward to doing a refresher dive with Eddie later this week to prepare for research. We just confirmed our first movie night will happen this Saturday. We’re planning on showing Rio and will busy making posters tonight after dinner.

Hope everyone is doing well. We would love to hear from you.

Sending you sun and love from San Pedro!



Kaylyn, Angela, Alyssa, Megan, Laura, & Kayla




Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program off and sunning

5 Jun

As the Smith College Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program enters its 13th year, students gear up for another fun and educational summer, running youth camps in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize. Students will be sharing their adventures in Belize weekly on our blog so stay tuned!


Read the full article here:  Smith College: News.