Sustainability News

Three H&S students have been hard at work this year on projects related to sustainability, each supported by grant awards: 

Sara Holmes ’09, an environmental studies major with a concentration in anthropology, was awarded a Mellon Research Initiative fellowship by Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. The goal of the Mellon research program is “to further scholarly rigor and coherence in the field of environmental studies by cultivating interdisciplinary research skills among undergraduate students.” 

In April, Holmes met with the other 20 student recipients for a kick-off workshop on the campus of Lewis and Clark College. Holmes received a stipend of $3,500 to complete her research over the next year, investigating the old Morse Chain Company factory and the associated contamination on South Hill in Ithaca. She plans to examine the physical, economic, and social effects of the contamination, the cultural significance of the Morse Chain Company to Ithacans, and the work of a community organization that is fighting to clean up the contamination. 

Her research will be guided by faculty in the anthropology, biology, and history departments as she tackles the project from an integrated, interdisciplinary perspective. “I plan to put our local situation into a national context,” Holmes says. “My goal is to produce comprehensive research that can help provide insight for handling future incidents of contamination that are notoriously difficult to remediate.” 

Jonathan Hershenson ’09, an environmental studies major, received an H&S Educational Grant Initiative Award to conduct research into producing biodiesel fuel. Working with his collaborator and mentor, assistant professor of chemistry Akiko Fillinger, Hershenson ultimately hopes to establish a biodiesel certification center at the Center for Natural Sciences on the Ithaca College campus. 

Fillinger explained that the project was really all Hershenson’s idea: “He approached me and asked if I would help him make biodiesel. I had no idea how to do it, or even where to begin, but he was so determined that I knew I couldn’t say no.” The rising costs of fuel and an interest in sustainability put Hershenson on the path to developing a biodiesel of his own that could be used in almost every motorized machine on campus. When officials at the physical plant informed him that the College’s insurance policy requires that all biodiesel used be certified, he and Fillinger explored what certification would entail and figured out that it would be most cost effective to simply certify it themselves. The grant money was used to buy the equipment necessary to certify fuel. Fillinger says, “Jonathan’s project has turned into something that will really make the College a fixture in the regional sustainability picture.” 

Lia Stelljes ’08, physics major, spent the 2007–8 academic year helping Susan Allen-Gil, associate professor of biology and coordinator of the environmental studies program, organize an advanced research workshop titled Rethinking Higher Education to Meet the New Challenges of Environmental Security as part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme. NATO awarded a grant to Allen-Gil and four international colleagues to plan and convene the workshop, held in Kharkiv, Ukraine, at the end of May. 

Over three days, 35 workshop participants from 16 countries, representing universities, nongovernmental organizations, and government agencies, heard from plenary speakers, presented papers, and discussed “the influence of higher education on environmental policy making” and “the long-term impact of collaborative approaches to sustainability challenges.” In the months leading up to the workshop, Stelljes played an essential role in the planning process; she developed a website for the conference, coordinated many of the conference logistics, and edited the submitted papers that were presented at the conference. 

“I’m honored to have all these responsibilities, and to have Professor Allen-Gil’s trust in me. This is an unbelievable experience to have for my senior year,” said Stelljes, just two weeks before her departure. At the workshop, Stelljes herself presented a paper coauthored with Allen-Gil, that offered a student’s perspective on higher education and how nontraditional methods can help to increase awareness of environmental issues. “What’s at stake is the pedagogy of sustainability in the classroom,” she said, “and students have a lot to contribute to that discussion.” In fall 2008 Stelljes will continue her involvement in educational issues when she enters a master’s degree program in science teaching at Boston University, where she will focus on environmental science for grades 5–8.