6th Annual Environmental Research Colloquium

IGERT Fellows participated in the 6th Annual Environmental Research Colloquium, which took place on April 18, 2018 at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB). The event was organized by the UMB School for the Environment (SFE) and invited graduate and undergraduate students from all over New England to present their research, network, and meet with employers.

The Colloquium featured a “Women in Science” panel discussion with four women leaders in the environmental field:

Vandana M. Rao, PhD, Director of Water Policy, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Indrani Ghosh, PhD, Senior Professional at Kleinfelder
Julia Knisel, Coastal Shoreline & Floodplain Manager, MA Office of Coastal Zone Management
Mia Mansfield, Climate Ready Boston Program Manager with the City of Boston Office of Environment, Energy and Open Space

Twelve environmental employers, among which MassDEP, Neponset River Watershed Association, Massachusetts Sea Grant, USDA Forest Service, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and Triumvirate, joined the Colloquium to interview and hire students for summer employment and full-time positions.

Fifty students interested in environmental research that ranges from local to global, e.g., from coastal resilience right here in Boston Harbor to climate change impacts on coral reef ecosystems in Australia, presented their research at the Colloquium. All presentations — posters and oral — were evaluated by a team of SFE professors. Students won certificates and prizes for best presentations. In the graduate presenter category, the top three prizes were awarded to IGERT Fellows: Shannon Davis, Christine San Antonio, and Catie Tobin. Congratulations to the winners!

Shannon Davis, 1st prize
Christine San Antonio, 2nd prize
Catie Tobin, 3rd prize (Pictured from left to right: Kelly Luis, Catie Tobin, Maria Petrova, Sean McNally)
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Summer Boot Camp Recap

The 2017 IGERT cohort kicked off its fellowship program in August with an orientation on the island of Nantucket and a Boston Harbor “boot camp” that gave fellows a chance to work together in teams learning about environmental challenges facing coastal communities in Massachusetts.

The Nantucket orientation provided a taste of IGERT’s transdisciplinary approach to solving environmental problems by immersing fellows in the cultural and natural resources of the island. They met with key stakeholders, experts, and locals to gain a better understanding of its challenges, successes, and opportunities for the future. Staying at the UMass Boston Field Station, they learned about the island’s diverse and complex ecology—one of the primary engines of Nantucket’s economy and an undeniable source of pride and beauty for islanders and tourists alike—and about Nantucket’s whaling history, which has shaped the socio-economic and environmental landscape from the 18th century to today.

Fellows worked in teams, drawing on their diverse expertise and perspectives, to identify challenges facing the island and identify a development path to 2050 that is equitable and sustainable. They later fleshed out these initial ideas into proposals to share with Nantucket stakeholders.

Comparing the group to “an environmental special ops team,” IGERT fellow Jack Whitacre said: “the combination of fast-paced, long hours and different disciplines lent itself to an atmosphere of creativity and intellectual rigor. My biggest take away was that one can’t ‘solve’ a problem without understanding the problem itself. Therefore, in some ways, the problem contains the solution.”

The following week, a three-day Boston Harbor Boot Camp was an opportunity to expand students’ horizons, exposing them to the full spectrum of environmental issues and research in the Boston area. Guided by UMass Boston faculty and graduate students, fellows donned waders to take streamflow measurements in Lower Mills, counted invertebrates in Pope’s Pond, visited the Blue Hills Weather Observatory, flew a drone, trekked through a salt marsh on the Neponset River, sampled Boston Harbor water, and dissected mussels on Lovells Island. Based on this fieldwork, fellows chose mini research projects that they’ll be working on in the coming weeks.

The Boot Camp ended with an expert panel discussion about the history of the Boston Harbor cleanup, its current status, and the future of the harbor and surrounding communities. The talks gave fellows a view into the coastal community that UMass Boston is a part of, and the work that has already been done to make it a healthy ecosystem. IGERT fellow Michael Cole said that the program’s solution-oriented approach “will continue to push our research beyond the classroom, beyond theory, and into the policy-making arena.”

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Submerge

IGERT students from UMB went down to New York City to contribute to Submerge Marine Science Festival. The event was held on a beautiful day at Hudson River Park with 6,500 people in attendance. UMass Boston students lead an activity that challenged people to make a “phytoplankton” out of art supplies that would neither sink nor float, but instead be neutrally buoyant. This was intended to represent a phytoplankton living in the photic zone. Many kids and even some adults took on the challenge and a few succeeded in making a neutrally buoyant “phytoplankton.”

https://www.hudsonriverpark.org/news-and-updates/dive-into-submerge-nyc-marine-science-festival

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Hack the Machine

Inspired by a presentation on VR by Microsoft’s Principal Business Strategist and Architect, Jack generated a novel concept for humanitarian assistance in coastal disasters and forwarded the research results to the event organizer, Commander Zac Staples, Director of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Cyber Warfare.

https://www.hackthemachine.ai/

I’ve written a piece after attending a symposium held by the U.S. Navy and MIT focusing on new technologies for coastal disaster response. First, I learned that humanitarian “solutions” can sometimes bring their own problems and ongoing dialogue is essential to trustworthy disaster response. Second, a literature review revealed that evidence and consent are two essential drivers when introducing any new technology that claims to make people safer. I think the combination of new technologies mixed with personal experience will generate a lot of positive discussion in the environmental response and security spheres.” -Jack Whitacre, Cohort 2017

http://www.academia.edu/34720383/Do_The_Right_Thing_Security_Technology_and_Ethics

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Climate Engagement Program

How do we effectively communicate climate change to coastal communities across diverse cultural and political landscapes around the world?  This is the urgent question that IGERT Fellow, Kelly Luis, sought to answer at the recent Climate Engagement Program workshop at the University of California in Santa Cruz. As part of the program, Kelly was trained to effectively engage audiences to enact potential climate change solutions. As part of the program, Kelly created her own climate engagement plan and will spend the year putting her plan into action, receiving support from UC Santa Cruz along the way.

“I am extremely humbled to be a part of the first cohort of UCSC Climate Engagement Fellows. Every individual in the program valued effective and meaningful engagement, which fostered brilliant and inspiring discussions throughout the workshop. ” -Kelly Luis, Cohort 2016

https://climateengagement.sites.ucsc.edu/

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