​Travel Opportunities Provide New Insight for Students

Ohio State’s Office of Energy and Environment offers financial assistance to Ohio State students to attend or participate in conferences or seminars related to energy, the environment or sustainability, as well as to conduct research in sustainability issues.

Students often travel across the country to give presentations, network with professionals in their fields and gain new knowledge in their areas of study.

Students Examine Response to Energy, Infrastructure Changes

In an effort to save lives and aid the environment, doctoral student Ehsan Fereshtehnejad works to design sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems. In the Risk Assessment and Management of Structural and Infrastructure Systems lab on campus, he researches critical infrastructure systems exposed to hazards such as earthquakes and evaluates their effects on communities and the environment in order to lessen energy consumption, reduce materials used for repairs and decrease harmful gas emissions.

“I am always passionate about making our world a better place to live,” says Fereshtehnejad. “Working in this field provides the opportunity for me to contribute to the world’s safety, welfare and sustainability.”

Fereshtehnejad is one of three Ohio State doctoral students who furthered their educational experiences by attending sustainability-related conferences with financial support from the Sustainability Institute of Ohio State (recently created by the merger of the Office of Energy and Environment and the Sustainable and Resilient Economies Discovery Theme).

Fereshtehnejad, who attended the National Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Los Angeles, experienced the same benefits as Fergen. He presented his framework for identifying optimal repair actions for bridges, while considering the potential for earthquakes that threaten their safety and functionality, at the June 25- 29, 2018, conference, which welcomed a broad range of professionals from around the world to discuss the most recent advancements in earthquake engineering research and applications.

“This conference gave me the chance to meet and network with the pioneers in the field of earthquake engineering,” says Fereshtehnejad. “I would like to thank the Office of Energy and Environment for supporting my travel to the conference.”

Following the completion of his doctorate in August 2018, he hopes to conduct research for a hazard risk modeling and mitigation company to promote community safety and infrastructure resilience.

“Attending these conferences increases the visibility of Ohio State researchers and exposes us to legislators and other academic researchers across the nation,” says Fereshtehnejad.

Joshua Fergen, a doctoral student studying environment and natural resources, agreed.

Fergen traveled to Salt Lake City to attend the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management (ISSRM), where he presented his research on the relationship between agricultural operations structure and wind energy density. The June 17-21, 2018, symposium welcomed a wide variety of professionals and scholars to share cutting-edge research and discuss sustainable management of natural resources.

His interest in sustainability stems from experiencing wind energy and its societal effects firsthand in his hometown Huron, S.D.

“Growing up in rural South Dakota, I could see how wind energy development was creating excitement and conflict across different communities,” says Fergen. “I became interested in what other aspects may be driving those relationships.”

Fergen investigates the impacts of wind energy development on agricultural practices and rural communities and the effects of policy changes on renewable energy transition and local land use throughout the United States.

Fergen explains his biggest takeaway from the conference was that persistence pays off. His dedication to wind energy research efforts in areas that are not often discussed has enabled him to offer a new way of understanding communities and energy development. He aspires to continue his investigation into alternative energy transitions and expand his research to geothermal and solar energy as a professor at a land-grant institution after completing his doctorate in December 2019.

“I felt truly welcomed into this research community as others I admire provided comments and have mentioned my work at conferences in the past,” says Fergen. “As a result, my social network has expanded immensely and my confidence as a graduate student has grown as I prepare for my job search after graduation.”

Anne Junod, another doctoral student studying environment and natural resources, attended the conference as well. She served as the graduate representative-elect for the ISSRM, and her responsibilities included organizing and facilitating graduate student events, professional development and communications.

Junod, who hopes to work in energy policy, presented her research on perceptions and societal responses to energy transportation risks, such as oil-by-rail transportation. She also participated in a panel discussion regarding best practices for qualitative research methods during the ongoing energy revolution in the United States.

“Spending time learning from and collaborating with other scholars with complementary research interests in person was invaluable,” says Junod.

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.

Firsthand Look at Industry Impacts Spur Student’s Environmental Studies

Kassi Burnett, a doctoral student studying Germanic languages and literatures, was raised by a family of coal miners and steel mill workers in St. Clairsville in rural Ohio. That upbringing stirred her interest in environmental humanities and ecocriticism, the interdisciplinary study of literature and the environment.

Seeking shared knowledge and conversation with scholars from around the globe, Burnett attended the Trans-Atlantic Summer Institute on “Transforming Environments in Europe and North America: Narratives, Histories, Cultures,” at the University of Minnesota in June.

“In my hometown, people are more likely to smoke, less likely to know about pollution and environmental hazards and far less likely to live as long other Americans,” says Burnett. “Seeing, firsthand, the impacts these differences have had on my family members has really pushed me to think about the narratives we tell about our environment and how we can, should and do interact with it.”

At the June 18-29, 2018, institute, experts from North America and Europe addressed global environmental problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, toxic pollution and resource depletion and discussed the cultures that characterize these problems. Burnett interacted with these experts and received guidance for framing and developing her environmental humanities dissertation.

“I think one of the greatest takeaways from the institute was learning what brings people together in the environmental humanities,” says Burnett. “Even though we all come from different angles, we share concerns about the environment and its beings.”

Following the completion of her doctorate, Burnett plans to pursue a career in academia and ecocriticism. She received funding from the Office of Energy and Environment for her trip.

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.

Engineering Student Presents Research, Gains Feedback at Civil Engineering Conference

Soroush Zamanian, a doctoral student studying civil, environmental and geodetic engineering, received valuable feedback from experts in his field when he attended the Engineering Mechanics Institute Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. The conference is sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineering and attracts a diverse range of scientists and researchers to promote the most recent progress and future developments in engineering mechanics.

At the May 29- June 2, 2018 conference, Zamanian presented his research on sensitivity and reliability analysis of buried wastewater systems such as sewer pipes. Zamanian works in the Risk Assessment and Management of Structural and Infrastructure Systems lab on campus, where he conducts risk analysis on sewer pipes exposed to aging and deterioration. He seeks to understand how these issues impact environmental pollution, health problems, traffic, regional and global economy and the resilience of systems and communities.

Zamanian’s presentations addressed the need for rehabilitation, repair and maintenance of sewer pipe systems. He discussed the creation of accurate models to capture realistic behavior of buried concrete sewer pipes exposed to deterioration and to identify the most important parameters related to crack formation in order to devise effective design, maintenance and upgrade solutions.

“It was a unique experience to present in front of many experts in my area of research,” says Zamanian. “My presentation engrossed the attention of the audience, and that was significantly motivating for me.”

Following the completion of his doctorate, Zamanian plans to work in the structural design industry managing reliability and data analysis. He also hopes to become a higher education instructor.

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.

Students and Staff Exhibit at Annual Sustainability Conference

Seeking an opportunity to share her experience and knowledge of sustainability with undergraduate students from across the nation, Michelle Wentling, president of the Ohio State Student Sustainability Council, attended the 2017 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference.

The theme of the conference, “Stronger in Solidarity,” resonated strongly with Wentling and led her to several important realizations.

“We cannot simply use the same messaging and programming that fosters the same audience again and again,” says Wentling, a senior studying English. “We need to have uncomfortable conversations with those with whom we disagree. We need to encourage collaboration with others and not simply other environmentally-focused groups, but groups and bodies that are affected by environmental issues, which is each and every one of us.”

Wentling explains that the Student Sustainability Council was created when a few students involved in different sustainability organizations on campus realized that they had little collaboration or communication, although each group had a similar mission. These students decided to create a council of organization leaders to promote collaboration and minimize project overlap. The Student Sustainability Council currently consists of 21 student organizations focused on sustainability and the environment.

At the AASHE conference, Wentling, along with Student Sustainability Council Treasurer Marie McConnell, gave a presentation about the Student Sustainability Council with the goal of educating students from other universities on how to form their own collaborative group. They shared information about how the council was formed, how it's maintained, how funding is awarded and how new groups can join the council.

Wentling and McConnell also discussed the 2017 Time for Change Week, which was a week of programming and events focused on increasing Ohio State environmental awareness and community engagement. Wentling considers Time for Change week to be the Student Sustainability Council’s greatest success thus far.

“We could not stress enough how vital collaboration among council members was in creating the largest green week in the history of Ohio State,” Wentling says.

After graduation, Wentling plans to further her education with a focus on environmental humanities. At the conference, she learned about humanitarian sustainability efforts such as the intersectionality of environmental justice, environmental poetry and writing, implementation of fine arts in sustainability, and ways oral history can encourage sustainable practices. Wentling also learned about projects implemented at other universities that could be included in Time for Change Week.

AASHE is a membership association of colleges and universities, businesses and nonprofits who are leading partners in sustainability transformation. The annual AASHE Conference seeks to advance sustainability in higher education and surrounding communities by providing a platform to share effective models, policies, research, collaborations and transformative actions.

Wentling was one of 12 student leaders whose attendance at the conference was coordinated by the Office of Student Life; three of the students received travel funding from the Office of Energy and Environment.

Tom Reeves, director of Energy Management and Sustainability for Student Life, explains that each year, a group of students with diverse backgrounds and majors, who represent different student organizations on campus, attend the conference. Ohio State had one of the largest groups of students in attendance this year.

“This, to me, is my favorite part of going to AASHE — seeing our student leaders grow and develop in their understanding of sustainability in a broad sense and learning that ‘sustainability’ means a lot more than just recycling and reducing your carbon footprint,” says Reeves. “Rather, it has a much broader scope that engages social justice and economic impact alongside the environmental components.”

Reeves also participated in the conference with presentations on the Student Sustainability Council and Time for Change Week, as well as the Office of Student Life’s engagement with the Ohio State Department of Athletics to help communicate sustainability practices with students and the greater Columbus community.

“I think AASHE is important because it shows all attendees — staff and students alike — how much working together can help resolve the issues surrounding climate change,” says Reeves. “This year’s theme, ‘Stronger in Solidarity,’ really emphasized the importance of collaborating and building bridges to help increase awareness of sustainability.”

The 2018 Time for Change Week will take place April 1-6. Follow Time for Change Week on social media for event and activity updates.

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.

Australia Trip Motivates Students to Apply Sustainability at Home

Ohio State students learned about one of the biggest issues humanity is facing today, the effects of climate change, during a study abroad trip to Australia this year.

“The trip just cleared my thoughts and made my resolve stronger that I do want to make a positive difference for our environment, especially the ocean ecosystem,” says Marie Roda, who is studying environmental policy and decision making with a specialization in international policy and law. She also is earning a minor in environmental science with a focus on water science.

This past May, Roda joined fellow students and traveled to North Queensland, Australia, for a study abroad program through the School of Environmental and Natural Resources. The program, “Australia: Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment,” gave a group of about 28 students the opportunity to earn six credit hours during the three weeks spent learning about sustainability Down Under.

Roda and Jackie Reusser, a senior studying environmental science with a specialization in ecosystem restoration, received travel funding assistance for the trip from the Office of Energy and Environment.

Reusser recounts that she and fellow students heard anecdotes from Aboriginal elders about the oppression of their people at the hands of European colonization during a visit to Mungalla Station, a restored farm. The Aboriginals are indigenous descendants from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands before European colonization. A focus of the study abroad program was to analyze sustainable relationships between Aboriginal society and surrounding ecosystems by integrating ecological, biological and social science disciplines.

Throughout the trip, students stayed with farm families and learned about water scarcity issues, the struggles of living in isolated areas, and Queensland’s agriculture and habitat restoration efforts. They again conversed with Aboriginal elders at Mission Beach and learned about the agricultural struggles and habitat restoration of the outback at a gold mine. To study modern sustainability efforts, they traveled to Hidden Valley’s ecolodge resort, which operates entirely on solar panels.

The students snorkeled with reef experts, too. Here, students saw firsthand the effects of climate change in parts of the Great Barrier Reef. They learned about wetland and reef restoration projects to combat the effects of climate change and agricultural runoff at the Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium, Reusser explains. Students then partnered with Reef Ecologic, a research and consulting firm, to help conduct a distribution survey at Magnetic Island with the goal of removing algae from the reef itself. Immersion into a variety of Queensland’s ecosystems, especially the ocean, was an integral part of the program.

Both students say they gained valuable insight into sustainability and have big plans for their futures at Ohio State.

This study abroad program taught students how to apply important aspects of sustainability to their own daily lives, Roda explains. She says they learned to conserve water and energy by doing laundry less frequently and turning lights off when possible. Overall, the trip taught her to become much more aware of her water and energy consumption at all times. She says a career as an environmental policy analyst at the United States Agency for International Development would be a dream come true, but she would love to work for any agency, company or institution working toward the betterment of not just the environment but also society as a whole.

Reusser emphasizes that the key to making a change is persistence and passion, which can trump monetary wealth and power. She has served on the executive boards of Students for a Sustainable Campus and Buckeye Friends of Stone Lab here at Ohio State. She aspires to travel worldwide and aid in ecological restoration projects in impoverished, polluted areas to bring equilibrium to the environment and the human societies existing within them. As far as gaining valuable experience from this program, Reusser says, “I will never forget the impact one person can have in this world.”

Ravleen Kaur is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.

Public Affairs Student Examines Sustainable Urban Design in Europe

While U.S. cities such as Columbus are working to implement new transportation methods and sustainable practices, numerous European cities have already done so.

Undergraduate student Caroline Corona studied sustainable urban planning from a global perspective as a participant in the European Cities and Sustainable Urban Planning Practices program.

Corona is a third-year student with a double major in public affairs and city and regional planning. This past May, 2017, Corona traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark; Hamburg and Berlin, Germany; and Amsterdam, Netherlands, each of which are global leaders in environmental planning and sustainable living. The program included interactive studies of each city, where students traveled to different public sites and observed and discussed key sustainable projects and design elements. Corona focused on various public squares, plazas, mixed-use spaces and markets and had the opportunity to meet with professionals and planning firms such as Gottlieb Paludan Architects and officials from the City of Copenhagen.

“My biggest takeaway for sustainable urbanism was to make sustainable living the easiest option,” Corona says.

Corona learned that sustainable cities have designed their streets so it is more difficult to drive than it is to walk, ride a bike or use public transit systems. Corona and fellow students spent time walking, biking and occasionally traveling by train but never once found it necessary to travel by car. She explains that this type of city design has reduced greenhouse gas emissions and helped city residents maintain healthy lifestyles.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity not only because it introduced me to new urban design and sustainable planning principles,” she says, “but because it widened my worldview.” Corona received funding from the Office of Energy and Environment for her trip.

Corona will continue studying sustainable design principles and would like to pursue a career in public service to promote positive change through local government or nonprofit work.

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.

Aspiring Attorney Researches Environmental Policy in Canada

While it is a critical time for environmental policy in the United States, it is equally important in other countries, including Canada. Sophie Manaster experienced this firsthand through her summer internship in Ottawa, Canada.

Manaster, a sophomore studying Environmental Policy and Decision Making with a specialization in Strategic Communications, interned for John Aldag, a member of the Canadian parliament from British Columbia. Aldag serves on the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee, where Manaster assisted with the committee’s study of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act focuses on pressing environmental issues such as toxic substances and chemicals, pollution prevention, vehicle emissions, human health and recycling. Due to the act’s upcoming debate in the House of Commons, Manaster’s internship played an important role in the research process.

In addition to administrative office duties, Manaster aided in policy research, writing speeches, and was present at committee meetings. She was able to see a number of important pieces of legislation passed as Parliament approached their summer break.

“I learned so much from my first day to my last and feel much more developed professionally thanks to this opportunity,” Manaster says. The Office of Energy and Environment helped to fund Manaster’s trip.

Manaster plans to become involved in more environmental organizations on campus, and hopes to one day work as an environmental attorney.

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.

Ohio State Students Help Sustain Tanzania

Seeking an opportunity to have a positive impact on society, Maddie Drenkhan was among 35 Ohio State students to travel to Tanzania this year as part of a program to help a village obtain clean water. The Sustainable and Resilient Tanzania Community (SRTC) program is a joint project between the Ohio State University’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering, the University of Dodoma, Tanzania, and the people of Marwa, Tanzania (photo: above).

“The coolest part of the experience for me was seeing so many different people come together and work toward one goal,” Drenkhan says. “The project is very slow moving, as all development work is, but I really enjoyed watching students and community members come together to solve problems and come up with ideas.”

Marwa is a traditional Masai community forced to settle in one place due to recent mandates by the Tanzanian government. The SRTC program, which also works closely with the Kilimanjaro Hope Organization (photo: right), seeks to create solutions to the clean water shortages the village faces by fostering relationships and continuing long-term projects centered on designing a clean-water system.

The projects for the May 2017 program included constructing a rainwater harvesting system (photo: below) at the local dispensary (pharmacy), determining if a well could be reinstalled with a solar pump, and designing a modern water treatment system to collect water from the Pangani River, treat it and then distribute it to the village. Students from Ohio State’s College of Engineering and School of Environment and Natural Resources teamed up and worked on different aspects of the program.

In addition to helping with translation, six students and one professor from The University of Dodoma assisted each student team.

In preparation for the trip, the Ohio State students were required to take a spring semester course that included history discussions and Swahili language lessons.

The Office of Energy and Environment, through its student funding program, assisted four of these students with their travel expenses for this trip.

Drenkhan, a senior studying public health with a sociology specialization, worked on the sociological aspect of the program. Her group spent two weeks meeting with women and children in the four subvillages of Marwa — Lesirway, Njaketai, Marwa and Patel — learning about potential business opportunities they may have once it is no longer necessary for them to spend all day collecting water.

Onur Eroglu, a graduate student in civil engineering, worked on gathering information relevant to the treatment sites and distribution points of the water pump system from the Pangani River. Each morning, Eroglu and his group would drive to the villages and do map work to collect data about the terrain.

“One day we were at a subvillage, Patelli, surveying and collecting elevation data, and it started raining. We saw that on rainy days, kids couldn’t even go to school,” Eroglu explains, due to flooding and inadequate roofing. “This made us realize how much they really need our help here, and just treating their water isn’t enough.”

Rachel DuBois, a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, and her group were tasked with creating a preliminary design of the treatment system for the collected Pangani river water to bing to the community.

“There is such a sense of selflessness and gratitude that is mutual between the community members of Marwa and the participants from Ohio State,” DuBois says. (Photo: left).

This summer DuBois began working with the United States Peace Corps in Sierra Leone as a hygiene education and water sanitation volunteer. After pursuing an advanced degree, she one day hopes to work for the United Nations.

Patrick Sours, also a recent graduate in civil engineering, worked on the rainwater-harvesting project with his group. This consisted of creating a tank, putting in gutters and using purified rainwater for drinking.

Sours focused on overseeing data collection of the system. Working alongside local tradesmen and engineers, Sours and his team were able to build a 30,000-liter rainwater harvesting system on the Marwa medical dispensary. This fall, Sours will be begin his master’s degree in food, agriculture and biological engineering at Ohio State.

“I made friends and memories that will last a life time,” Sours says. “And most of all, we were able to be part of something larger than ourselves and assist a community that truly deserves it.”

Written by Natalie Michalski, Communications Assistant in the Office of Energy and Environment.

Rome Italy

The Office of Energy and Environment helped fund the travel for three civil engineering students to present their research in Rome to international professionals and researchers in the field of fluid mechanics. In April 2017, these students attended the 19th International Conference on Finite Elements in Flow Problems to network, gain insight and improve their own research.

Dominik Mattioli

Dominik Mattioli, who is working on his master’s degree, presented his research on the generation of polygon meshes, which are a collection of adjacent polygons.Together these polygons define the shape of some domain or body of water and are required for modeling hydrodynamic flow problems over surfaces of water, for instance, hurricane storm surges. Mattioli says the more pieces there are, the model will have greater accuracy but less efficiency. Mattioli’s research deals with creating these meshes in an innovatively efficient way.

“This conference served its purpose by supplying a deadline for me to make significant progress in my research,” Mattioli says. Following the completion of his degree, Mattioli intends on taking a break from academia and pursuing a career in data analysis and informatics in Chicago.

Dylan Wood

Doctoral student Dylan Wood says he wants to become more involved in hydrodynamic work by forecasting flooding from hurricane storm surges to help mitigate the effects of climate change and preserve ecosystems.

At the conference, he gave a presentation on fluid mechanics simulations, which he makes by using computational models that approximate solutions to their equations, determining how fluids behave. These models then specifically look at hurricane storm surges and their interactions with flood defense systems.

Wood pointed out that only a select few individuals are pursuing his field of research, but the conference attendees had important information applicable to his own work.

“It was a great opportunity not only for networking, but for learning as well,” Wood says. “I learned a lot about the current research that is going on, and I also learned some important aspects of my own research because of the conference,” Wood says.

Yilong Xiao

Yilong Xiao is also a doctoral student in civil engineering, with focuses on environmental and water resource topics. Xiao’s research revolves around modeling soil-water flow. Xiao explains that soil-water flow is a critical subsurface component of hydrologic or land surface models.

At the conference, he presented a prototype of his model, which he is developing to accurately predict the amount of soil moisture given the physical properties of the soil, as well as rainfall conditions.

Xiao explains that this area of study is nothing new; however, older models do not perform well when taking into account heavy rainfalls or high variability in soil conditions. Xiao’s model aims to handle complicated physical conditions as he incorporates Computational Fluid Dynamics into his work.

“It is especially crucial for me, being new to this field, to get in touch with experts and understand the most challenging topics and advanced methods,” Xiao explains. “Research has always been about gap-filling, and keeping oneself updated would help in stirring one’s current work in the right direction.”

Xiao intends to publish a paper on his current work and to one day work as a researcher in a higher institution either here in the United States or in his home country of Singapore.

San Francisco, California

Two environmental science doctoral students presented their research at a conference attended by more than 24,000 scientists and other researchers focused on earth and space science studies last fall.

Jonathan Ogland-Hand and Yaoping Wang received funding from the Office of Energy and Environment to attend the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco in December 2016.

“When you sit in your lab all day, you get very focused on just what you’re doing,” Ogland-Hand says. “When you go to a conference like this and see all this cool research from other people, you realize that your research is a piece of a huge puzzle.”

Ogland-Hand presented a poster of his studies related to the modeling of subsurface fluid flow of carbon dioxide in geothermal sedimentary basins. In geothermal bulk energy storage, carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants is injected underground into a sedimentary basin geothermal resource. As more carbon dioxide is injected, the pressure builds up, making it easier to extract the heat produced from the carbon dioxide at the surface and use it for energy. With higher production flowrates, more electricity can be sent to the grid when needed, for instance when solar and wind energy resources cannot produce. In addition, geothermal energy storage decreases emissions since the carbon dioxide is injected directly underground.

Ogland-Hand points out that traction is beginning to gain for using carbon dioxide and geothermal energy resources for bulk energy storage.

Wang attended the conference and gave a presentation of her research. Her research involves computer modeling to study historical U.S. data on water use for predictions to reduce the uncertainty about how much water is actually used by thermoelectric power plants.

Wang says she was most grateful to talk to other people and find out how they have developed their research so she can apply those lessons to her own research.

Gordon Ulmer

Conflicting Industries Fuel Amazon Workforce

Mining is to ecotourism as oil is to water; however, in a region of Peru they intertwine, as local residents shift between the two economies to maintain their livelihoods.

Gordon Ulmer, a doctoral student in anthropology, studies extractive economies such as gold mining and logging in relation to biodiversity conservation in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. After an 18-month ethnographic study, he found that many locals participate in both gold mining and conservation jobs such as ecotourism. The link between these two seemingly opposite industries, he says, is that they both offer short-term earning opportunities to a disenfranchised population.

(Pictured right: Gordon Ulmer riding a water taxi on the Madre de Dios River.)

Since the turn of the century, and especially since the global economic recession of 2008, gold profits soared on Wall Street and gold fever broke out in Amazonia, Ulmer says. Increased market demand influenced nearly 40,000 people to move to the Madre de Dios region to look for work, predominantly in illegal gold mining, according to the University of Maryland School of Public Policy in Peru. These workers earn about the equivalent of $80 per day, while the minimum average salary in Peru is markedly lower at roughly $10 per day.

While the salary is desirous, the work is very dangerous, according to Ulmer.

“Almost every gold miner that I spoke to has witnessed a death or knows somebody who’s died in the gold mines,” Ulmer says.

Due to cultural and economic factors, however, other high-paying jobs in the region are not easily attainable.

One active service sector opportunity in Madre de Dios is ecotourism, which, according to the International Ecotourism Society, is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education. Residents of the Madre de Dios region want to work in ecotourism, Ulmer says, because deeply ingrained in their culture is an appreciation for working in the environment.

Residents pilot boats to transport visitors to and from eco-lodges, maintain the eco-lodges, cook meals, lead tours and educate visitors. Many of these are “odd jobs,” or informal short-term earning opportunities for unskilled conservation staff. The higher-paying jobs, providing economic security, are in professional positions (e.g. educated tour guides, administrators) that require higher education, multilingualism and certification. One of the primary ways to earn money for higher education, Ulmer says, is through gold mining and logging, despite the profound environmental cost to the Peruvian Amazon.

“The intensification of mining caused a tripling of the rate of deforestation and a surge in human rights issues and labor abuses in Madre de Dios,” Ulmer says, “such as de facto slavery through debt peonage, human trafficking and child prostitution, and exposure to unhealthy levels of mercury in soils, waterways and aquatic food supplies.”

The path to removing mining and logging from the labor market without further impoverishing a society is a complicated matter, Ulmer says. While extractive economies are damaging to the Amazon, numerous families across Andes-Amazonia Peru rely on this job market for survival. Cultural and social influences also affect their labor choices, Ulmer adds.

(Pictured right: Landscape mining in the Madre de Dios region)

“Working in conservation and extraction are complimentary responses to household insecurities and reflect broader strategies for surviving in a place where the informal economy is not just a means of living,” Ulmer concludes from his research, “but also a way of life.”

He presented his findings Nov. 16-20, 2016, at the American Anthropological Association 115th Annual Conference in Minneapolis. The Office of Energy and Environment helped fund his trip via a student travel scholarship.

Ulmer says the conference had an international reach, and he hopes his presentation had an impact on the anthropological community.

“A conference panel,” Ulmer says, “often pushes the envelope on a new concept or way of thinking about an old idea.”

Tony Satroplus

Engineers Without Borders

Tony Satroplus, a third-year in biomedical engineering, traveled to Njau, The Gambia in Africa on an Engineers Without Borders humanitarian trip during winter break.

“The reason I joined the club is because I really want to do humanitarian work,” says Satroplus. “But also eing with people who have the same goals, I think, is a great thing.”

EWB focuses on essentials such as shelter, food, clean water, education and waste management. In The Gambia, the group has focused on water projects, specifically for agriculture.

“They get rain for about three months out of the year, and the rest is dry,” Satroplus says. “We’re working on an irrigation system so they can grow crops and eat throughout the year.”

(pictured right: Satroplus (middle) and other EWB members on the May 2016 trip to The Gambia.)

Satroplus, International Project Lead of the Ohio State Engineers Without Borders chapter, visited The Gambia for the first time in May 2016. The organization completes five-year projects in each community it visits.

“We’ve been going to Gambia for about a year and a half, and we’re still in the assessment phase,” says Satroplus. “These first few trips are about meeting with the community and establishing their needs.”

The community in Njau is seven hours away from any major city, and there is no electricity, . Satroplus says, so it is important that the local people can become self-sustaining.

He says sustainable humanitarian work is a focus of EWB; the group works with community members rather than making decisions for them.

“We educate with every project; it’s called Maintenance and Learning, so we don’t leave without significant members of the community understanding the structures,” Satroplus says.

The EWB will return to The Gambia in July to continue work on the projects.

Satroplus says he enjoys revisiting communities. Many of the EWB members make personal ties, Satroplus says, which make going back even more rewarding.

“Being there and talking to these people,” Satroplus says, “you get even closer the second time.”

Adam Cupito

Adam Cupito’s weeklong study abroad experience in the Caribbean taught him firsthand that regardless of a country’s culture or economy, the environment is an important component to everyone’s daily lives.

Cupito, a junior studying forestry, fisheries and wildlife, spent part of his winter 2016 break away from the Columbus cold in the Dominican Republic. The Office of Energy and Environment helped fund Cupito’s one-week trip to the Caribbean to learn about environmental sustainability and natural resource management. Prior to departure, students were required to take an eight-week course and additionally conduct a research project on any topic relating to the course theme in the Dominican Republic. The trip focused on how companies and organizations promote the environment and apply more sustainable practices to ecotourism in a Caribbean setting, specifically in a developing country.

Cupito called it an eye-opening trip that allowed him to see the country in a light different from the sandy beaches shown in travel brochures for the Dominican Republic. Cupito and his peers ventured through an agriculture and development forestry center, where they learned about hilltop farming that leads to soil erosion and the contamination of water, both major issues in the Dominican Republic. The students planted mahogany trees, which combat these types of processes while supporting wildlife habitats. Additionally, they toured coffee plantations and learned how such large facilities operate and impact the environment.

One of Cupito’s greatest takeaways from the culturally immersive trip was the significance of shared research. “It is imperative that we learn to communicate the importance of our resources to people,” he says. Cupito emphasized that sustainability needs to be applied on a more global scale to make lasting changes for the future.

“Everyone has different views about the environment that are culturally based,” he says. “The idea is that we are all living in the same environment; it’s just one planet that we have.”

Cupito says that the knowledge gained from this program is invaluable, and he will continue to apply a sustainable mindset in all future endeavors, including a graduate education sometime in the future.

Varsha Gopalakrishnan

Varsha Gopalakrishnan, a graduate student in chemical and bimolecular engineering, flew to San Francisco in November 2017 for the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference, one of the biggest of its kind for chemical engineers, to give a presentation on two of her sustainable engineering research papers.

Her research entails establishing mutually beneficial synergies between chemical processes and ecological systems. Gopalakrishnan seeks to account for the role of nature in sustaining industrial activities by identifying innovative chemical process designs that are beneficial for the economy without harming the environment.

Gopalakrishnan also presented two papers at last year’s event.

“Only when you talk to others and exchange ideas do you learn about where you can improve,” she says. The conference served as a great way for Gopalakrishnan to talk to people from companies looking to recruit as well as to hear from distinguished professionals in her field.

Over the past several years, Gopalakrishnan says conferences like this have allowed more chemical engineers to educate industrial leaders about the ecological impacts of current processes, resulting in greater implementation of this sustainable design.

Gopalakrishnan plans to start her dissertation, publish her work to larger audiences and look for a company to work for to use her chemical process design ideas.

Julia Deitz and Pran Krishna Paul

Julia Deitz, currently pursuing a doctorate in materials science and engineering, attended the 43rd IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Portland, Ore., June 5-10, 2016 along with Pran Krishna Paul, graduate research associate in the Electronic Materials and Devices Laboratory.

The conference, where scientists and researchers came from around the globe, shared research related to photovoltaics (solar cells). At the five-day event, Krishna Paul gave a talk about his research along with presenting his poster. Krishna Paul’s research entails CIGS solar cells, which are thin-film solar cells used to convert sunlight into electric power, and focuses on the characterization of trap levels within these photovoltaic devices.

Krishna Paul presented his poster at the 43rd IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference.

In addition to learning from other peers and experts in the field, Deitz presented her research and findings on using electron microscopy to study photovoltaic materials at the atomic scale. She also had several interactions for potential collaborations with leading experts in her field. Deitz says, “This was definitely the biggest benefit to attending the conference.”

Shaun Fontanella

Shaun Fontanella, a graduate research assistant and doctoral candidate in geography, attended the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science 2016 Symposium in Scottsdale, Ariz., this past May.

The intent of the conference was to network, collaborate and engage with professors and researchers about Fontanella’s own ongoing projects, which include a 3-D Campus Viewer and the mapping of urban rural poverty. Among the people Fontanella spoke with were professors at Arizona State University, in hopes of taking his system and reproducing it in other academic places.

Minghui Chen

Mingui Chen, doctoral student in nuclear engineering, attended the Advances in Thermal Hydraulics 2016 conference in New Orleans June 12-16. Chen presented a paper on design and dynamic modeling of a high-temperature printed circuit heat exchanger for next-generation nuclear plants. Many scholars in attendance showed significant interest in the dynamic modeling of Chen’s research, and he continues to work on development of next-generation nuclear plants.

Learn more about funding support available for student research, scholarship, travel and projects related to energy, environment and sustainability.