Sustainable development and education is a personal passion for me and I believe that environmental responsibility should be an integral part of everyday life. I grew up on an island in Northeast Massachusetts that is two-thirds state wildlife reservation and one-third inhabited. When I go for a run or a bike on the reservation I see evidence of human impact on the island by simply looking at beach erosion and areas restricted to protect the endangered Piping Plover. This has heightened community awareness in environmental concerns but it is still not enough. Living on Plum Island has instilled in me values that I have applied to other aspects of my life. Personally, I do small things to lessen my environmental impact, but know that there needs to be large scale behavioral changes in society. Attitude is just as important as innovation and that ideal has filtered into my professional ambitions.
My first experience with sustainability involved interning in my hometown to increase the interest and use of solar energy within our community. This experience taught me the technical knowledge, but also the processes for buying, selling, installing and applying renewable energy systems. My main duty was to facilitate interactions between the solar panel sellers and the members of the community who wanted to install panels on their home. I held informational meetings, gathered information to apply for state grants for the homeowners, sited the properties for optimal panel orientation, answered questions, and further informed members of my community about the availability of solar energy. There were five systems installed and although they only produce a small amount of energy, those residential systems reduce dependence on traditional and depleting energy sources. Implementing these changes has made me hungry for more opportunities to make a bigger difference. I see myself as a key component to bridging the gap between technology awareness and adoption by broader audiences.
During my undergraduate studies I studied abroad at the University of Queensland, Australia where I took several environmental science classes. While abroad I attended an international forum on sustainability, The Earth Dialogues. I attended a discussion panel where professionals spoke of the energy crisis. Listening to this panel of experts I knew I wanted to be a similar professional, expressing to a general audience how important it is to be environmentally conscious and present new technologies and ideas that will guarantee success. After returning to UMass I took the Sustainability in Civil Engineering course that focused on projects that incorporate innovations to increase energy efficiency and reduce dependence on traditional energy resources.
The last summer I spent at UMass I worked with an engineering professor to develop 4 one-week summer courses for high school students to be implemented in the future. These courses had varying Environmental Engineering topics with a theme of sustainability throughout including sustainable design, environmental contaminants, water resources/ecology, and emerging technologies. The lessons range from climate change to nanotechnology, and I was able to get over 20 faculty members involved to teach lessons, run experiments, and create stimulating hands-on challenges for the students.
After UMass I chose to attend Carnegie Mellon University for graduate school, where environmental responsibility and sustainable development are focuses of the Green Design graduate program. In my first two years I have taken courses in Environmental Public Policy, Life Cycle Assessment, Infrastructure Management, Behavioral Economics, Theory and Practice of Policy, and have begun a joint doctoral degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering and Engineering & Public Policy. My first project was a life cycle assessment comparing e-commerce and traditional retail in terms of carbon emission equivalents and energy consumption. The project resulted in a technical report to an online retailer to show where operations improvements are achievable and to present and conclude our results (featured on the buy.com home page). Over the past year I created a model that estimates the embodied transportation within US products and services by mode. The methodology paper was recently published by the Transportation Research Journal Part E, and I am currently working on applications of the model.
For my current research I model the direct and indirect impacts of reasonably shifting freight transportation away from truck to rail and water as a means to reduce energy consumption, emissions, and costs, while taking into consideration potential restrictions on mode choices, such as time restricting the transportation of perishable or expensive goods. Analyzing the results will better inform policy makers where to allocate resources for the biggest bang for your buck to reduce energy and emissions in freight transportation. Although the content of my research has varied greatly, my experiences have taught me valuable techniques and methods for building models, analyzing data, interpreting results, and relaying technical information to others.
Also this past year, I coordinated the Green Design Apprenticeship program where I taught approximately 20 high school students important sustainability concepts, such as life cycle assessment, but also collaborated with other students and faculty on subjects I do not know as well (e.g., electric vehicles). The agendas were based on life cycle assessment, sustainable infrastructure, energy and the environment, and environmental management. The activities ranged from giving presentations on various energy sources and creating an optimal energy portfolio, to visiting green buildings on campus and explaining the innovations they utilize. The objective of the program is to encourage students to pursue education and careers in sustainability and engineering.
After I complete my joint doctoral degree at Carnegie Mellon in Civil & Environmental Engineering and Engineering & Public Policy I hope to continue to do research at a progressive institution. I would like to continue with research in order to progress our current knowledge of our environmental impacts on the earth, with emphasis on communication because knowledge is powerful. Therefore, education and dissemination of findings is important in informing current decision-makers (e.g., policy-makers) and teaching the future innovators of our world.
With the pressing needs of environmental reform I think it is important to put emphasis on individuals to alter their behaviors to make more environmentally-responsible decisions, and education is a major component to alter behavior. My underlying goal through my prospective research and my career aspirations is to educate my peers, faculty, students, and the public on human environmental impacts and what can be done to reduce them. My proposed research and dissertation topic aims to communicate information on sustainability and provide insight and unique perspectives on lessening human impact on the earth.