Annual Environmental Research Colloquium Brings Together STEM Students

Vanessa Chatterley | April 24, 2018
Annual Environmental Research Colloquium Brings Together STEM Students

Image by: Harry Brett

The sixth-annual Environmental Research Colloquium and Intercampus Marine Science Symposium, hosted by the School for the Environment and the Office of Career Services and Internships, recently welcomed more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students from different universities, as well potential employers from Massachusetts, to discuss environment research opportunities.

The conference kicked off with a panel entitled “Women in Sciences,” sponsored by the Graduate Women in Science organization. Panelists Vandana Rao, Indrani Ghosh, Julia Knisel, and Mia Mansfield, who all hold senior and executive positions in the engineering and environmental industry, led the discussion on women advancing in science and STEM-related fields.

Rao, who received her PhD in Environmental Sciences and a certificate in Dispute Resolution from UMass Boston, answered an audience member’s question on how she handled resistance and pushback from a primarily male-dominated field. She advised the women in the audience to practice self-advocacy.

“Don’t be shy about verbalizing and vocalizing what you’re thinking. Once you get a clarity of what you want, do not be afraid to verbalize it,” she said. “If you don’t stand up for yourself—in terms of what your needs are, or where you want to work, or even your ideas about a certain project—no one is going to magically help you get there.”

Associate Professor of Hydrology Ellen Douglas, who served as moderator during the discussion, said that she hopes the panel gave fresh perspective to the young undergraduate women in the audience.

“Most of these women will be graduating soon, and so it’s sort of like a big amorphous cloud, not knowing exactly what their future looks like. I hope they got some perspective of what their future could look like,” said Douglas.

The colloquium also hosted 12 employers from the area who met with participants to share information about their organizations and the employment and internship opportunities they offer. Organizations included the MIT Sea Grant, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.

“It’s a great networking event for students and faculty, and it’s becoming one of the major environmental conferences for undergraduates and graduates in Massachusetts and beyond,” said Maria Petrova, Coasts and Communities IGERT program manager for the School for the Environment. Petrova organizes the Environmental Research Colloquium each year and said the event serves four purposes.

“There aren’t many venues for students pursuing STEM careers in environmental research to present their work. This is a great venue for them to present their work, network with their peers, see what other universities are doing, and meet employers,” she said.

Students from UMass Boston and nearby universities presented posters and lectures throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Participants were invited to learn more about various environmental research, issues, implementations, and strategies.

Hannah Stroud, who is a graduate student in the School for the Environment, presented on coupled human and natural systems and how it has affected the Belle Isle Marsh Reservation.

“What’s really great about the School for the Environment is that we really encourage problem-based, solution-oriented thinking. We really promote looking at broader systems,” said Stroud, who discussed how humans in the environment interact, benefit from the environment, and affect the environment. “We’re not just here to have you learn the facts and learn the processes. We want you to understand how this fits into a broader picture.”

Anthony Motta, who’s studying Environmental Sciences, presented a poster on stimulating the impacts of reconstruction or removal of the Mill Road Dam in Brentwood, New Hampshire. He and his advisor implemented geomorphology to map out different surface levels to determine water elevations and likelihood of flooding from Fremont to Exeter.

“The posters and presentations here today definitely allow you to see the work that’s been done. It’s not so much, ‘I took this geology class, so now I have to base my work around geology,’” said Motta. “It’s ‘Hey, I have a question. I have something I want to work on. I’ve always thought about this.’ The advisors will back you up. They will get you there.”

Tags: environmental research , environmental sustainability , school for the environment

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