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10 Students Selected for President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship

flowers in front of parrish hall

Ten Swarthmore students have been selected for the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship (PSRF), a high-impact learning experience where students take stewardship over vital sustainability challenges at the College. The program matches motivated students with small teams of staff and faculty mentors to research, develop, and implement projects in a yearlong course and associated internship.

The program is jointly run by the President’s Office, the Office of Sustainability, the Environmental Studies Program, and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, and has led or contributed to many of the College’s sustainability efforts, including the recently passed Energy Plan: Roadmap to Zero Carbon, restoring the Crum Woods, infusing sustainability into the curriculum, and much more. 

The 2021–2022 President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship includes the following students: 

Tristan AlstonAlana Ballagh ’22 (South Pasadena, Calif.) has served as a Green Advisor, tour guide, and hub coordinator of Sunrise Swarthmore. She has also worked to develop and advance an environmental justice curriculum alongside four other Swarthmore students and looks forward to bringing her passion for environmental studies and conversation into her work building a climate community. 

Ballagh’s project, Climate Community, continues the work of previous PSRF projects to create spaces and platforms for members of the Swarthmore community to connect, engage, and reflect on the climate crisis. The Climate Community PSRF project will be mentored by Climate Action Manager Elizabeth Drake. The Climate Community PSRF project supports community-building and environmental education through interdisciplinary programming and sustainability initiatives. She will be working alongside another fellow, Jorge Lopez-Nava ’23, on the Climate Community PSRF project.

“I am looking forward to developing a greater understanding of how environmental education may inspire action by exploring how environmental programming serves to advance collaboration and make connections throughout the greater Swarthmore community.”

Samantha BarnesAlice Du ’24’s (Suzhou, China) interests in sustainability stem from algae in Suzhou, China, where she has spent the past 10 years. Every summer, she saw rivers turn green with scores of dead fish; this led to her efforts in combating algae blooms. Currently, she works with the Clinton Global Initiative University for sustainability-related projects and has started a small business in biodegradable packaging. 

Du’s project, Sustainability in the Curriculum, will be mentored by Carr Everbach, professor of engineering and faculty coordinator of environmental studies. The PSRF project will examine the degree to which sustainability is, could, and should be integrated into Swarthmore’s liberal arts curriculum.

“I look forward to integrating more sustainability-related curriculum into learning at Swarthmore and actively engaging with the Swarthmore community to raise awareness and drive positive change.”

Anuk DeSilvaOlivia Fey ’23 (Severna Park, Md.) admires the beauty of our natural world above all and is passionate about the science and technology behind environmental and sustainability issues. She views being a PSRF as a chance to combine these passions with community-wide education and awareness to influence sustainability on a local campus level and gain experience in widespread environmental consciousness. 

Fey’s PSRF project, Healthy Building Materials, will be mentored by Roderick Wolfson, a planner/project manager in Facilities Management. The project will research and recommend design standards and guidelines for buildings to eliminate or minimize harmful chemicals, as well as more sustainable building materials.

“I’m looking forward to understanding the connection between infrastructure and environmental issues. I’m excited to research the ways that Swarthmore can consider environmental impacts of building materials and incorporate healthy ones into our goals of campus sustainability and waste diversion.” 

Fiorenza Herrera DiazJuliana Lin ’22 (Chicago, Ill.) has interests in the intersectional nature of environmentalism with community and social justice work. Her involvement with Serenity Soular and Chester students through Dare2Soar have further solidified her commitment to community-centric sustainability.

Lin’s project, ChesterSemester, will be mentored by Mark Wallace, professor of religion and environmental studies, and Ashley Henry, program manager for the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. The ChesterSemester PSRF project supports the ChesterSemester course, an engaged scholarship course that pairs students with mentors and projects in the nearby city of Chester. 

“I am looking forward to developing meaningful and long-lasting relationships with the Chester community and to actively work toward positive social change and community involvement while simultaneously diversifying our concept of sustainability as it encapsulates well-being, justice, and connection.”

Sonia Linares Jorge Lopez-Nava ’23 (Salisbury, N.C.) is a first-generation, low-income Mexican American student from Salisbury, N.C., where he saw first-hand food insecurity, medicinal inaccessibility, and ecological degradation — all of which are interrelated to the larger issue of environmental racism. It is a goal of Lopez-Nava’s to pursue a career in genetic engineering to help communities like his, and hopefully bridge the gap between environmental quality and public health. Lopez-Nava hopes his time as a PSRF will help him learn and teach where genetic engineering fits into environmental justice while gaining skills to further his advocacy.

The Climate Community project continues the work of previous PSRF projects to create spaces and platforms for members of the Swarthmore community to connect, engage, and reflect on the climate crisis. The Climate Community PSRF project will be mentored by Elizabeth Drake of the Office of Sustainability.

“I look forward to establishing relationships and collaborations with various departments at Swarthmore in preparation for the potential Year of Advancing Climate Justice. I hope to help unite our community into a dedicated effort of reconceptualizing our roles in the fight for environmental justice.”

Sierra SweeneyAlex Napolitano ’24 (Lincoln, Neb.) grew up in Nebraska, which greatly contributed to her appreciation for the environment. Her academic interests involve sustainability and education on current environmental issues. 

Her project focuses on the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS). The STARS PSRF project will help Swarthmore assess and report its sustainability performance within the established STARS framework, and further improve sustainability data and metrics at the College.

“I am looking forward to developing sustainability goals for Swarthmore and creating a framework for achieving those goals. I want to create incentives and programs to encourage higher levels of sustainability on campus. I also hope to educate students on sustainability through this project.”

Murtaza UkaniSophia Schlenz ’23 (Mountain Ranch, Calif.) grew up in a rural agricultural community in California, where she was first introduced to food and agriculture systems. Her experiences in farming have led her to develop personal interests in agroecology and sustainable food production. She hopes to one day be a part of a research team studying relevant topics such as soil erosion, water management, and biodiversity. 

Schlenz’s PSRF project, Food Production, will be mentored by Sustainability Program Manager Clare Hyre and Sue MacQueen, the Scott Arboretum’s campus engagement coordinator. The Food Production PSRF project will focus on managing the Good Food garden, improving community engagement and education, and expanding local food initiatives.  

“I am so excited to work with my project mentors on developing a campus food garden that will help provide healthy local food to Swarthmore and surrounding communities. I look forward to expanding my practical understanding of food production and learning more about the food systems on our campus.”

Murtaza Ukani​Daria Syskine ’22 (Cupertino, Calif.) is an outdoor enthusiast who’s been lucky enough to spend their summers doing field biology in various locations, including the Appalachian and Rocky mountains. Their work as a Catalyst for Swarthmore’s Biology Department, and their work as a volunteer for two years with Serenity Soular, helped them gain an appreciation for the importance of science communication and for the necessity of a sustainable environmental justice framework for conservation biology. 

Syskine’s project, Crum Woods Stewardship, will be mentored by Jeff Jabco, director of grounds and coordinator of horticulture, and Lars Rasmussen, Scott Arboretum gardener. The Crum Woods Stewardship PSRF project will focus heavily on restoration and community engagement and environmental education initiatives in the Crum Woods. 

“In working with the Crum Woods, I hope to gain a better understanding of the processes behind managing a human-impacted ecosystem. I also want to help other students connect with the woods, and contribute to decisions about their future as an ecological, recreational, and emotional resource.”

Murtaza Ukani​Aaron Urquidez ’22 (Glendale, Ariz.) works closely with the Ecosphere on campus serving as a Green Advisor and Zero Waste Working Group student representative. Outside of Swarthmore, Urquidez works with the city of Tempe, Ariz., to create best practices for community resilience hubs. 

Urquidez’s project, “Roadmap to Zero Carbon,” will be mentored by Elizabeth Drake, the Office of Sustainability’s climate action manager. It will largely focus on community engagement and education around the College’s recently passed Energy Plan: Roadmap to Zero Carbon, a comprehensive strategic plan that lays out Swarthmore’s pathway to carbon neutrality. 

“I am looking forward to learning more about the institutional decision-making process in terms of sustainability. I am also thankful for the opportunity to develop professional project management skills that will give me a leg up when looking for post-Swarthmore opportunities.”

Murtaza UkaniHuiying Xiao ’23 (Philadelphia, Pa.) grew up witnessing the effects of pollution and climate change in the communities around her, as well as more than 8,000 miles away where her parents grew up and her family lives. The realities permeate the culture and lifestyle that she grew up in, demanding and inspiring her journey advocating for sustainable relationships within communities and the environment. 

Xiao’s PSRF project, Zero Waste and Dining, will be mentored by Clare Hyre, the Office of Sustainability’s sustainability program manager. The Zero Waste and Dining PSRF project will help implement an iterative pilot project to replace disposable takeout meal utensils and containers with reusable versions, with the long-term goal of establishing reusable wares as the norm for takeout meals, and greatly reducing the overall amount of waste generated by the campus community. 

“I look forward to, through a collaboration with dining and campus-wide zero-waste efforts, individually and institutionally, investing in relationships of reciprocity with the environment, ourselves and communities near and far.”

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