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Student Sustainability Research Award Winner Series: Meet Jennifer L. Huber

This is the first in our four-part series celebrating winners of student sustainability research prizes co-sponsored by Gale-Cengage Learning and the university libraries at Temple University and the University of Delaware.

The prizes, and this blog, are supported by GREENR (Global Reference on the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources), an interdisciplinary web portal and database for environmental and sustainability studies, available at participating libraries (including the University of Delaware and Temple University) worldwide. GREENR is a valuable asset for any student, researcher or instructor focused on the field of environmental and sustainability studies, offering impressive assets in academic journals, news, video, statistics, primary source documents and case studies. Check to see if GREENR is available at your library, or ask your librarian to request a free trial.

Jennifer L. Huber, with co-authors Tom Gallen and Paloma Vila, was honored with a Library Prize for Undergraduate Research on Sustainability and the Environment at Temple University, for “Harvesting Stormwater for Urban Farm Irrigation.”

We asked Jennifer via email some questions about how she became interested in environmental and sustainability studies, about advice she can give to other environmental studies students, and about her future plans. Because Jennifer’s story offers so many great examples of the kinds of opportunities and insights that are part of studying environmental and sustainability studies, we’ve including it here in our on-going series, The Life of an Environmental Studies Student.

What got you interested in environmental and sustainability studies in college? Tell us the story of how you became engaged in sustainability in your college career?

My interest in sustainability came about before coming to Temple.  My interest in the environment happened as a child and my up-bringing in rural Lancaster, PA.  My family and extended family would take camping trips every summer until it became too difficult to organize so many people.  My parents and I continued to camp pretty much every summer and fall, as well as hike as much as we could during the warmer months.  How could one not grow to appreciate air, water, sky, animals–the environment–with that kind of upbringing?

I started becoming extremely interested in sustainability while taking a technical writing course at Lancaster Area Community College (LACC).  I took the class because I knew I’d probably need it, and wanted to transition into going back to school, since I didn’t complete an undergraduate degree at the university I attended right after high school, Millersville University.

“Think about what you’re passionate about and how you can apply that motivation to what you’re studying. Being able to think about something like that will help keep you eager to continue forward.”

As a kid and teen I had an interest in buildings and dreamed up different designs.  I am an artistically, mathematically and scientifically inclined person and wanted to find a field where I could apply those abilities.  I found from reading about architecture that many architects had the same dilemma of enjoying and excelling in art, science and math, as well.  However, I was too nervous that I wouldn’t be successful, fearing I’d run out of ideas one day, so I let the idea go for a while.

Upon re-entering academics I took every opportunity to learn about the architectural field.  I focused most (to all) my technical writing assignments and papers on sustainability in architecture, and I learned a lot.  I started reading about Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and organizations like the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and got really interested and eager to keep learning.  I then contacted the architecture department at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). The Program Coordinator was impressed with my enthusiasm and I was admitted.  After a wonderful semester, I got a lot of encouragement to pursue architecture, but I was eager to get back to a university atmosphere.  So, I came to Temple that fall for Art History and then transferred into Civil Engineering.  I took a course on the environment my first semester at Temple as well as an art history course that focused on art and the environment.  I got my environmental fix there, and it grew into a passion to find a career that related to making good decisions for the environment.

What lessons did you learn through your research? What major discoveries or new ways of seeing the world would you share with others, based on your research? What was the hardest part about conducting your research and writing the paper? What was the most rewarding part?

Before starting this project I had (and still have) some very strong practical opinions concerning how we (the human race) use free–-green–virgin space, not just in the city, but in general.  So, I wanted to apply those passions to this project, so I had something to show for it.  Then teams were formed, and Paloma, Tom and I decided to work together.

I remember I had some ideas and wrote a paper in the past on a property I found in North Philly that I created an adaptive use for and presented it as a paper for an end-of-semester project.  The idea was to try and conjure up another sort of idea, because said building was sold and a new use was already being made for it.  So that was an obstacle I had to personally overcome and we as a group all agreed on doing something of that nature.  However, the summer we were planning the project we were scattered all over the area and world.  One of us was in Spain, I was in Philly and another of our team was back home working very odd hours.

So that idea and some others didn’t pan out, because they would have been quite large projects for just three people to handle.  But then we were connected with someone who owned a house with an adjacent urban farm.  The farmers and other couples and individuals live in a 5,000 square foot house.

One of the hardest parts of the actual project was determining how to conduct the research and write the paper during school.  We each had very busy schedules (as did, pretty much, anyone in senior design).  Also, working around periods of rain, and trying to be prepared and have the owners prepared to collect samples when it actually did rain, was another big problem.  We learned we should have done a better job of planning how we were going to get the data around our crazy schedules and lack of vehicles to get to the site in a timely fashion if need be.

The advantage, though, is that it’s a great feeling to design something that could actually be used and could make a positive change at the individual household level for the environment through harvesting rainwater for irrigation.  Of course, there are many ways to do it, and each household needs to be studied case-by-case, but this one is on a slightly larger scale than harvesting to water-minimal landscaping plants.  The purpose was to help sustain the farm and lower the farmers’ dependence on municipal water supply.  This in turn would benefit the community!

Most rewarding of all–which made this whole process really worth it in the end–was to be the recognized for our work. We are so greatly honored to have received the Library Sustainability Prize at Temple University, sponsored by GALE!  Thank You!

Do you have any advice for future environmental and sustainability studies students? For your peers at other universities, or at your own university?

My advice would be to READ!  Start reading technical journals and technical and non-technical articles right away!  Finding articles that pertain to what you are interested in is a good way to start, even though some of the language might be confusing if you’re just starting.  However, researching is a very rewarding skill to obtain.  It will probably improve your technical vocabulary too!  Professors will like that.  Also, use the Library!  That is another very important tool to use, even today in 2011, almost 2012.   Library resources are so far-reaching. You’ll be amazed and thankful they are there to help you find what you need.  Temple has an awesome online system. I haven’t really looked at any other school’s library portals, but I have found ours at Temple very helpful.

Also, learn how things work in the government, especially how the government deals with environmental issues, laws, bills, acts…all that “stuff” you might think is boring can actually be very interesting and is information you will or may need to know to function efficiently as an ethical environmental professional (but this goes for ALL professions).

Finally, think about what you’re passionate about and how you can apply that motivation to what you’re studying.  Being able to think about something like that will help keep you eager to continue forward, in my opinion.

What are your plans after graduation? Do you hope to enter a field where you can use what you’ve learned about the environment?

I intend to pursue a career in civil engineering in a field in or related to preservation (plus historic preservation), adaptive reuse, brownfield redevelopment, etc.  I’m also very interested in forensics engineering.  Therefore, as I intend to pursue a Masters in Civil Engineering, concentrating in structural engineering–hopefully, at a local university that I’ve been thinking of, where I can study forensics engineering also!

Learning and ambition doesn’t stop with the Undergraduate degree, life-long learning is one of the things that keeps me going.

Posted on: December 12, 2011, 9:00 am Category: GREENR News, The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: ,

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