If you’re an Environmental Science or Studies major at UNC-Chapel Hill, you’re required to complete a capstone project in order to graduate. Its purpose is to provide an introduction to the “real-world” and allow students to work in small groups with community partners on something that interests them. For my capstone, I worked with the county’s water and solid waste organization, the Orange Water and Sewage Authority (OWASA), to research alternatives to the land application of sewage sludge. Working in a group with seven other environmental students, we toured OWASA to learn about the production of sludge, went to local government meetings to understand the politics of sludge, read scientific literature on the subject of sludge, and interviewed community members involved with raising awareness about sludge.
By approaching the topic through political, economic, societal, and environmental lenses, we were able to present the community and OWASA our findings on alternatives as well as with current perspectives on the issue. Our capstone ended along with the semester, and while there’s probably little chance anyone will ever read our 100 page report, the experience working with OWASA and with my group members will be applicable for the rest of my life.
However, a capstone produced by the Albemarle Ecological Field Site (AEFS) on perceptions of Sea Level Rise (SLR) on the coast of North Carolina is still making its way around the state. Taylor Crabtree, a senior Environmental Studies Major, was part of the ten member team responsible for designing, issuing, and analyzing a sociological survey to understand what people in the Outer Banks community were thinking about SLR. Since the fall of 2008, Taylor and other members have presented the capstone report five times to various interested communities across the state. The most recent presentation was for the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), whose conference focus this year was SLR. To me, this is what a capstone is supposed to be–an accessible and practical piece of information for the surrounding community.