CEE Grad Students Organize Sustainability Workshop

Wednesday, Nov 1, 2006

New Jersey's water, air and other ecosystem services are under immense pressure from suburbanization and new population growth. At the same time, future growth and prosperity of New Jersey is dependent on the supply of ecosystem services such as clean water and air. How can New Jersey develop in an environmentally sound manner?

To begin to address this question, Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate students Sarah Gasda, Kate Meierdiercks, Junu Shrestha and Asa Rennermalm hosted a symposium called Towards an Environmental Balance: A symposium on air quality, water resources, and urban development in New Jersey that was held on October 27, 2006. The objective of this event was to bring together students, faculty and researchers from colleges, universities and research institutions within the region to discuss the pertinent issue of balancing the protection of environmental resources with urban/suburban development in New Jersey . The symposium was intended to provide a forum in which the participants to exchange ideas, opinions, and research about this topic in an informal setting. In addition, graduate and undergraduate students were given an opportunity to showcase their research and meet with their peers from other institutions in the area.

The symposium began with talks by two keynote speakers. George S. Hawkins, Director of NJ Future, gave a talk titled “Cowboys, Spacemen and a Theory of Almost Everything” which addressed societal attitudes towards the use of natural resources. Bill O'Sullivan, Director, Division of Air Quality, NJ Dept of Environmental Protection, followed with a talk titled “Protection of New Jersey Air Quality” which focused on how air quality regulations are developed and enforced by the state environmental agency.

In the afternoon, the participants divided into moderated discussion sessions that allowed the participants to exchange ideas about the issues brought forth in the keynote talks. There were three concurrent discussions, each focusing on a different aspect—air quality, water resources and urban planning. The goal of each discussion was to list environmental problems, known engineering or scientific solutions and possible implementation strategies. The participants also discussed different ways that they can individually and/or collectively to contribute to sustainable development.

The symposium ended with a poster session where participants presented research on science and engineering that address New Jersey 's water resources, sustainable urban planning and air quality.   There were poster presentations by 17 students and 1 professor. Specific research topics ranged from the study of aerosol transport in New York City , the effectiveness of carbon dioxide emission caps, and the impact of urbanization on hydrology in the Delaware river.

After the event we collected feedback from participants. The event was well received and largely lived up to the participants expectations. In particular, several participants found the symposium successful in providing an opportunity to explain their research, develop their ideas by discussing them with others and network. Here are some selected comments:

“Overall, the symposium was will organized and kept to the subject of the day. Group discussions was a very good idea and should be carried on to the next.”

• “Personally I lost some fear of meeting new people and communicating with them. The networking opportunity was the biggest gain from the symposium. I hope to continue to be in touch with the rest of the participants.”

• “Yes, other participants did visit my poster. It was all very encouraging. The discussions about my research opened up new ways of advancing my research. It helped.”

• “I enjoyed very much the discussion of my poster with others it allowed me to critically analyze what I was presenting and how it relates to others areas of interest.”

A total of 49 people attended the symposium, which included 26 graduate students, 5 undergraduates, and the remaining researchers, staff and faculty. Of the total number, 11 attendees were from other institutions in New Jersey—Rutgers, Stevens Institute of Technology, and Rider University—and 9 attendees were from other departments and institutions within Princeton University —Geosciences, Woodrow Wilson School, and Facilities. Funding for the event was provided by the Dean of the Graduate School , the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Policy Research Institute for the Region, the Princeton Environmental Institute, in addition to the support given by Civil and Environmental Engineering.