This summer, Dr. Krista Ehlert and her research students have been investigating the role of in situ climate change on different management strategies for Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), and how that in turn, affects the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), which serves as a reservoir for Lyme disease. The two summer research students in the Ehlert lab are ENVS alumna Blair Frantz ’17 and Biology student Bailey D’Antonio ’18. A lot of the work we’ve done so far has been setting up open top climate chambers (OTCs) that utilize the greenhouse effect to increase the temperature inside the chamber by 1-3°C – what models are estimating with climate change. We also employed different management strategies for Japanese barberry, such as pulling the plant and applying herbicide and compared those to an untreated control. The data that we’ve collected includes vegetation surveys, temperature recordings, and ticks! This data will continue to be collected into the fall, and once we have a few hundred-ish (or more) ticks, we’ll be testing them for Lyme disease. Overall, we’ve had a great summer and are excited to uncover more about the indirect effect Japanese barberry has on Lyme disease incidence in Connecticut. If you want to learn more about what the Ehlert lab is up to follow us on Instagram @ thescientificlunaticks.
Christoph’s note: Jeff was one of my first research students and probably one of the reasons why I stayed on at Trinity. He was also a heavy smoker, which led to some problems on an inflatable rubber craft …
The instructions were to discuss life after Trinity, but since my final semester as an undergraduate was spent abroad studying in the Australian rain forest, it is worth mentioning. Trinity encourages students to study abroad, and a field study semester is a valuable addendum to the Environmental Science curriculum. We spent most of the semester evading (usually) the multitude of venomous, spiny, and/or constricting flora and fauna native to the rain forest just inland of the Great Barrier Reef, including potentially aggressive adult-human-sized birds. We did find time to study, among other things, the mating and dietary behavior of the tooth-billed bower bird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris). After graduating I went to Florida to complete a six month internship at Archbold Biological Station. The internship was organized by Trinity Professor Joan Morrison and was primarily a study of the diet of the Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), a threatened raptor in the falcon family. After completing the internship, I took a Marine Fisheries Observer position with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) collecting biological data aboard commercial fishing vessels. Then I worked briefly doing assessment and remediation of petroleum impacted groundwater surrounding gas stations before returning to a Marine Fisheries Observer position. Somehow I keep finding my career winding back to the marine environment!
In 2010, after four years as a fisheries observer, I enrolled at Humboldt State University in Northern California (think old-growth redwood forests growing down to rugged coastline), and earned a masters of science in natural resources/fisheries biology. My thesis work involved the study (via hook-and-line sampling!) of fishes associated with rocky habitats along California’s Northcoast. These fishes, primarily rockfish (Sebastes spp.), are diverse, colorful, slow-growing, and slow maturing – very cool.
When I completed my masters in 2014, I was also fortunate to be able to assist with various field projects, including more hook-and-line sampling, this time as part of a cutthroat/steelhead trout introgression study, and various other salmonid related field efforts that took me to remote and beautiful California and Oregon stream reaches in search of the iconic fish.
Despite my best efforts to make a career out of hook-and-line sampling, eventually I realized that to make the kind of impact I wanted on fisheries conservation I would need to spend less time in the field and more time with fisheries managers. I accepted a position with the NMFS in Sacramento with the San Joaquin River Restoration Program (SJRRP). The San Joaquin River was recently labeled the second most endangered river in the America, and the SJRRP is a valiant effort to restore a 150 mile long section of the river, including reintroducing critically threatened populations of salmon that were extirpated from the basin. But I still manage to get out of the office once in a while.
The education I received from the Trinity College Environmental Science Department prepared me well to succeed in all of these endeavors. While all of the professors I met at Trinity College were skilled and caring educators, I would especially like to thank Professors Christoph Geiss and Joan Morrison for going above and beyond any responsibility they had to provide resources and opportunities to their students. As a side note to any current or prospective students who may be reading this: take advantage of the Environmental Science field trips that the department offers. I was fortunate to go on two of them, and can attest that they are wonderful learning opportunities as well as a lot of fun!
During my final semester at Trinity, I was thinking of a way to procrastinate analyzing some soil samples for a weekend. Just to savor every reading you know? I asked a friend what they were up to and it turned out our Career Center was hosting a free trip to Washington, DC to meet successful Trinity alumni. I figured…free trip to DC. Why not. At this point, I hadn’t put much thought into what I was doing post-graduation. I had some field experience at Trinity and spent my summers in a cancer research lab back home in Chicago, so I figured I’d probably go do that full-time.
It was through the DC trip that I was fortunate enough to meet with a Trinity alumna, Eleanor Kerr ’81, who helped me spark an idea. Working in DC wasn’t originally in my thoughts, but she made me think about the necessity for those who work in policy to have a solid foundation in the sciences—something that is more evident now than ever. With her help, I was able to gain an internship at a boutique lobbying firm, Kountoupes Denham, where I covered a broad portfolio of issues on the Hill and wrote memos on legislation for our clients. Here, I was able to build a foundation on policy and the way our government works (or doesn’t, since this was right before the 2013 government shutdown).
From there, I wanted to combine my science and policy knowledge and got an internship at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)—specially, with the Chemicals and Environmental Health Team. The task was an Executive Order issued by the President on improving chemical facility safety and security in response to a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. I worked on a team that coordinated with federal agencies and stakeholders to generate actionable ideas on making these facilities safer in terms of worker protection, environmental safety, and national security. Our final deliverable, after a long period of public commenting and stakeholder engagement, was a report to the President.
My time at CEQ honed one of the tools that Trinity helped me develop—writing. Having the ability to work with CEQ’s communications and outreach teams prepared me for my next opportunity of writing speeches for Gina McCarthy, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On a small team, I had the privilege of composing and guiding Administrator McCarthy’s messaging on landmark environmental policies such as the Climate Action Plan, the Clean Power Plan, and the Waters of the United States Rule. Relying on our scientists and the integrity of the scientific method, we knew that climate change was a public health issue—and we connected these policies with the people around the country who needed them—the concerned mothers of children who have asthma, the families without clean drinking water, and the elderly.
Working in close proximity for a member of Cabinet made me want to take the dive into federal service. Up to this point, I saw what the Obama Administration had accomplished and I wanted in. My most recent step took me to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE’s EERE), where I was a political appointee on the team of the Acting Assistant Secretary. Here, I want to talk about everything this office has accomplished because it is nothing short of amazing:
At $2 billion a year, DOE’s EERE is one of the largest government clean energy R&D funders in the world. And through its resources in the national labs, universities, and private sector partnerships, EERE has been ushering in a clean energy revolution. Since 2008, due to EERE’s work, land-based wind power has decreased in cost by 41%, utility-scale solar PV has decreased in cost by 64%, EV batteries have decreased in cost by 73%, and type-A LED bulbs have decreased in cost by 94%. And all this while these industries and products thrive.
On the Acting Assistant Secretary’s team, I was able to work on issues that had macro-level impacts—like pushing out our Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) that lead to amazing innovation, and promulgating appliance standards that will save 3 billion tons of carbon emissions. But some of the most affirming experiences were seeing impacts on a personal level—like veterans graduating from our Solar Ready Vets program, where EERE connects veterans with the solar industry, preparing them for new, successful careers, or helping with a Solar in Your Community Challenge, where EERE facilitates a competition to provide low-income communities with solar power, so they won’t have to make that choice between a utility bill or groceries.
I was able to start this journey because of the education I received from Trinity, the kindness of Trinity alumni, and the desire to be with those who like to push the needle. I am deeply grateful I got to cut my teeth on public service at the Department of Energy. Serving as an appointee of President Barack Obama and working under Secretary Ernest Moniz have been some of the great honors of my young life. Since my time at Trinity and since then, I’ve had the privilege of learning from and working alongside passionate, intelligent, dedicated people who care deeply about the direction in which this nation and the world moves. I hope to continue pushing that needle in the right direction and making it into future blogs that Professor Geiss categorizes as “generally cool stuff.”
On May 6th approximately fifteen environmental science students joined the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group and assisted in their annual spring cleaning efforts.
Joining the effort was a challenge, since the event started on a Saturday morning, practically at the crack of dawn (9 AM). The weather was overcast and drizzly but cooperated and the big rains held off long enough to collect a considerate amount of trash.
We received a big thanks from our old friend Hyacinth Yennie who is already making plans for next year.
by A. Pitt – guest blogger extraordinaire
Tracy Keza, Environmental Science major and Studio Art minor, has been exploring conservation and social justice issues through the lens of her camera, and the world has taken notice. Tracy, an international student from Rwanda, said that she did not grow up with much exposure to art, but that hasn’t stopped her from being propelled into the spotlight of the art world. Tracy’s photographic foci have ranged from conservation-driven photography to highlight the work of conservation agents working to stop elephant poaching in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park, to equality-driven photography to confront racism. Her most recent work culminated in the interactive exhibit entitled, “Hijabs & Hoodies”, which was featured at the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C. as part of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s CROSSLINES: A Culture Lab of Intersectionality this past Memorial Day weekend. Most recently, Tracy was an invited speaker and panelist at the Yale University Art Gallery as part of the Artists in Conversation series that took place on March 9. Tracy is planning on doing a series of pop-up exhibits throughout the US after graduating this May.
As part of this year’s ENVS 204 lab Jon offered extra credit to students who would make a science video describing some experiments about air pressure and atmospheric circulation. Here is Cassia and Max’s entry. Have fun!
This Friday Krista Ehlert, our current postdoctoral fellow, gave a presentation on her research project on the links between Japanese Barberry (an invasive plant), Lyme disease and climate change. Krista’s talk was well attended, possibly thanks to at least one difficult mid-term exam and the promise of generous extra credit for students enrolled in the introductory and earth systems courses.
In her talk, Krista pointed out that there is a strong correlation between the abundance of Japanese barberry and black-legged ticks – the main (only ?) vector for Lyme disease in Connecticut. Krista’s research will build on these established relationships between invasive plants, ticks and Lyme disease and study how Japanese barberry will be affected by a warmer climate. In collaboration with the Simsbury Land Trust, Krista will simulate the effects of a warmer climate on Japanese barberry and tick populations using open top chambers. Krista also gave us an outline about her ongoing research projects, which include among others a study on seed dispersal by horses.
If that sounds interesting, contact Krista, and maybe you’ll find yourself out in Simbsury collecting ticks or counting barberry plants.
This Saturday Christoph’s first-year seminar presented the fruits of its semester-long photography project at the annual Knox Parks Foundation harvest Market. The students had been learning about the role of nature photography in conservation efforts and complemented their classroom work by visiting several community gardens in Hartford and taking pictures.KNOX Parks was nice enough to give us a large corner of their greenhouse to display our images and to set up a little information table where we told visitors about the project Alley and Noelle did an amazing job distributing our catalogs, and everybody had a good time, enjoying the music of several bands, sampling local food (it was Cecilia’s first exposure to Mac and Cheese) and meeting up with some of their photography subjects.
I’ve wanted to write about this for months, but the College beat me to it: over the past few years Trinity has installed quite a few solar panels on its flat roofs. One could not fail to notice the installation on the roofs of Ferris and Life Science – an enormous crane had blocked street access and parking lots for days last summer, but a quick check in Google Earth showed the true extent of the project. Ferris, LSC, Buldings and Grounds as well as Trinity Commons are covered with solar panels. The south facing roofs of the new town houses also have solar panels installed. That’s quite a step up from the few solar panels that were installed many years ago on the roof of the Treehouse.
For the Trinity News article on the most recent solar panels you can follow this link. And if you’d like to see where they are you can see them in the image below on the roofs of Ferris, LRC, Trinity Commons and the Facilities Management building. If you look closely you can see that the building south of the hockey rink is full of solar panels as well.Interesting enough you have to look for them in Google Earth. Google maps has slightly older imagery, which shows the roofs prior to installation.
This is the latest post in a series of alumni portraits. If you would like to tell us about life after graduation, send me a quick note and you’ll be featured next.
In 2009, I emerged from the womb of Trinity ENVS bright eyed and without a clue how I was I going to put ENVS 275 to work (Methods, duh). Three field trips with Christoph and Co. and a semester in New Zealand convinced me that field science was a neat way to understand and view the world. With that in mind, and with the suggestion from fellow bantam, Isabel Gottlieb (’09), I joined a biological anthropology project in Costa Rica as a field technician. While biological anthropology is awfully similar to primatology, the only thing I knew about primatology was a person named Jane Goodall. I was on-board for the adventure and the exposure to a devoted, longitudinal field study. We studied white-faced capuchin monkeys who were as habituated as New York pigeons—important to be able to make behavioral observations and, as a bonus for me, allow me to snap some of my best photos. I lived in very close quarters with six other field technicians and I eventually began to wonder if the monkeys were an elaborate foil for the UCLA researcher to study human behavior. So I made the jump to a different group of monkeys—high schoolers.
For the next three academic years, I taught chemistry and environmental science at the Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT. I felt at home back in the classroom and enjoyed modifying many of the lessons I received from Trinity professors just a couple of years prior. Also, I now had the summer months to jump back into field research mode. One summer I worked in Wyoming on an ungulate migration study collecting plant samples. Another summer I worked in northern California conducting baseline monitoring for a riparian restoration project. I loved every minute of being out in the field and returning to base at the end of the day. I enjoyed being a part of the niche community of scientists, project managers, and community members who invested themselves in these projects and care deeply about the outcome.
But then I got the itch. I wanted to have a project of my own. So I returned to school and enrolled in the Master’s program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES). Here my thesis focused on biogeochemistry in Alaskan estuaries, but I, perhaps to the dismay of my advisor, focused on much more than just my thesis. I pursued course work in regulating energy development, methods of land conservation, remote sensing techniques, and more. I met fascinating and motivated classmates from a host of backgrounds with interests varying from Alaskan subsistence rights to palm oil development in the Philippines to the US energy market. With these new skills, knowledge, and connections, I felt I had a duty to protect and manage the environment I had studied and explored since my time at Trinity. Working in government was a logical transition and I pursued the Presidential Management Fellowship. The PMF is one of several fellowships offered by the federal government to develop those with advanced degrees into government leaders. Fortunately, I was accepted and found a placement working for the Environmental Protection Agency in Region 9’s Enforcement Division.
I now find myself on the 14th floor of a high rise in San Francisco wearing sunglasses, in part because of the low hanging winter sun and in part to remind me of the earlier days (better days?) working outside. The EPA keeps me in the office mostly, but as a case developer and inspector for Section 402 of the Clean Water Act I sometimes get to travel to various parts of EPA’s Region 9 (CA, NV, AZ, HI, and the Pacific Islands). This travel is to inspect those facilities that have (or should have) NPDES permits, which means I visit some of our dirtiest places. I’ve inspected industrial facilities in Hawaii, oil drilling platforms in southern California, shipyards around San Francisco Bay, and municipal wastewater treatment plants and collection systems in various places around the region. It’s my job to ensure these facilities are properly permitted and that they are following their permit—staying within their effluent limits, monitoring and reporting their discharge, employing best management practices, and whatever other stipulations their permits prescribe. As a case developer, I compile the evidence of non-compliance and work with lawyers to develop an enforcement action to compel these entities to follow their permit. It is indeed a slow process, but the end result protects human health and the environment—EPA’s catch phrase.
As a PMF though, my time in this role is limited. Part of the fellowship is that I have to conduct a “rotation” in another EPA division or another federal agency altogether. While the details of this rotation are still not set, there is a good chance you will find me next at NOAA or NASA or perhaps at the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), if I am lucky.