Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Studies’

Allegheny Professor Shares His Fulbright Experience

Eric Pallant photographed his share of sheep, rustic stonewalls, and vintage waterwheels during the spring 2017 semester which he spent in the United Kingdom as part of the Fulbright educational exchange program. Pallant, the Christine Scott Nelson Professor of Environmental Sustainability and chair of the Department of Environmental Science at Allegheny College, also taught students about food, sustainability and green campus initiatives at Lancaster University. And he presented his lecture, “6000 Years of Bread,” at Gresham College in London.

This was Pallant’s second Fulbright experience. In 2001 he was awarded a Fulbright to teach and conduct research at Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.


Allegheny Senior Awarded Grant for Environmental Research

Allegheny College senior Alexandrea Rice has been awarded a Davey Foundation Annual Arbor Grant for her work in eco-friendly research. Rice is an environmental science major, with a focus in forest and soil science, and a geology minor.

“The award is a testament to Alex’s work as an undergraduate in (Professor) Rich Bowden’s lab on a green-industry approach to forestry and arboriculture,” says Scott Wissinger, chair of Allegheny’s Environmental Science Department.


Alumna’s research shared with Ben and Jerry’s

In April, Lindsey Kelley’s ’15 comp, “Corporate Social Responsibility in Supply Chains: Factors for Consideration in Developing Adaptation Strategies for Ugandan Vanilla Farmers Affected By Drought,” was distributed to development specialists in Africa. Her research was also being shared with the corporate leadership team at Ben and Jerry’s. Her research looked at how Ugandan farmers that want to supply vanilla to Ben and Jerry’s could best adapt their practices to accommodate incipient climate change

Professors Jacobs and Waggett Serve as Judges for International Science and Engineering Fair

Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Anne Jacobs and Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Global Health Studies Caryl Waggett were invited to be Grand Judges for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh in May. This fair gathers top projects designed and conducted by 9th through 12th grade students from around the world who have earned the right to participate by winning a top prize at a local, regional, state or national competition. Nearly 1,700 young scientists participated from more than 75 countries. The judges assisted in the selection and awarding of more than $1.6 million in awards and scholarships to these students.

Cultivating a Career — In a Nontraditional Way

             By the time she realized she had a passion for sustainable agriculture, Jayne Shord already was busy nurturing her life and career. She had experiences that most college students don’t have yet. She also enjoyed a passion for education that led her to who she is now – the owner of Beech Springs Farm.

When Shord decided to attend Allegheny College, she was 46 years old and had raised a family. For years, she had been a stay-at-home mom with four children, returning to full-time employment in 1979. She worked as an administrative assistant at several businesses in Pittsburgh before relocating to Chambersburg, Pa., in 1990, where she worked for the president of Wilson College for several years.

A month-long program in Argentina through Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange, though, fueled her fire for further education. (She had taken some introductory level courses at local colleges when her children were young and had accumulated about a year’s worth of credits.)

“Because of the experiences I had in Argentina, I gained an awareness of how other people lived and how different the world is from the United States. It made me want to learn and do more.” The birth of her grandchildren also inspired her to go back to school: “I could see that the world was changing. I thought that, maybe, there was something I could do to make a difference.” Encouragement from her future husband, Bill, sealed the deal.

She started by seeking out undergraduate programs in environmental studies in 1995. “Agriculture had always been a love of mine,” she says. Growing up on a farm, she fondly remembers experimenting with cultivating trees and bushes and persuading her father to dig vegetable gardens for her. “An environmental program seemed like a perfect fit.”

Allegheny was on her list of prospective schools that she visited. A serendipitous encounter with a student on campus connected Shord with then-Environmental Science/Studies Professor Michael Maniates. Professor Maniates’ encouragement helped her make her decision easier. “He kept trying to cultivate me as a student and took me under his wing. It helped to know there was someone on campus that I had developed a relationship with, someone there to root me on, even before I became a student.”

Many things on campus impressed her, including the longevity and reputation of its environmental science program, the professors and the campus. She started in January 1996. “When I first went to Allegheny, I had no idea what I wanted to do or how I would use my education. I just knew that I wanted to finish what I had started many years before and to see where I might make a difference in the world.”

She laughs at the fact that, following her first semester, she got married in August, returned to school two weeks after her wedding and then spent the spring semester in Costa Rica, where she celebrated her 50th birthday. She wanted to do “the whole college experience.” Non-traditional, maybe, but it worked.

During the summer of 1997, Shord interned on the Wilson College farm and became involved in its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. She returned to Wilson during the spring semester of her senior year to work on her senior project, The Food Project at Wilson College: A Study to Support Sustainable Food Systems by Redesigning Institutional Buying, and to intern under the director of the college’s Fulton Center for Sustainable Living. Shord graduated from Allegheny in 1999 as an Alden Scholar. She would go on to become the Fulton Center’s interim director immediately following graduation, a position that would bring her steps closer to what she would ultimately become – a farm owner.

She talks fondly about the years following, years that were filled with environmental activist work in the Chambersburg area, organizing the South Central Farmers Market Association, and the South Gate and the Branch Creek Farmer’s Markets.  “Starting farmers markets was a natural offshoot of my comp.” As its name suggests, Shord’s mission was to locate farmers that could potentially supply food to Wilson College’s dining hall. “Working with farmers was my favorite part of the process. As time went on and my education progressed, I started to see that I wanted to be the farmer.”

Thus, Beech Springs Farm – or at least its conception – was born. About a week after Sept. 11, 2011, through a happenstance meeting at a local nursery, Shord met someone who told her about a property for sale near Gettysburg.  “The property was already sold and the closing was scheduled in six weeks; however, we put in a backup offer and we amazingly we got it. We purchased the farm and relocated to Adams County.”

“From the beginning, I thought the property was so pretty and wondered how I might share it with others!  In the beginning, I didn’t have a plan. Most of what we do has just evolved. I began my farming venture by growing salad greens in a hoop house and marketing them to local food stores.  I progressed to selling heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers at the farmer’s market on the square in Gettysburg for six years.”

In 2010, Shord initiated a CSA program on the farm, which is now in its fifth year. As part of their CSA share, members have access to the farm’s herb and flower gardens, and products from other Adams County farms. In addition to the CSA program, the farm also hosts weddings, Victorian teas, luncheons, Civil War barn dances and quilt shows. In 2015, the farm began hosting a series of farm-to-table dinners complete with entertainment.

Her days’ activities include tending to her gardens, harvesting produce, interviewing couples for weddings, supervising employees, running errands for programs, turning compost, experimenting with new gardening techniques or marketing herself on Facebook. Its all part of her job description. “There’s always something to do and there is always a new challenge.”

No matter what the challenge, though, it doesn’t seem to get her down. “One of the things I go back to from my Allegheny education, time and time again, are the critical thinking skills that I developed while I was there as a student. I was always encouraged to look deeper. I came away with a different way of looking at the world and at the bigger picture. That’s something that’s remained with me.”

“I loved my Allegheny experience. It was one of the best parts of my life. Because I was so interested in sustainable agriculture I tried to incorporate it into everything that I studied. … Allegheny has come a long way even since I graduated. (Allegheny Environmental Science/Studies Professor) Eric Pallant tells me that I attended  five years too early because now Allegheny is doing so many amazing things that I would be interested in.  I wish I could come back and go to school now.”

Good luck getting her away from what she’s doing. “The best part of my job is that I get to go to work every day in such a beautiful place, to do what I love—to walk out my back door and go to work. I have the perfect job!”


Students and Staff Present Work at Environmental Educators Conference

Wendy Kedzierski, Creek Connections project director; Laura Branby, Creek Connections Pittsburgh area educator/Creek Camp director; and Kelcy Wagner ’15 and Kristy Garcia ’15 attended the 2015 Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators (PAEE) Conference at Lake Raystown Resort March 13-14. Kelcy presented on her senior project in a workshop called “Making Sense of Sustainability.” Laura and Wendy presented about how to keep a long-term project like Creek Connections successful in a workshop titled “Staying Current in the Creek.” Kristy made her graphic novel for students, “The Mysteries of French Creek,” available to educators and answered questions.

From Junk to Funk

Allegheny students make a fashion statement with trash

Lying on the table were a few pieces of cardboard, some wrinkled aluminum foil and about 30 never-before-played CDs. Oh, and don’t forget the large bag overflowing with old microfilm.

Some would see this and search for the nearest trashcan. But not Jared Balik, Emily Herwerden and Rose Fischer. These students look at what most consider trash and instead see treasure.

The students are using these items and more to create costumes for Allegheny’s sixth annual Trashion Show, an annual fashion-style show that encourages groups and individuals to create funky outfits using only recycled material that would otherwise go in the recycle bin or trash. The show will take place Sunday, March 29, at 4 p.m. in the Campus Center Lobby.

This year’s event, called “Junk Jungle,” is hosted by Students for Environmental Action (SEA), a group whose goal is to work for a positive change, creating a healthier environment and more sustainable planet and way of life.

2013 WinnerAccording to junior Jared Balik, SEA co-president, the idea for the Trashion Show is to promote waste awareness and recycling/reuse. Some examples of materials used for costumes in the past include egg and milk cartons, newspaper, plastic bottles, solo cups, flour bags and 35-mm film.

“We try to use the event as an educational opportunity to raise awareness about waste minimization efforts,” says Balik, who is a double major in biology and environmental science. “I think participants walk away with an enhanced appreciation for what creativity can accomplish in terms of repurposing ‘junk.’”

Each year, the show averages 10 to 12 entries. A panel of judges including administrators and students chooses winners based on categories such as “best outfit” or “most wearable outfit.” Assistant Professor of English Matthew Ferrence serves as emcee.

“The Trashion Show is a chance for students to show their creativity,” says senior Emily Herwerden, SEA treasurer who is a double major in environmental studies and German. “This is my first time creating an outfit for the show. I’m really excited to be involved this year.”

Herwerden says she plans to use CDs that were donated from the College’s radio station, WARC 90.3, to make a dress for the show. “I plan to flip the CDs silver-side out and use them on the skirt,” she says. “We also received the donation of old microfilm from the library, so I plan to use that as the bodice.”

2014 groupPlanning for the annual event doesn’t happen overnight. Balik says it requires a “daunting amount of planning and a bunch of student-led committees,” with the group setting up the Campus Center lobby and stages, coordinating lights and sound, advertising and promoting the event, designing decorations and recruiting individuals to create outfits.

Freshman Rose Fischer, who plans to major in environmental science, serves as an SEA member and is on the decoration committee for this year’s Trashion Show. She says the group already has brainstormed ideas to make sure the stage fits in with this year’s “Junk Jungle” theme.

“We’re planning to use potato chip bags to make a sun and cardboard to make animals like monkeys, jaguars and toucans,” she says. “We also hope to make bugs out of bottle caps and packing peanuts, and we’re planning to spray-paint the microfilm green to make vines.

“I’m excited to see everyone’s creativity,” she adds. “We tend to think of trash as waste, but you can really repurpose it in a lot of amazing ways. Making fashion out of it is one way to do that.”

“The planning for the event can be stressful, but seeing it all happen is so satisfying, and everyone has such a great time,” Balik adds. “And if someone learns something, that’s even better. Somehow it always comes together, and it’s beautiful.

“I think the Trashion Show is unique in that it brings a kind of creativity to campus that I’ve never seen elsewhere,” he adds. “It brings people together, and it gets people pumped about environmentalism.” Ranks Allegheny College’s Environmental Science/Studies Department No. 2 in the Nation

Allegheny College’s Environmental Science/Studies Department ranks No. 2 in the country, according to, a website dedicated to environmental science education and careers.

Allegheny’s program “teaches students to analyze the relationships between humans and the environment that we live with and use,” the site says.

Factors considered in the ranking were location, environmental practices, faculty, study abroad opportunities, teaching methods, program breadth, degree levels offered and renowned research.

“Allegheny’s environmental science department has long been dedicated to teaching students to solve real-world environmental problems,” says Professor Eric Pallant, department chair. “More than a dozen Allegheny faculty with exceptional breadth and depth in environmental problem-solving work shoulder-to-shoulder with students to make the world more sustainable. Our students and alumni have achieved extraordinary success in promoting environmental sustainability. It is a wonderful achievement to be recognized by the nation’s most reliable and expansive advocate for environmental science education and careers.” (more…)

Allegheny Senior Headed to State Capitol

Like many college students his age, Allegheny senior Pasquale “Pat” DiFrancesco of Wexford, Pa., is looking forward to the final semester of his senior year.

But unlike his classmates, DiFrancesco will spend most of his last semester making daily trips to the state Capitol, in addition to completing his Allegheny schoolwork. After all, he has interviews with legislators to conduct and a piece of legislation to draft.

DiFrancesco will be participating in this experience as one of eight students awarded a Pennsylvania House Legislative fellowship for the spring semester. The highly competitive fellowship, which was founded in 1982, places students in leadership offices in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The 13-week program also provides fellows with access to weekly workshops with key thinkers, planners, and decision-makers.

“Pat is a great fit for a program like the PA Legislative Fellowship Program. He has a well-developed vision of how he wants to serve and is driven by a desire to make a real difference in people’s lives,” says Patrick Jackson, Allegheny national fellowships adviser and visiting assistant professor of history and religious studies. “It’s hard to imagine a better place to try to do that than in state government. Pat also is confident and impressively poised. And since political progress is so often made under intense pressure, I suspect that this will serve him well in Harrisburg.”

DiFrancesco, a double major in political science and environmental studies, will be working in the office of Democratic Whip Mike Hanna. Prior to winter break, we caught up with Pat to talk about this unique opportunity.

How did you learn about this fellowship?
For two summers I worked at the Fund for American Studies, an academic internship placement organization, in Washington, D.C. While working there, someone told me about the fellowship. So I really found out about it through networking.

My whole goal when I came to Allegheny and was accepted into the AmeriCorps Bonner Scholar program was to do my summer service away in Washington, D.C. I always figured that if I could get into a place like D.C., then there would be a way to go back again. I found that “in” through the Fund for American Studies. Then everything just built and built.

What did you have to do to apply for the fellowship?
I had to complete an application, submit letters of recommendation, and do an in-person interview in Harrisburg. During the application process, I worked with Professor Patrick Jackson. He was a big help.

How does it feel to be going to Harrisburg?
I’m excited for it. Once I get home, take a breath, and start to prepare, it will really sink in. I’ll really start to feel it.

This is where I wanted to be. I wanted to be in public service. I wanted to be in government. I’m not sure if public service is ultimately for me, but I think this experience will really hammer home on whether or not I want to do that.

What will you do during your fellowship?
Once you hear that you are accepted to the program, you have to be accepted to an office. It can be a committee or leadership office. I will be working for Rep. Mike Hanna. He’s the second-most powerful democrat in the House of Representatives, so it’s fantastic for me.

From what I understand, some of my tasks will be:
• In-office work
• Meeting with constituents
• Letters
• Policy analyses
• Keeping a journal
• Interviewing a representative or someone who is involved in the legislative process

The main thing I’ll get to do is draft my own piece of legislation. I’ll work with lawyers and meet different speakers and representatives. They will help us formulate an idea for what our bill will be and help us structure it at the end. Once we write that piece of legislation, we also will give a presentation on it in the House Caucus.

In addition, I hope to attend the incoming governor’s ceremony. I think it’s going to be a really fun time to be there because there’s so much going on with the switching of the administration.

You also will be completing schoolwork during this time, correct?
Yes, I’ll still be a registered Allegheny student working toward 12 credits. One of the classes I’m doing is an independent study with Assistant Professor of Political Science Zachary Callen. The study will be related to state legislature behavior, so Harrisburg will be a great place to reflect and apply the academic readings I’ll be doing. I’ll also have an internship with Environmental Science Internship Coordinator Steve Utz.

In addition, I’ll be finishing my senior comp, which is on the severance tax policy in Pennsylvania. I’m looking at the policy to see how it can best account for environmental impacts that are accrued by the drilling processes. Through the fellowship, I’ll have the opportunity to sit in and watch anything that pertains to that kind of legislation or that topic, so I’ll get to build that into the senior project.

What else have you done at Allegheny?
I feel like I have taken full advantage of what Allegheny offers. In addition to serving as a Bonner Scholar, I have served as treasurer of Allegheny Student Government, as a reporter for the Campus, as a project leader with the College’s Center for Political Participation, and as a student representative for the College’s Finance and Facilities Committee.

What do you plan to do in the future?
I hope to work for a year or two and then go on to graduate school.

Professor Jackson encourages any Allegheny student interested in a career in politics to seriously consider applying to the Pennsylvania House Legislative fellowship program. For more information, contact him at

Making homes healthier for children

Karina Sarver often finds herself poking around people’s homes.

The Allegheny College junior could be collecting dust samples from the floor. Looking at electric outlets on the wall. Or asking whether adults in the home smoke, how many pets they keep and how often the family burns wood in its fireplace.

Karina Sarver tests samples in a laboratory at Carr Hall.

Karina Sarver tests samples in a laboratory at Carr Hall.

She’s not just being nosey. It’s part of her work-study job.

What started as an idea for a class project almost 11 years ago has evolved into an Allegheny student-operated, nonprofit agency that helps safeguard the health of children throughout northwest Pennsylvania.

The Healthy Homes – Healthy Children program began in 2007 under the direction of Dr. Caryl Waggett, associate professor of environmental science, as a way to test older homes for lead paint residue that could cause cognitive and behavioral problems in children.

Fast-forward seven years and you’ll find three students, led by Sarver, who is the program coordinator, managing a free, in-home survey program in Crawford County. The students look for airborne health risks and nutritional and safety issues, too.

More than 1,750 homes have been tested since the program’s inception. Its scope has expanded to include educational outreach extending into the Erie area. The students also have become a resource for the region’s medical and social-service professionals.

“Personalized home visits are one of a suite of tools that we use to help families address these issues,” says Waggett.

Healthy Homes-Healthy Children was designed to:

  • provide targeted information to families and medical, educational, and social service providers;
  • address perceptions and attitudes that may be counteracting healthy outcomes;
  • support families hoping to make behavioral changes;
  • research and work toward better understanding of the key factors impacting children’s health in northwest Pennsylvania.

As the program leader, Sarver schedules the in-home tests with parents, coordinates the lab processing (part of which is done at Carr Hall) and shares results with the homeowners.

“I came to Allegheny as a pre-med student, but since joining this program, I’ve found that I want to make more of an impact on community-based health, not so much just individuals,” says Sarver, a biology major with minors in English and history.

Sarver and fellow students Jillian Gallatin ’16 and Katelyn Nicewander ’15 conduct the hour-long, in-home surveys. They do some of the laboratory testing of airborne samples themselves and send other samples to a Michigan laboratory to determine if, and how serious, mold-borne issues may be in clients’ houses. Pollutants, especially lead from paint in many of the Meadville-area homes built before 1978, can negatively impact development in children.

Mold spores from damp rooms, allergens from pets, secondhand smoke from parents, naturally occurring radon infiltration and home-heating units that burn gas, oil and wood can exacerbate asthma and pose other health problems in children.

Through the efforts of these Allegheny students, parents, community organizations, and professionals throughout Crawford County are learning about potential health threats in their homes and receiving practical suggestions for remediation.

The Healthy Homes – Healthy Children team gets its referrals in a variety of ways, but the students work closely with agencies such as Meadville Head Start, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Early Intervention and the Children’s Health Network of the Meadville Medical Center. In addition to the home surveys, the students conduct seminars at local schools and social-service agencies. They might discuss how to clean a home efficiently to reduce allergens and dust, and also suggest ways that children can adopt healthier lifestyles through proper nutrition and exercising regularly. They also staff a booth for a week distributing healthy-lifestyle educational materials at the annual Crawford County Fair.

Lorie Darcangelo, the Meadville WIC director, considers the Healthy Homes—Healthy Children program “a blessing” for the region.

“It is a wonderful service to offer to our community,” says Darcangelo.  “At WIC, we appreciate being able to make this referral to our participants.  Many live in older homes that do contain lead-based paint.  With limited income, and many are renters, the practical information provided to them by Health Homes—Healthy Children is invaluable.  We, at WIC, also appreciate the information and training that this program has provided to our staff so we are better prepared to make those referrals.”

“It’s really given me a greater appreciation for early intervention in children, to teach them healthy habits,” says Sarver. “It’s helped me to connect to Meadville in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. Right now, we’re reaching the people who are interested in changing their lifestyles, but there is a whole demographic that hasn’t reached that point.”

“Change is hard for all of us, and in many instances, families have so many financial and time pressures that it is hard to identify or prioritize key issues,” Waggett says.  “HHHC works with families and can link them to other services that help them focus on key issues.”

Sarver says it’s important to focus on healthy homes for children because:

  • More than 80 percent of the buildings in Crawford County were built before 1978, the year that lead paint was banned.
  • Children under age 6 are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because their neurological systems are developing and they often put objects, like toys that have been exposed to lead-positive dust, in their mouths. High lead levels in children can cause irreversible cognitive deficits and both learning and behavioral challenges in the classroom.
  • Levels of air pollution in the home can be two to five times higher than outdoor levels. This isn’t good for asthmatic children and can lead to respiratory ailments.
  • The average home contains 60 chemical products that can taint the inside air.

Sarver suggests some ways to make a home more child-friendly:

    • Vacuuming often with a device that includes a HEPA filter.
    • Dusting furniture and window sills regularly with a damp cloth.
    • Making sure electric outlets have safety guards on them.
    • If possible, making sure carpeting in a child’s room is newer or cleaned regularly.
    • Not allowing pets to sleep in bed with children.
    • Keeping the home, especially basements, dry and well-ventilated. Run a dehumidifier. If you see mold on the walls, clean it immediately with diluted bleach or vinegar.

If you think you might have lead paint that can’t be immediately removed by a lead safety certified professional, it’s beneficial to give children in the home a calcium supplement, some health experts advise. As Sarver explains: “Lead fills in for calcium in the body. Lead is especially dangerous in the calcium-dependent synapses in the brain. In children who don’t have sufficient calcium in their diet, or who don’t have sufficient vitamin D which is necessary to absorb calcium, lead can be absorbed into places where calcium is normally needed in the body.  When lead replaces calcium in neurological system, it interrupts synaptic communication and induces symptoms of learning disabilities. Lead can also replace calcium in bones, so it is innately important to make sure young, growing bodies are getting enough calcium in their diets.  So, two children who both live in older homes with residual lead dust may absorb different levels of the lead, and have highly different outcomes.  These exposure differences and health disparities tend to fall along economic lines.  In regions like Meadville, where nearly 40 percent of our children are living in families under the poverty line, food insecurity is a common problem that can lead to more significant problems like increased susceptibility to lead poisoning.”

The Healthy Homes – Healthy Children program has brochures available for parents, educators and social-service representatives.