Students who participated in the seventh annual PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies’ (PSEG ISS) Green Teams program this summer at Montclair State University learned that they can contribute to creating a greener world in both large and small ways.
Those on the Northern New Jersey Communities Foundation team discovered the project they worked on could have helped mitigate flooding by as much as 18% or 34 million gallons of water by using rain barrels and creating rain gardens.
Meanwhile, some students made green changes in their personal lives, like switching to using reusable water bottles.
Fifty students from 31 universities across the country and in various fields of study completed their 10-week summer internships as part of the PSEG ISS Green Teams this month, one of many successful summer programs happening on the Montclair campus.
The Green Teams program kicked off in June. Ten teams of student interns partnered with host companies or organizations to work on designated sustainability projects. Charged with gathering and analyzing data and completing reports, the teams delivered their findings in final presentations to an audience that included their host organizations, Montclair faculty and staff and family members in early August. During the final presentations, participants also heard from Ann Tracy, chief sustainability officer for Colgate-Palmolive, and Rick Thigpen, senior vice president of corporate citizenship for PSEG, who praised the students’ work and talked about sustainability efforts at their respective companies.
PSEG ISS Director Amy Tuininga said in introductory remarks that the students hustled all summer to address issues that affected equity and climate change. “This group of students is really well prepared,” she said, adding that in addition to learning about data collection and data analysis, they learned how to talk to people in various communities. The combined result, Tuininga said, were “plans that are based on real data, real humans and real voices.”
In just one example of how Green Teams members are making a difference, students on The New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition team performed cultural, social and economic analyzes of communities adjacent to the proposed Essex Hudson Greenway, a long-awaited park and transportation corridor project taking shape in one of the nation’s most densely populated regions. As part of their work on the project, they visited three of the eight communities – Newark, Bloomfield and Kearny – affected by the proposed 8.6-mile, mixed-use greenway. While still in its early stages, the project is described as a “linear park for recreation, transportation and healthy communities.”
On a warm summer day, the team walked along the Kearny marsh portion of the Norfolk Southern Railway Company rail line, where the 100-foot wide, 135-acre greenway is proposed and will stretch from Montclair to Jersey City.
Team member Leanna Sanchez, a Montclair Anthropology major, says her field of study came in handy when drafting a questionnaire her team used to gather input from community members.
“We were able to analyze and really gauge recommendations and understand what their concerns are, what they expect to change, what they could really use and what they might not need,” she says. “So having that training to be able to ask them those questions and pace it in a way that was digestible and understandable, that was anthropology training.”
The bike and walk team found that people in the affected areas liked the idea of more open and green spaces that would provide people opportunities for healthy activities and gatherings.
The team recommended that the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition provide transparency, encourage buy-in by local businesses, connect to more local groups to expand their network and organize a designated volunteer program as it continues to build support and secure funding for the greenway.
Another team, working with NJ Transit, was tasked with building a marketing campaign demonstrating the environmental benefits of NJ Transit transportation and how to best communicate emissions savings to consumers.
The team devised a way to communicate and calculate carbon dioxide (Co2) emissions by using everyday objects, in this case a grocery shopping cart to illustrate that the average car emits about one pound of Co2 per mile. The team calculated that by taking NJ Transit rather than driving, their commute could have resulted in 53 shopping carts less of Co2 emissions.
Bianca Palomino, an Environmental Science major at Lehigh University, and NoElle Sprenkle, a Marketing major at Saint Peter’s University, explained how the team created a carbon emissions calculator that showed riders their Co2 emissions savings by taking NJ Transit versus driving a car. The calculator, which NJ Transit wants to incorporate into its existing app, showed emissions savings for riders traveling by bus, light rail or rail.
By using the calculator, Sprenkle told the audience, “Consumers can have a greater idea of the environmental impact they’re having by choosing to take NJ Transit.”
Students have high praise for their Green Teams experience.
Yoelis Brito, an Electrical Engineering major at The College of New Jersey and member of the Weeks Marine, Inc. team, says she gained skills that will help her academic and professional careers; she plans to work in sustainability and alternative energy.
“My experience within the Green Teams has taught me more about sustainability and its many fields,” she says. “I am also more knowledgeable about sustainability terminology that will help me along my career in sustainability.”
Regina Rasmusson, an Earth and Environmental Science major at Montclair and a member of the NJ Transit team, says: “One of the best parts of this program was knowing that I am making a real, tangible difference in the world of sustainability. As an individual, you often wonder how much of a difference you can really make. However, if there’s one major takeaway I have from this program, it’s that everyone has something to bring to the sustainability movement, whether they realize it or not. Being able to use my skills and collaborate with my teammates on a project that has real-world implications was an invaluable experience.”
Maria Pineda, a Molecular Biology major at Montclair and a member of the PSEG Team, describes her experience as insightful and memorable. “This internship took me outside of my comfort zone because I was able to expose myself to a new and emerging industry: sustainability. I am also an introvert so I was able to challenge myself and talk in front of crowds. I am very grateful for this internship, and I have developed friendships and both professional and personal life skills that I will take with me.”
For Stephlyn Buchanan, a Biology major at Passaic County Community College and member of team New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, “the best part of this experience was getting the opportunity to work with students of different diversity, backgrounds, majors, ethnicities and sexual orientations . I learned that working in a group is not always easy because everyone has their different way of doing things…. And that we can accomplish anything when we work together.”
Brito also found that working in teams was eye-opening. “The biggest takeaway was how to navigate work relationships. This summer, I took on a leadership role within the team and it allowed me to grow because I had to actively learn how to mitigate situations of conflict, miscommunication, loss in productivity and motivation. I learned that people respond best to sincerity, respect and feeling heard.”
Montclair senior and Public Health major Jacyann Watson, a member of the Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center team, said she was grateful for the experience. “My experience will help me further my career because it is such a unique program that taught me leadership skills, how to work with a diverse group of individuals, gave me the ability to improve my resume and provided me with a network of brilliant people to possibly work with in the future. I was able to see how hospitals operate, which is beneficial because I plan to continue working in the health-care sector.”
Rasmusson sums up her experience this way: “My time with Green Teams was unlike any work experience I’ve had in the past. From the start, I knew this program was one of a kind. It’s more than a resume-booster but an experience that can shape your future – it exposes you to various topics and careers in sustainability, fosters professional development, and connects you to an expansive network of like-minded individuals. In a nutshell, it sets you up for success!”
Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos by University Photographer Mike Peters and John LaRossa. Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren contributed to this story.
For more on this summer’s program, visit 2022 Green Teams & Deliverables.
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