While away from campus, Manhattan students are continuing to work with the College’s community partners. Environmental studies major Gina Lauria ’22 and economics and global business major Jessica Gonzalez Matute ’20 are part of a research team led by Dart Westphal, director of environmental studies, that’s collaborating with the nonprofit Bronx River Alliance.
From Lauria’s home in Kinnelon, New Jersey, and Matute’s home in the Bronx, they’re preparing to test the environmental impacts of Bronx River House, a new eco-friendly structure that houses the Alliance offices. The building features permeable pavers and surfaces that collect rainwater, as well as solar panels and a geothermal heating and cooling system.
“We’re trying to see if that kind of building is going to actually have a positive impact on the environment,” Lauria explains. “It’s net-zero energy and water, or at least very close to net zero.” On-site work was scheduled to begin after spring break, but the team’s tasks have taken a different form now that students are studying at home.
“We’ve been developing protocols,” Lauria says. “We do a weekly conference call to talk about what measures we’re going to use, what toolkits we’re going to try and invest in. We’ve also been looking at comparable sustainable building projects to see what they’re looking for around their buildings and how they’re developing protocols.”
Gonzalez Matute is focused on conducting an economic analysis of heating and cooling systems. She’s enjoying the opportunity to work with classmates from varied academic backgrounds. “I know my work along with my group members will make a difference, and hopefully more people will realize that the growth of the economy depends on the environmental resources we use,” she says. “Sooner or later we’ll have to transition from fossil fuels to renewable resources for the greater good of the Earth.”
Lauria also has benefited from working with a cross-disciplinary group. “I’ve definitely been learning more about the scientific side of things,” she says. “I’ve been learning about test kits that we have to use, certain chemicals we’re going to test for, such as fecal chloroform in the water. Data collection is new to me, so I’ve been learning a lot about that.”
“While Covid 19 has been disruptive to many of our plans, we have found ways to adapt our work with Manhattan College students to continue to help us remotely,” says Jonah Garnick, Greenway manager for the Bronx River Alliance. “The team of students working to evaluate the environmental impacts of Bronx River House have continued work virtually by developing our testing methodology so we can hit the ground running as soon as it's safe to collect data in person.”
Though Lauria would prefer to meet her fellow team members in person, she’s making the best use of this unique time.
“It’s definitely preparing us more than we would have been, just because we have a lot of time to work on it,” she says. “I think as a whole, what we’re doing will help the project as we go ahead.”