Discovery Day 2015

Holly Welles ・ Princeton Environmental Institute

Discovery Day 2015On Friday, May 8th, the Princeton Environmental Institute hosted its annual Discovery Day—a multidisciplinary poster session celebrating undergraduate senior thesis research on environmental issues. Over 50 students from 16 academic departments showcased their work which was mentored by 34 faculty advisers.

Discovery Day is a culminating event for students participating in the Program in Environmental Studies and for students receiving field research support from PEI and the Grand Challenges Program. It is an opportunity for students to display and discuss their senior thesis research methodologies and results, to showcase environmental studies projects, to exchange perspectives, and to propose solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. This year, the projects were categorized into several focal themes: climate and energy, health, land use and agriculture, water, culture and values, and environmental policy.

Below, several students pictured next to their Discovery Day posters reflect on their senior thesis experience.


Jonathan Choi, EEB

Jonathan Choi, EEB
Adviser: David Wilcove
“Orange is the New Green: Accelerating Tropical Forest Regeneration in Costa Rica Using Citrus Waste”

Trends in urbanization and globalization have led to the widespread abandonment of cattle pastures in some tropical countries like Costa Rica. Unfortunately, perceptions of restoration as uneconomical have precluded efforts to regrow forests. My research looked at a project conducted in 1998 that used a cost effective approach of disposing of agriculture waste (citrus pulp) with the goal of also stimulating forest regeneration and restoration. In reviewing the impact of the 1998 project we discovered that the citrus waste application lead to greater soil fertility, a 3-fold increase in species richness for trees larger than 5 cm diameter, and much higher levels of aboveground biomass. Through this senior thesis research, I learned how to ask my own research question, to execute a study, and to generate presentable results. Next year I will be working as a High Meadows Fellow on the Environmental Health team at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington D.C.


Joshua Hamilton, EEB

Joshua Hamilton, EEB
Adviser: Stephen Pacala
“Caribbean Reef Shark Decline and Mesopredator Release in the Turks and Caicos Islands”

My research question was “what are the effects of large predators like sharks on coral reef fish populations?”  Research shows that over the past 30 years shark populations have declined around the world by over 75 percent, but there have been very few studies showing what effects this decline has had on reef ecology.  I wanted to see whether sharks are having top-down regulatory effects on smaller fish in coral reef environments—similar to terrestrial predator prey relationships. What I found was that populations of smaller predatory fishes were significantly larger on reefs without sharks. This result supports what many researchers have suggested but none have studied experimentally: that sharks help maintain balance in the coral reefs by keeping smaller fish populations in check. It was incredibly rewarding to conduct novel research in a poorly studied area of the field. I learned a lot about the importance of patience and perseverance in the research process, and I hope that my findings will contribute to coral reef conservation as I seek publication this summer.


Rebecca, Kreutter, WWS, MAE

Rebecca, Kreutter, WWS, MAE
Adviser: Michael Oppenheimer
”Econometric Drivers of Forest Change in India”

My senior thesis research focused on historical and current pressures on forests in India. I compared data on deforestation collected by the Indian government to that collected by independent entities. I found that independently collected data indicated a much greater degree of deforestation than government collected data. I also tried to identify the accelerants and the deterrents of deforestation, by looking at different international satellite datasets and models. My most interesting finding was that unclassed forests—those that are not legally protected by the government—were strongly associated with forest loss. I also came up with some policy recommendations for India and for international communities that are trying to use satellite data to measure deforestation. Next year I am pursuing a master of public administration at the Woodrow Wilson School with an emphasis on environmental economics.


Jessica McLemore, EAS

Jessica McLemore, EAS
Adviser: Kelly Caylor
“The Story of My Dinner: A Children’s Book”

I grew up in Los Angeles, but from an early age I was interested in the Japanese culture and studied Japanese in high school and while at Princeton. In my freshman year, I took a global seminar in Tokyo and I spent last summer there pursuing an internship. Through these experiences, I learned that the Japanese elementary school system is very strong and the Japanese diet promotes longevity. I also love working with kids so for my senior thesis, I chose to study food education and discourse in Japanese elementary schools. In Japan, food education is integrated into the curriculum by using lunchtime as a teaching opportunity to educate the children about food production and healthy eating habits–that what one eats and how one talks about it can impact what one becomes. As a result of this research I realized that, comparatively, food education and nutrition is lacking in the United States. So for my environmental studies project, I wrote a book to help children understand where their food comes from and all the players involved in creating the meals they eat.

Congratulations to the students and a heartfelt appreciation to all who supported these research initiatives!