PEI Class Day 2020 honors students’ excellence and resilience
Students and parents joined faculty, researchers and staff from the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) and the Program in Environmental Studies for a virtual Class Day ceremony celebrating the accomplishments and resilience of the 24 Princeton University seniors who were the latest recipients of certificates in environmental studies (ENV).
Held May 29, ENV Class Day 2020 recognized students not only for their exceptional work throughout their four years at Princeton, but also for their determination in completing their studies during a final semester impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“Every Princeton class is memorable, but this class is especially memorable,” said PEI Director Michael Celia, the Theodora Shelton Pitney Professor of Environmental Studies and professor of civil and environmental engineering.
“You were faced with challenges that none of us have ever seen and you overcame them — that in itself deserves enormous applause and great admiration,” Celia said. “I have no doubt that as you all go out into the world, you will continue to face and overcome challenges no matter what they are. We expect, and we know, that you will do absolutely great things.”
“Earning an ENV certificate is a rigorous undertaking, especially this year,” said Daniel Rubenstein Director of the ENV Program, and the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “This cohort will be the first to finish half of their final term remotely, and this cohort also will be the first to receive their certificates virtually. But they are a special group and I’m sure they’ll remember this day — and this term — for the rest of their lives.
“Congratulations to each and every one of you for a job well done,” Rubenstein said. “Now, go forth and take what you’ve learned and do some environmental good.”
Before names of certificate recipients were read, the seniors who received prizes for outstanding thesis research, or for their exceptional engagement with environmental studies were recognized. “Within the ENV program, we consistently attract a remarkable group of undergraduate students whose interests span many different topics within the realm of the environment, and span many different disciplines on campus,” Celia said. “This year is certainly no exception.”
Juliana Jiranek in ecology and evolutionary biology received the Peter W. Stroh ’51 Environmental Senior Thesis Prize for her study of how increased temperatures resulting from climate change will likely accelerate the spread of plant fungal pathogens. Her adviser, C. Jessica Metcalf, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs, said that Jiranek’s thesis combined challenging fieldwork and novel epidemiological modeling to link empirical data with theories of plant-pathogen dynamics. In nominating Jiranek, Metcalf wrote, “This extremely well-written thesis is an impressive and creative piece of work which is very likely to result in at least one publication and provide foundations for many more.”
Ellen Scott-Young in anthropology received the Environmental Studies Senior Thesis Prize for her review of — and recommendations for improving — Princeton’s environmental education and stewardship efforts in the context of trends in primary and secondary environmental education, as well as the University’s institutional identity and responsibility. Her adviser, Jeffrey Himpele, director of the Ethnographic Data Visualization Lab and lecturer in anthropology, said that Scott-Young “has written a thesis that is full of insight and optimism and real strategies.” He continued, “It is a provocative, open-minded and sophisticated thesis that must have a place in conversations about Princeton’s educational mission in the age of global warming.”
Three Environmental Studies Book Prizes were presented to students who conducted exceptional research and demonstrated an ability to communicate about it. Awardees will receive a copy of “Princeton: America’s Campus” by W. Barksdale Maynard in addition to their prize certificates.
Peter Schmidt in Spanish and Portuguese received the book prize for Environmental Humanities for his novel, “A Mountain There,” exploring the premise of environmental personhood through the experience of a young lawyer seeking international reparations for the Cerro Rico in Bolivia, which has supplied silver and tin since the 16th century and is now collapsing due to structural damage. “Not only is this experiment an intellectual tour de force, but also a text that appeals to readers’ emotions and challenges their worldview,” his primary adviser, Nicole Legnani, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, wrote in nominating Schmidt. “The novel guides readers to consider how our lives would change (or not) if we lived in a world where the rights of nature were enforced by an international legal framework.” Schmidt’s co-adviser Daphne Kalotay, lecturer in creative writing and the Lewis Center for the Arts, wrote that his thesis is “ a multi-layered work of speculative metafiction” that “plays with notions of authorship, personhood and who has the right to tell a story, asking philosophical and ethical questions not easily answered.”
Kristie Falconer in ecology and evolutionary biology was honored with the prize in Environmental Natural Sciences for studying the diversity, conservation and flight stratification of diurnal butterflies in Krka National Park, Croatia. She uncovered important information about their diversity and flight behavior — and identified five near-threatened species — that she used to provide the park with recommendations for conserving butterfly communities. “Kristie’s innovative and timely research has the potential to have far-reaching conservation implications,” wrote her adviser, Mary Caswell Stoddard, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “Kristie is, without question, one of the most capable, insightful and inspiring students with whom I have worked at Princeton.”
Naomi Cohen-Shields in civil and environmental engineering received the prize in Environmental Engineering for her analysis of regional air-pollution data from China collected between 2014-2019 to assess government efforts to reduce pollution. Cohen-Shields then examined correlations between air quality and provincial gross regional product (GRP) per capita to consider how air pollution differs across China based on socioeconomic levels. Her adviser Denise Mauzerall, professor of civil and environmental engineering and public and international affairs, wrote that Cohen-Shields wrote “an impressive, sophisticated thesis that pairs rigorous analysis of large data sets of air pollutants from across China with an ethical analysis and tools by which ethical considerations can be included in policy development. This complementary interdisciplinary analysis distinguishes her work from a purely technical achievement.”
Sofia Bisogno in civil and environmental engineering received the T. A. Barron Environmental Leadership Prize for her involvement in the Princeton Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), which is sponsored and administered by PEI. Bisogno has been chapter president for the past year. She spent two summers as a PEI intern leading EWB’s project to provide potable water for Pusunchás, a rural community in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes; the team completed, and published a paper about, the project in 2019. In addition to her academic excellence, Bisogno is active within her department in recruiting students and raising awareness of environmental challenges to first-year students and sophomores. Bisogno also is a fellow in the Princeton Writing Center and is a top contemporary dancer in the Program in Dance in the Lewis Center for the Arts.
Bisogno’s adviser, Ian Bourg, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Princeton Environmental Institute, described her as a natural leader with a passion for the environment. “Sofia stands out as a bright and engaged student with a tremendous record of environmental leadership,” Bourg said. “She has a quiet energy and poise that makes other students follow her lead. She combines this with strong communication skills and a bright, positive attitude.”
PEI Class Day Awards and Prizes
Peter W. Stroh ’51 Environmental Thesis Prize
The Peter W. Stroh ’51 Environmental Senior Thesis Prize was established in 2003 as a memorial to Peter W. Stroh ’51, an active member of PEI’s Advisory Council and an enthusiastic supporter of the Environmental Studies Program. The $2,000 prize is awarded annually to the student who has produced the best thesis on an environmental topic.
Juliana Jiranek, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Thesis title: “Simulating a Plant-Pathogen System Under Climate Change”
Thesis adviser: C. Jessica Metcalf, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs
Environmental Studies Senior Thesis Prize
The Environmental Studies Senior Thesis Prize is awarded annually to one senior in the Environmental Studies Certificate Program who has produced the best thesis in the broad area of environmental studies. Student nominations are made by departmental thesis advisers.
Ellen Scott-Young, Anthropology
Thesis title: “The Efficacy of a Princeton University Education in a Deteriorating World”
Thesis adviser: Jeffrey Himpele, Director, Ethnographic Data Visualization Lab, Anthropology, Lecturer in Anthropology
Environmental Studies Book Prizes
The Environmental Studies Book Prizes recognize students for the best poster or presentation of outstanding senior-thesis research, and their ability to communicate the results and significance of their work. Candidates are interviewed by PEI faculty and members of the institute’s executive committee, who then select the winners. The four winners in the environmental humanities and social sciences received a copy of “Dinner with Darwin: Food, Drink and Evolution” by Jonathan Silvertown, and the recipient in environmental natural sciences got a copy of “Coming into the Country” by John McPhee, which was selected by the student’s adviser.
Peter Schmidt, Spanish and Portuguese
Thesis title: “A Mountain There”
Thesis advisers: Nicole Legnani, Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese; Daphne Kalotay, Lecturer in Creative Writing and the Lewis Center for the Arts
Environmental Natural Sciences
Kristie Falconer, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Thesis title: “Butterfly Diversity and Conservation in Krka National Park, Croatia”
Thesis adviser: Mary Caswell Stoddard, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Naomi Cohen-Shields, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Thesis title: “Mapping Air Pollution Across China: An Analysis of Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) and Surface Ozone Pollution (2014 – 2019) with Correlating Provincial Socioeconomic Levels (2018)”
Thesis adviser: Denise Mauzerall, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Public and International Affairs
T. A. Barron Environmental Leadership Prize
The T. A. Barron Environmental Leadership Prize recognizes a member of the graduating class who has distinguished himself or herself by showing exceptional dedication to environmental concerns, not only in formal classes and independent academic work, but also by leading and encouraging activities among fellow students and in the community at large.
Sofia Bisogno, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Thesis title: “A Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Two Methane-Mitigation Methods for the Las Rosas Landfill Plant”
Thesis adviser: Ian Bourg, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Princeton Environmental Institute
Joe Kawalec ’21 in ecology and evolutionary biology, who is advised by Stoddard, received the 2020 Becky Colvin Memorial Award, which is presented by PEI and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology to provide support for travel, research supplies, and other expenses associated with field research for the senior thesis. Kawalec will expand on work he began as a PEI summer intern studying the ability of woodpeckers to camouflage in their native ecosystems. He hopes that learning more about the birds’ behavior and life history will lead to improved conservation strategies for woodpeckers and their forest habitat.