The Princeton Environmental Institute Holds 35th Class Day Ceremony

Holly P. Welles ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Speaking to 39 Princeton University graduating seniors gathered in Guyot Hall during the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) Class Day on May 31st, Kelly Caylor, director of Princeton University’s Program in Environmental Studies (ENV) and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, opened the ceremony by saying a few words about the Program.

“The ENV Program offers an Environmental Studies Certificate that is essentially like a minor,” said Caylor. “All the faculty and students who participate have their homes in specific academic departments, but they all come together around environmental issues.”

Turning to the students Caylor emphasized, “The program really belongs to you and that is what makes it so special because you all come during together during your journey at Princeton by each making the decision to focus on the environment.”

“The issues of the environment are critical topics of our time and the passion you have will carry you throughout your personal and professional lives. Hopefully some of the things we have taught you and the things you have figured out in your own independent work will also go with you to prepare you for next 30 to 40 years of a very interesting time on this planet: a time when you are going to have a powerful voice and hand in determining what those times look like.”

Caylor thanked the 150 attending family and friends for supporting each of the graduate’s entry into Princeton and helping carry them through their time at the University. He exclaimed how proud he was of the graduates. “We are extremely proud of everything you’ve accomplished and excited and thrilled about what you are going to do next,” he told them. “Every one of you deserves an enormous amount of recognition for all you’ve accomplished here and I hope, over the coming days, you each take time to reflect upon what you’ve accomplished. It’s just the first of many accomplishments that we hope to hear about when you come back in subsequent years and tell us about what you are doing.”

Of the 39 graduating seniors awarded Environmental Certificates, three special prizes were awarded. Ejeong (EJ) Baik, civil and environmental engineering, and Anna Menke, anthropology, received awards in recognition of their outstanding senior theses. Rebecca Lowy, geosciences, received an award for her exceptional environmental leadership.

Before inviting Michael Celia, the Theodora Shelton Pitney Professor of Environmental Studies and professor of civil and environmental engineering, to award the Environmental Senior Thesis Prize to Baik, Caylor said, “EJ’s thesis is a truly remarkable piece of work. One of her readers, who has been in the department for over 40 years and has only awarded one or two A+’s, in fact I don’t think he believes in A+’s, but he felt EJ’s thesis was worthy of one.” Celia described a long list of Baik’s environmental accomplishments over the past 4 years with a particular focus on methane. “It was terrific working with her. I always say that if the faculty accomplish things, it’s almost always because of the students who do most of the work, and that’s certainly true in EJ’s case.”

In awarding the Peter. W. Stroh ’51 Senior Thesis Prize to Menke, Carolyn Rouse, professor of anthropology and director of African Studies, described Anna’s field work which focused on different perspectives of stakeholders who could be impacted by the construction of a proposed Nicaraguan Canal. Conducting all her fieldwork in Spanish, said Rouse, Anna discovered how scientific uncertainties about the environmental impact of the canal left room for the proliferation of different political perspectives. In addition to being analytically sophisticated, Rouse said Anna’s thesis was well-written and fun to read.

Caylor added, “What the readers found about Menke’s theses was that she worked on the problem long enough not just to see the answer to the question that she started with, but to figure out what the actual question that she should have started with was, and then to get to that problem. This is really hard to do in any research endeavor and something we struggle with every day.This is really profound.”

The third award, given to Lowy, was the T. A. Barron Environmental Leadership Prize.

“In in the last few years, Rebecca has redefined our expectations of what a student needs to do to become a leader within our program,” said Caylor. “She took on a ton of things we would ask her to do, but then she would consistently come to us with more ideas and initiatives. She had an unending willingness to try to build a better community and make ENV a more special place not only for all the students in it, but also for students who are outside the certificate program who wish to get involved outside of the formal activities.”

In delivering the award to Lowy, Satish Myneni, professor of geosciences and Lowy’s thesis adviser, said, “Rebecca was amazing in the lab; a very meticulous researcher who always thought outside the box. Whatever she did, she was always thinking about how it connects to the environment.”

Following the presentation of the awards, Caylor called each ENV certificate recipient to the front of the auditorium to be honored and to receive the traditional honorary gift of a PEI umbrella.

PEI Class Day Awards and Prizes

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.


Ejeong (EJ) Baik, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Thesis Title:
Assessment of Enhanced Gas Recovery from C02 Injection into Shale Gas Wells
Thesis Adviser: Michael Celia, Theodora Shelton Pitney Professor of Environmental Studies and professor of civil and environmental engineering


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 prize is awarded annually to the student who has produced the best thesis on an environmental topic.


Anna Menke, Anthropology
Thesis Title: Using the Environment to Claim Identity: The Nicaraguan Canal and Indigenous People
Thesis Adviser: Perry Sherouse, Lecturer in Anthropology


T.A. Barron Environmental Leadership Prize

The Thomas 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.


Rebecca Lowy, Geosciences
Thesis Title: Arsenic Adsorption on Fe-oxides mixed with Mn-oxides: Potential of Fe-Mn Nanocrystalline Coated Calcite Grains for Filtration of Arsenic Contaminated Drinking Water
Thesis Adviser: Satish Myneni, associate professor of geosciences


Each May, one or two rising seniors are selected to receive the Becky Colvin ’95 Memorial Award. This award is presented by the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in support of field research projects critical to the senior thesis. The recipient of the 2016 award was Zoe Sims ’17 who is majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. Sims’ senior thesis research will investigate the ecological impacts of anthropogenically-enriched groundwater discharge on Bermuda’s near-shore coral reefs and the role of Bermuda’s herbivorous fish in maintaining reef ecosystems. 

Last year’s Colvin recipients were Kathryn Grabowski ’16, civil and environmental engineering major, who studied the consequences of vegetation shift following the war-driven loss of large mammals in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, and Connor Stonesifer ’16, ecology and evolutionary biology major, who examined how tropical plants respond to varying levels of phosphorus throughout succession with implications for the stability and overall function of the tropical ecosystem.