It’s a whole new era, and Tandon students are ready

Students present research at the annual Association for Environmental Studies and Science conference

3 students posing infront of a poster titled "The Effect of Vegetal Element on Perceptions of Safety for Urban Pedesptians"

Undergraduates Sophie Weiss and Dorothy Zhang and recent graduate Christina Curry

When the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) held its annual conference, with the theme “Hopeful Strategies for the Anthropocene,” a trio from Brooklyn was there to present their work.

The Anthropocene refers to our current geological age — a time when human activity and demands exert a major influence on climate and the environment. With U.N. experts predicting that there may be 11 billion people on the planet by 2100, it’s evident that the world’s scientists, technologists, engineers, and sustainability experts must devise ways to mitigate those human effects.

The AESS — an organization of environmental educators and STEM professionals who value interdisciplinary approaches to research, teaching, and problem-solving — convened its latest conference with that in mind.

Industry Assistant Professor Alice Reznickova encouraged her students to submit proposals for inclusion in the high-profile event, and in late June, three of them headed to Towson, Maryland, not only to hear scholarly presentations on such topics as sustainable food systems and environmental justice but to present their own research.

Christina Curry, who graduated with a B.S. in Sustainable Urban Environments in May and who will be pursuing her graduate degree in Urban Planning at NYU Wagner, presented her Tandon capstone project, a study entitled "The Effects of Vegetal Elements on Perceptions of Safety of Urban Pedestrians.” 

“Literature on this topic has been mixed, but even though no definitive conclusions have been drawn yet, we do know that how people perceive an area’s safety will affect how they use public spaces,” she explains. “Because of urban greening trends, I decided to focus on a space’s vegetation. How does it feel when a street is tree-lined? Can the same level of greenery feel comforting by day but threatening by night?”

Curry concluded, after analyzing her survey results, that pedestrians perceive well-lit, active, moderately vegetated areas to be the safest–while overly vegetated and unvegetated settings both contributed to feelings of unease. “Of course, factors like lighting and whether or not someone is walking unaccompanied are exceptionally important, the presence of vegetation is preferable, and its placement should be considered alongside the other design elements of a site,” she asserts. 

Undergraduates Sophie Weiss (who is majoring in Sustainable Urban Environments) and Dorothy Zhang (a Computer Science major) participate in Reznickova’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) team, Solutions for Sustainable Futures, and their presentation focused on the ways in which multi-semester interdisciplinary programs like VIP can enhance undergraduate education. 

Students in the VIP program choose a hands-on project of real-world importance and work on it almost the entirety of their academic careers, earning credit each semester. Because the projects are multidisciplinary, students from all majors can participate, and a motivated person can take on increasingly responsible roles as their school years progress, tracing the trajectory they might take over the course of their professional lives.

Weiss and Zhang’s team currently consists of  24 students pursuing various projects related to sustainability education, food security, waste management, and urban design, and in their presentation, they discussed how an initiative like VIP works, including student recruitment, project selection, and assessment and evaluation. They showcased examples of each of the projects, highlighted the different competencies developed by students, and spoke openly about barriers they had faced.  

“Sustainability education is on the rise, and this type of initiative can nurture meaningful connections between students, support interdisciplinary collaborations, promote leadership development, and act as a catalyst to bring a large number of students into real-world sustainability work,” they say. 

They were, as their advisor pointed out, the only undergraduates to be invited to present at the conference. 

“I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Reznickova says. “They very ably gave their talk all on their own, in front of a large group of scholars and faculty members from universities across the country, and there was substantial interest in their work. I am also exceptionally proud of Christina, whose research has the potential to inform policy and design in important ways. I have no doubt she’ll shine in her graduate program just as she did at the AESS conference.”