UCONN judge harbors ‘a lot of hope for the next generation of brownfield professionals’
By Steve Dwyer, Maria Coler, and Beverly Entin
The future of brownfield reclamation and development appears to be in good shape. Each year, the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast’s (BCONE) Charlie Bartsch Scholarship Fund awards scholarships to the best and brightest students working toward obtaining degrees in brownfield related disciplines.
In December 2020, two of the six teams from the University of Connecticut (UCONN) presented extraordinary presentations and won scholarships totaling $4,000 (8 recipients at $500/scholarship). The first team, which developed an United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Community Wide Brownfields Assessment Grant, included Logan Williams, Chadwick Schroeder and Calvin Palmer. The second winning team prepared an USEPA Brownfield Cleanup Grant and included Kamila Zygadlo, Ciarra Mckenzie, Ava Michelangelo, Mary Pizzuto and Max Starke.
Fatima Nagui of Brooklyn, NY attends the City College of New York (CCNY) and was the recipient of the Bartsch award. The Bartsch award was established in recognition of Charlie Bartsch, the dynamic, talented and well-loved brownfields industry practitioner—and advocate—who left us all too soon in 2017.
During the 2020 fall semester, UCONN students were assigned to several Connecticut towns to prepare grant applications and assist the local private-public partnership in establishing a vision for brownfield urban redevelopment. The USEPA brownfield grant application is an arduous process. It consists of a 50-page document that must be actionable and practical to implement, says scholarship judge Mark Lewis of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) and a member of BCONE’s Board of Directors, adding that USEPA wants grant applications to be so compelling that they could make anyone judging them “cry” due to their power and influence.
The students at UCONN who participated in the program were part of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering’s Connecticut Brownfield Initiative program. The program was overseen by Dr. Nefeli Bompoti and Dr. Marisa Chrysochoou.
Team Williams-Schroeder-Palmer worked with the town of Stratford to develop a proposal for an USEPA Community Wide Brownfield Assessment Grant. The team of students “identified several brownfield sites in the town in need of environmental site investigation,” says Dr. Bompoti. “The students conducted analysis of the community’s needs based on demographic indicators and financial data. They also developed a proposed plan and budget to conduct the environmental assessment activities.”
Team Zygadlo-Mckenzie-Michelangelo-Pizzuto-Starke worked with St. Luke’s Development Corp., a non-profit located in New Haven, to develop an USEPA Brownfield Cleanup Grant. The team reviewed technical documents, including previous site investigations and remedial plans to develop the proposal narrative.
The Winning Scholarship Teams
All six teams from UCONN worked hard over the course of the Fall semester and made solid presentations. According to Mark Lewis, “All six presentations were uniformly excellent.” When not volunteering as a judge, Mark Lewis works as the Brownfield Coordinator for the CTDEEP and is a longtime member of BCONE’s Board. Lewis, along with fellow judges Don Friday and Sarah Trombetta were impressed by the presentations, which were conducted via Zoom conferencing. Each presentation took about 20 minutes.
“They all did a great job putting together grant applications [that were tied to the Connecticut towns in which student teams were assigned to work]. These were undergraduate students who had the poise to give excellent presentations,” says Lewis.
Having to present their projects remotely due to COVID-19 made the presentations even more impressive, says Lewis. “The winning teams were able to deal with [any technical issues] without missing a beat. In any field, to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, is hard. But the winning teams demonstrated to me their ability to convey what they know in an understandable way.”
Lewis says he, Friday and Trombetta “went away with a lot of hope for the next generation of brownfield professionals who are coming up to take our place.”
CCNY Bartsch Awardee
Bartsch Award Winner Fatima Nagui participated in the Phase I course at CCNY. She enjoyed the technical reporting methods that provide great insight into the contamination that exists within various properties. Angelo Lampousis, Ph.D. is a lecturer and undergraduate advisor for Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at CCNY as well as a BCONE Board member. Lampousis lauded Nagui’s work and professionalism. “It was the commute between home and elementary school that Fatima would ask her Dad about the brackish-looking Gowanus Canal that they passed by daily. Her Dad was surprised that she was aware of the history of the Gowanus Canal and the city’s lack of action that had allowed for such a toxic body of water to exist,” says Lampousis.
Professor Lampousis believes that it was that commute to and from school that “served as an inspiration for Fatima’s interest in environmental conservation, and later, environmental engineering. Environmental conservation does its part in educating people about the impacts of society on the environment; however, she likes to take a more practical approach.”
“Fatima plans to work hard by studying the problems that exist today and learning how to create solutions,” Professor Lampousis says. “She is committing herself towards a career in environmental engineering where she believes she will be able to engineer new and innovative techniques and solutions to resolve the harmful impact that humanity has had on the planet."
Scholarship Funding Mechanism
Maria Coler, chair of the BCONE Scholarship Committee believes that brownfields are “the building blocks of green cities.” Coler, a Licensed Site Remediation Professional and CEO and founder of Hydrotechnology Consultants Inc., located in Jersey City, N.J., joined the scholarship committee in 2020.
Similar to professionals like Mark Lewis, Coler feels the urgency to “seed the next generation of brownfield practitioners across various disciplines, from ecology to geology. We need to acquaint students with the industry and why it’s an important part of building a sustainable world,” she says.
Coler did not personally know Charlie Bartsch, but has learned from his colleagues the extent to which he spearheaded the brownfield industry and promoted brownfields as a mechanism to achieve urban renewal and environmental justice. Coler is motivated by the degree to which Charlie was loved and admired and strives to organize fundraising events that would be near and dear to his heart.
To that end and in his honor, she formed BCONE’s hiking and book clubs and organizes tastings and cultural outings.
Coler says that as an entrepreneur she must keep in focus the “why” of what she does—and she strives to “ground new practitioners with the same foundational purpose.” Reminding those of their purpose is the aim of the book club--to raise the consciousness of a generation of practitioners by learning about iconic environmentalists and activists. The book club has tackled Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” (documenting the adverse environmental effects of indiscriminate pesticide use) and Richard S. Newman’s “Love Canal-A Toxic History From Colonial Times to the Present (a story about heroic citizen activists in Niagara Falls, NY). Next on the list is Dan Fagin’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Tom’s River.”
Coler says that that these iconic books reveal the “arc of history and how scientists and citizen activists were able to move the needle forward [on progress]. I don’t want to just give money to students, I also want to get them really excited about why becoming a practitioner is a rewarding—and important—career.”
Students Had Vision
Mark Lewis says that he was amazed that “all the students [involved in the scholarship program] seemed to understand what the towns they were assigned to needed. The students had empathy with residents of their assigned town and really began to care for the towns. They shared the town’s vision for success and economic redevelopment.”
During the Spring of 2021, it will be revealed if the grant applications prepared by BCONE’s scholarship winners are selected by USEPA for grant funding.
Students spent significant time with local mayors and First Selectmen, and many didn’t know a lot about the local communities they were assigned to at the start of their project. “The students learn over the course of the semester what these towns face, and this allows them to distill it all down into a compelling grant application. The students also face the additional challenge of presenting their grant application to the scholarship committee” says Lewis.
The BCONE Charlie Bartsch Memorial Scholarship Program has, in the past, served as a bellwether for USEPA’s grant selection—ultimately seeing the agency selecting the same communities to secure grant funding as the teams that were awarded BCONE scholarships.
In essence, this validates the power of the BCONE scholarship program and our impressive Scholarship and Bartsch award winners.