Institute at Brown for Environment and SocietyIBES

Voss Undergraduate Fellows

The Voss Environmental Fellows Program offers a unique kind of independent research experience — one in which student-faculty-practitioner teams develop research projects to meet shared objectives, directing scientific discovery into channels that will inform current and future management choices. The program targets undergraduate researchers who are interested in any aspect of environmental research (in the natural or social sciences) and plan to channel their experience into a senior capstone or thesis project. For more information, see the descriptions of recent Voss Fellows and their projects below.

2015-2016 Voss Environmental Fellows 

Therese Carter ’16 
Concentration: Chemistry

Although the scientific community’s understanding of the impacts of reactive nitrogen has improved since the review of key standards in 2008, there is still much work to be done. Therese worked with Associate Professor Meredith Hastings and EPA research scientist Chris Clark to conduct a review of the literature and identify gaps in knowledge regarding the effects of reactive nitrogen species on the environment. Carter also solicited feedback from both policy-makers and other scientists in order to clarify the practical implications of her results.

 

Alexis Durand ’16 
Concentration: Environmental Studies

In 2013, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) became the dedicated source for funds related to loss and damage; however, it is unclear whether the UNFCCC’s current process of allocation is as fair or effective as it could be. Alex worked with Professor Timmons Roberts to investigate the most just way to allocate these UN funds to communities experiencing loss and damage due to climate change. She also analyzed the current systems in light of existing compensation schemes and international law, discussing her data and results with field experts and UNFCCC members. Alex furthered her work while attending the 2015 UN climate change negotiations in Paris.

 

Emmaline Suchland ’16
Concentration: Biology

Emmaline worked with Associate Professor Dov Sax to determine the extent to which tree-dwelling plant species can adapt to their changing climate, and thereby avoid extinction, simply by moving to a different part of the tree environment. Her project focused on two specific plants that grow in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a tropical forest located in the mountains of Costa Rica. By manually cataloging the population of these plant types and placing sensors to collect localized climate information, she gathered a large amount of data that is now supporting her senior thesis.

 

Alexandra Swanson ’16 
Concentration: Biology

Alexandra worked with Associate Professor Stephen Porder to investigate how different nutrient levels in Costa Rican forest canopies affect soil characteristics, and therefore ecosystem biodiversity, on the ground. She gathered fallen leaves and other material from two sets of canopied environments (one nitrogen-rich, and one nitrogen-poor), and determined the amounts of organic material present in each. Alexandra's work helped inform her group’s understanding of how soil characteristics and other geochemical properties relate to biodiversity in canopied ecosystems.

 

Edwin (Ned) Willig ’16
Concentration: Geological Sciences

Ned worked with Associate Professor Stephen Porder to explore whether the synthetic fertilizers used by farmers in Brazil ultimately saturate the naturally nutrient-poor soil with phosphorus, driving down the necessity for continued applications. He spent 4 weeks in Brazil, collecting soil samples from farms of various ages and measuring the amount of free phosphorus contained therein. The data he collected has implications for the future of the global food supply, as more nutrient-poor soils around the world are farmed for crops and more funds are spent on fertilizer for these soils.

 

Paul Wojtal ’16 
Concentration: Chemistry

Paul worked with Associate Professor Meredith Hastings to isolate and classify different isotopes of nitrogen that are found in reactive nitrogen species in the atmosphere. He used Hasting’s method of isolation, a process that collects reactive nitrogen gases with 100% efficiency and allows more effective identification of different isotopes. His analysis of nitrogen isotopes found specifically in road-side gasses was meant to clarify the role of vehicle emissions in human-driven atmospheric change.

 


2014-2015 Voss Environmental Fellows

Ada Cecilia Bersoza Hernández ’15
Degree: Sc.B. Biology

Ada worked with Associate Professor Dov Sax to explore the extent to which climate conditions limit species high-latitude or high-elevation boundaries. She compared temperatures experienced by woody plant species across the West Coast of the United Stated at their highest latitude and altitude to help inform the extent to which climate limits species distributions. Her analysis provided insights that could be used to help develop conservation approaches in the context of climate change. 

 

Alyssa Leigh Browning '15
Degree: Sc.B. Environmental Science, A.B. Religious Studies

Alyssa investigated the ways in which the intersection between humans and nature is influenced by worldviews. She spent the summer of 2014 working in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy on Martha’s Vineyard collecting data on flowering plants as well as bee and butterfly abundance and diversity. He work focused on preserves and Vineyard Habitat Network (VHN) properties. Community based conservation programs like the VHN can foster public participation and investment in conservation projects and outcomes. Through her research, she aimed to provide metrics to evaluate the efficacy of the homeowner-implemented land restoration program as well as to recreate valuable baseline data for later studies. 

 

Steven Hagerty '15
Degrees: Sc.B. Environmental Science, A.B. Economics

Steven worked with Professor Mark Bertness (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology) and Stephen Smith (Cape Cod National Seashore/National Park Service) to study how human-induced salt marsh die-off affects communities of small marine invertebrates that live in coastal New England. His research aimed to more clearly identify the structure of New England salt marsh food webs, the complete effects of human activity in coastal ecosystems and provide general implications for trophic cascades.

 

Allison Reilly ’15
Degree: A.B. Environmental Studies

Allie spent her time at Brown grappling with climate change through a policy-oriented lens. As a New Jersey resident, she and members of her family were impacted directly by Hurricane Sandy, an experience that motivated her research. In collaboration with Senior Lecturer Caroline Karp, Distinguished Visiting Lecturer Cornelia Dean, and then-Principal Planner of the RI Statewide Planning Program Amanda Martin, Reilly researched the impacts of Hurricane Sandy and other major climatic disasters post-2010 on coastal management policies in New Jersey and Rhode Island. In the summer of 2014, she conducted a legal examination of municipal ordinances, local land use plans, and hazard mitigation plans to determine how cities and towns are working to adapt to climate change. Following this, she analyzed relevant state level policies to determine the influence respective state governments have on municipal level adaptation. Through this study, she aimed to inform coastal management practices in a region that is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

 

Elena Suglia '15
Degree: A.B. Biology

Salt marsh die-off is a serious conservation issue because salt marshes are one of the most valuable ecosystem service providers on the planet, providing essential services including storm buffering, biochemical processing of terrestrial runoff, carbon sequestration and storage, and nursery ground function for commercially and recreationally important fin- and shellfish. Elena worked with Professor Mark Bertness to examine the ways humans have altered salt marsh community structure, as well as the mechanisms that underlie salt marsh ecology. Her project involved experimentally triggering die-off in healthy salt marshes to test the hypothesis that predator depletion triggers creek bank die-off by a nocturnal marsh crab, Sesarma reticulatum. Elena's work provided data on the drivers of Cape Cod marsh die-off that can now inform state and NGO conservation and management efforts.

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