Earth Institute Student Interns and Researchers Share Project Experiences

Earth Institute Student Interns and Researchers Share Project Experiences

Ecology in Rajasthan, India, peacekeeping in Haiti, Carbon sequestration, sewage on 125th Street in Manhattan, and coastal ecosystem conservation are the topics of research projects in environmental and sustainable development recently conducted by Columbia University students and featured at the Earth Institute student research conference. Each of these students studies under an academic program affiliated with the Earth Institute at Columbia University or has received funding through a travel grant, internship, or research assistantship from the Earth Institute.

“We are fortunate to have so many brilliant students here committed to using their talents to further understanding of these pressing environmental and sustainable development issues,” said Louise Rosen, Director of the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. “It is inspiring to learn about their research projects and exciting to anticipate the great advances these students will make in their respective fields.” Ms. Rosen gave the opening remarks of the afternoon to the standing-room only crowd in Alfred Lerner Hall.

During the first half of the showcase, students gave brief PowerPoint presentations introducing their research. Their projects spanned a wide array of environmental and sustainable development-related research —health, international law, energy, nutrition, economic development and others. The majority of the students were undergraduate and graduate students at Columbia University, including undergraduates from the Earth and Environmental Engineering department, graduate students completing their Master's in Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy, and a doctoral student pursing a PhD in Sustainable Development. In addition, their colleagues from other universities who worked with the Earth Institute also travelled to Columbia for the event. For example, PhD candidate Matthew Basinger collaborated with researchers from Manhattan College and City College of New York in his investigation of biofuel engines.

The diversity of the student's programs was matched by their myriad approaches to research. Former lawyer and current International Development and Globalization Fellow in the Department of Sociomedical Science Benjamin Mason Meier, used legal and thematic analysis to analyze thousands of documents at the World Health Organization to understand the evolving right to health. Meier received a travel grant from the Earth Institute to conduct his research in Geneva, Switzerland. Gordon McCord, a PhD candidate in SIPA’s Sustainable Development doctoral program, combined advance geographic information system software with economic analysis to measure the cost of malaria interventions in Africa.

Not only were students’ academic disciplines varied, but so too were the countries and fields in which they conducted their research. Several of the students conducted research in their own backyard, including Janelle Batta, a Barnard undergraduate and Earth Institute research assistant, studied waterfront development at the 125th Street Sewer Overflow. Likewise, Earth and Environmental Engineering senior Hannah Lee conducted experiments on CO2 sequestration in lab on campus. Other students traveled far off campus to conduct their research, such as School of International and Public Affairs master’s student Victor Vazquez, who studied irrigation in north-western India. The students’ presentations showed a passionate commitment to better understanding the environmental challenges throughout the world.

The research conference was conceived by the Earth Institute Student Advisory Council, and it is one of many Earth Institute initiatives to support student research. The council is comprised of a group of top students who were nominated by Deans from the various schools at Columbia University and Barnard College. The Council wanted to provide students a platform to learn more about other student’s research, and this disciplinary-crossing conference was the result.

The event was a rare opportunity for students from different academic programs to share their findings and experiences with their colleagues, counterparts and the Columbia community. It also served to spark public interest in issues at the forefront of environment and development-related research. 
For more information about becoming involved in the Earth Institute's education programs, please contact the Office of Academic and Research Programs at

Student Presenters:

Yasmine Koukaz, William Wetzel, Gary Mesko, Undergraduate Special Concentration in Sustainable Development:  "Workshop on Sustainable Development: The Nature Conservancy Coastal Resilience Project"

Janelle Batta, Undergraduate Research Assistantship Program, Spring 2009, Barnard Environmental Science Department: “Enterococci and Raw Sewage at the 125th Street Combined Sewer Overflow: Environmental Issues and Policy Recommendations for the Waterfront Development in Manhattanville”

Christopher Yee and Anuta Belova, Undergraduate Research Assistantship Program, Fall 2008 Earth and Environmental Engineering: “Carbon Dioxide Capture through a Novel Calcium Oxide Sorbent”

Hannah Lee, Earth and Environmental Engineering 2009: “CO2 Sequestration through CO2 Hydrate Formation”

Kelly Westby, Earth and Environmental Engineering 2011: “An Investigation into the Syngas Production from Municipal Solid Waste Gasification under Atmosphere with Various CO2 Concentrations”

Emily Jordan, CSSR Summer Intern, 2008: “Behavioral Differences between Standard and Communally Reared Mice”

Leah Stokes, MPA-ESP 2009: “The Role of Private Investment in Increasing Climate Friendly Technologies in Developing Countries with the Initiative for Policy Dialogue”

Alejandro Gomez Palma, MPA-ESP 2009: “Haiti: A Future beyond Peacekeeping?”

Victor Vazquez, SIPA: “Mapping Irrigation through Remote Sensing Analysis in India"

Matthew Basinger, PhD in Earth and Environmental Engineering: “BELT (Biofuel Engine Longevity Test) - Investigating Waste Vegetable Oil Fueling of a Diesel Engine; a Collaboration between Columbia University, Manhattan College, and City College”

Ariela Zycherman, PhD in Applied Anthropology at Teachers College, Travel Grant Recipient: “Negotiating Needs and Value in Agricultural Development Projects: Appropriations of the Pigeon Pea among Tsimané Indians in the Bolivian Amazon”

Meha Jain, PhD in Ecology, Evolutionary and Environmental Biology: “The Ecological Effects of a Community Conserved Area in Rajasthan, India”

Gordon McCord, PhD in Sustainable Development: “Quantifying the Effect of Child Mortality Reduction and a Green Revolution on the Demographic Transition”

Benjamin Mason Meier, International Development and Globalization Fellow, Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Travel Grant Recipient: “The ‘Highest Attainable Standard’: The Implications of an Evolving Human Right to Health for the Development of Sustainable Public Health Systems”

To view the presentations from this event, click here.