Chatham University

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All posts by Cara Gillotti

Faculty Research: John R. Taylor and Migrant Gardners in Chicago

Professor John Taylor teaches students at Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus

The Industrial Revolution compelled workers to seek employment in cities, a trend that has never really reversed: According to the U.S. Census, in 2013, nearly two-thirds of Americans lived in cities.* Due to a finite amount of land, these cities are expanding, and more land is being incorporated every year.

The largest single land use in cities is residential, so what we choose to do with the space we inhabit is of interest to researchers who study urban environments. For example, the preponderance of residential land use means that residential gardens, including urban agriculture, are increasingly important sites of biodiversity (plants, animals, and micro-organisms) and agrobiodiversity (a subset of biodiversity concerned with food and agriculture) in cities.

But these urban sites of food production haven’t been studied extensively, at least not in the developed world, says Falk School of Sustainability Assistant Professor of Sustainable Agroecology John R. Taylor, PhD who is looking to change that. Further, he says:

“I thought that by doing this I could almost act as an advocate for home gardens. They do make a substantial and unrecognized contribution to urban food systems.”

A polyculture of winter melon, bitter melon, and leafy greens in the backyard garden of a Chinese-origin household in Chicago
A polyculture of winter melon, bitter melon, and leafy greens in the backyard garden of a Chinese-origin household in Chicago

Dr. Taylor grew up on a farm in Latrobe, PA where his family grew corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, oats, and raised cattle and hogs. In high school, he sold crops that he grew in his market garden. “I was like a little plant nerd,” he laughs.

For the current project, Dr. Taylor and his colleagues sought to understand food gardens of a subset of Chicago-area ethnic and migrant households.  Dr. Taylor and his team interviewed 19 Mexican-origin, 23 Chinese-origin, and 17 African American gardeners (for a total of 59), catalogued what they were growing, and asked about their garden histories, gardening practices, and personal histories. Linguistically competent graduate assistants from the focal communities helped secure participation and facilitate interviews.  The research, published on February 15, 2016 is entitled: “Ecosystem services and tradeoffs in the home food gardens of African American, Chinese-origin, and Mexican-origin households in Chicago, IL” by John R. Taylor et al in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, Cambridge University Press.

“Attaining a height of three or more meters…tropical corn is a striking botanical feature in Chicago neighborhoods, potentially acting as a signifier of regional and ethnic identity.”

Among their other findings:

  • Only 9.6% of the inventoried species were native to Chicago.
  • A total of 123 edible plant taxa were identified across the 61gardens, including 17 species of food crops, 27 species of culinary herbs, and 79 taxa of vegetable crops.
  • Only three species (Jerusalem artichoke, pokeweed, and fox grape) were native to the Chicago area.
  • On average, Chinese-origin households devoted a significantly higher proportion of their lot to food production than did African American or Mexican-origin households.
  • Fruit trees were most abundant in Mexican-origin households’ gardens and least abundant in those of Chinese-origin households.
  • Only winter squash appeared in the ten most abundant groups for all three samples.
  • Ethnic food culture and preferences most strongly influenced the species composition of Chinese-origin households’ gardens.
Bitter melon in the backyard garden of a Chinese-origin household in Chicago
Bitter melon in the backyard garden of a Chinese-origin household in Chicago

Planting food for our own consumption might seem to be an unmitigated good to the non-agro-ecologists among us, but Dr. Taylor cautions that there are trade-offs.

“If urban gardeners use a lot of synthetic fertilizers a couple of times each week, that can contribute to storm water pollution. And planting perennial species limits the time that the ground can act as a hospitable environment for “good” insect species.”

Gardeners’ priorities might conflict with those of human urban dwellers, too. Take trees. “While vertical structures like trees are helpful in terms of supporting biodiversity, urban agriculturalists tend to not want a lot of trees, since they block sun,” says Dr. Taylor. But many people see trees as welcomed sources of shade that not only provide comfort, but also mitigate urban heat island effects. “City centers tend to be warmer than fringe areas because of the amount of concrete. This leads to increased costs in terms of cooling, and can lead to a serious negative impact on human health,” he says, citing the 1995 Chicago heat wave that led to 739 heat-related deaths.

“While the composition of the front yard purportedly reflects social class, backyards are alleged to be ‘dreamscapes’ reflecting the owner’s ‘true’ landscape preferences.” – Larsen and Harlan, 2006 (mentioned in Taylor et al, 2016)

Ultimately, Dr. Taylor is interested in evolving the project from descriptive study to experimental work, developing agro-ecological approaches to community gardens. “We could potentially take models provided by the Chinese-origin gardeners—like polycultures, trellises, and vertical gardening—and use them in new ways,” he says. “I’m interested in developing models where perennials, trees, shrubs, and other plants can grow together in a home garden that produces food and supports biodiversity.”

Dr. Taylor cites Pittsburgh’s Mt. Oliver Community Garden Gathering Space, a project run by Bhutanese refugees in conjunction with Grow Pittsburgh and GTech, as a way that culture and agriculture can come together to provide some degree of food security, companionship, and purpose to a migrant community.

The Falk School of Sustainability offers an M.A. in Food Studies (MAFS), a Master of Sustainability (MSUS), a Bachelor of Sustainability, and dual-degree MAFS/MBA and MSUS/MBA programs. Learn about growing food at Eden Hall.

*Population Trends in Incorporated Places: 2000 to 2013 Population Estimates and Projections Issued March 2015 P25-1142 By Darryl T. Cohen (With Geoffrey W. Hatch)

Community Research: Food and Health

Siedle-Mim

Some things just line up. In 2014, Assistant Professor of Nutrition in the Food Studies program Mim Seidel, MS, RD, LDN, found out that the Aetna Foundation was looking to fund a project that addresses healthy eating in low-income communities—an ideal match for Mim, whose interests (and deep experience) lie in food security, sustainable systems, and health. The Aetna Foundation agreed, and Mim’s project was funded.

What followed was an experiential, project-based class that Mim taught in the spring of 2015—FST613: Community Research: Food and Health.

Residents of low-income communities may qualify for federal aid known as WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). Having worked for WIC, Mim knew that the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program checks they are given often went unused. Having read widely about the problem, she had some ideas of why that might be. With her Community Research class and other Food Studies students (including Dani Lyons, whose internship centered around the project), she staged an intervention in Wilkinsburg (a low-income community in Pittsburgh) called CRUNCH! Eat Fresh, Eat Healthy, Move More, designed to address some of the barriers.

In Mim’s class, students read about low-income neighborhoods; alternative food systems; and programs like farmers markets and CSA (community supported agriculture). Despite the well-documented benefits of eating local, sustainably grown foods, these programs are often underused by minorities and by people with lower incomes.

“We have some “out of the box” recommendations for changes the USDA might make.” – Mim Seidel

It’s not hard to see why: for one, farmers’ market food can be more expensive. For another, some vendors at farmers’ markets aren’t prepared to accept the large, purple WIC checks. An individual who wants to use a WIC check at farmers’ market won’t get change. But sometimes it’s unfamiliarity that poses the biggest barrier, and that is what CRUNCH! staged a three-prong intervention to address.

Participants were recruited at the WIC clinic in Wilkinsburg. They explained the study (including its incentives, including gifts like vegetable peelers, measuring cups, and supermarket gift cards in small denominations) to WIC recipients and in just over three weeks, reached their target goal of 200 participants (202 were actually enrolled). Throughout the study, students staffed the WIC clinic, recruited participants, conducted surveys, held demos, led tours, and entered data—a full spectrum of community-based research. One student used the study as an internship; another received funding to serve as research coordinator.

The first prong was the tastiest. “The students held cooking demos at the WIC clinic using fresh vegetables that you can get at a farmer’s market,” says Mim, “and let them taste everything. If your income is limited, you’re less likely to buy what you’ve never eaten and don’t know how to prepare.”

“Also, we’re less likely to go to a farmers’ market if we haven’t been to one before,” she adds. “It’s unfamiliar, and it can be hard to tell which vendors accept WIC checks. The little signs are hard to find.” To counter that, she and her staff provided casual farmer’s market tours for CRUNCH! participants.

Thirdly, CRUNCH! staff connected with leaders of community gardens, and tried to encourage CRUNCH! participants to check them out—both to associate healthy eating with community, and to reinforce their familiarity with locally grown produce.

“We sent bus tickets to all CRUNCH! participants after some participants mentioned not being able to afford the extra ticket, and we also knew that transportation issues are documented in the research,” says Mim.

CRUNCH! would be considered a success if participants showed an increased use of WIC checks, and indeed, the increase was statistically significant: a 46.5% redemption rate compared to 39% by non-CRUNCH! participants, at the same WIC clinic.

“We also want to write this up to be published in a professional journal and present it at a meeting in Toronto,” says Mim, who lists Food Studies students Malik Hamilton (research coordinator) and Leslie Gordon and Christen Dinger (graduate student assistants) as her co-authors.“We have some “out of the box” recommendations for changes the USDA might make.”

“My job exists to help you tell someone how you feel”

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Allison Marsh, Class of 96, has made a career out of being forward-thinking. For the past decade, she’s worked in new product development at American Greetings, most recently as a Research and Development Manager. “The sole reason my job exists is to help you tell someone how you feel,” she says. “That’s actually pretty powerful. But what does that gesture look like to a millennial, or to the next generation? Does it have to look like a traditional greeting card? Probably not!”

IMG_2435[1]Marsh’s team handles the cards that “do the unexpected,” she says. “If it sings, dances, lights up, records your voice, shoots confetti, has a QR code—if there’s something above and beyond what you think of as a regular greeting card, it comes from this department.”

Born and bred in Pittsburgh, Marsh loves the city, and when it came time for college, she wanted to stay. “I knew I didn’t want to sit in Psych 101 with a hundred kids and be lucky if the professor knew my name,” she says.

“So I looked at Carlow, Duquesne and Chatham. But once I visited Chatham, I was done. It’s like being in a treehouse above the city. You can’t see that it’s there from the road; it’s hidden, but like two minutes from everything you can experience in city life. I knew I was going to get a great education in a very safe environment. And to me, that’s what I was paying for.”

Marsh came to Chatham hoping to get a degree in art education, but then she discovered art history. “I totally changed my course,” she says. “I thought ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing. It’s creative, but it’s also research and discovery, asking questions, generating hypotheses, and trying to prove a point.’”

And she found that Chatham was instrumental in helping her take that on. “I was pushed, challenged; my professors knew who I was and what I needed to succeed,” Marsh remembers. “With class sizes that small, there’s no way you’re skipping class. And you don’t want to, because you’ve developed this little community of people, not just with the professors, but also with the others in the class. It allowed me to form really nice bonds with other students, working as a team, understanding how I learn best.“ This is something Marsh says that has paid off extraordinarily well in her career.

“I work closely with creative teams, technical teams, and manufacturing teams. I think of myself as a mediator, doing by best to keep all those people as happy as possible while bringing forth the vision of the product we’re trying to introduce. So communication is hugely important, and so is attention to detail, and getting people motivated to work in a team. “

After graduation, Marsh was accepted into a doctoral program in art history at Arizona State University. After six months, she figured out that “the practical day-to-day life of a professor wasn’t in line with my passion. I was like ‘wow, I am not cut out for this.’”

Back in Pittsburgh, she applied for a job as a studio assistant for the artist Burton Morris. “He was a really well-known illustrator and graphic artist, but wasn’t doing a lot in the realm of fine art, and he wanted to make that distinction,” Marsh says. “He recruited three or four of us assistants to transfer his illustration to large canvases. So I was making ten dollars an hour—this is back in 1998—to paint.” Marsh stayed with Morris for a couple of years, and learned the business side of art galleries. When it was time for her to move on, Morris introduced her to a business friend of his. “He said ‘How would you like to learn product development?’” Marsh recalls. “And I was like ‘Sure! What is it?’ Back then, they didn’t have courses in product development—you could study industrial design or things like that, but there wasn’t this business component.”

The company sent Marsh to China, where she learned about working with manufacturers there. “I ended up falling in love with the culture and the people,” she says. “And I’ve been going back and forth to Asia for work now for 16 years. If someone had said to me when I was at Chatham ‘you’re destined to work with the Chinese,’ I would have just laughed. But it happened.”

“It just goes to show that you never know what you have an aptitude for until you let yourself try it,” she continues. “There’s a lot of trial and error. You’re going to try stuff that you’re not good at, but then you’ll try something else and it’ll be a total surprise. That’s what this has been for me. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be working for the company that invented Strawberry Shortcake.”

Or, one would imagine, create a furry bag with googly eyes that Miley Cyrus has been spotted carrying, but that happened, too. “We intended it as a gift bag,” Marsh laughs. “But Miley turned it into a fashion statement. We’re not complaining.”

 

another perk of an on-campus farm

Harvesting potatoes at Eden Hall
Harvesting potatoes at Eden Hall

“Everything we can make from scratch,” says Chatham’s Shadyside Campus executive chef Dan Dooley, “we do.”

“Chef Dan” is proud of the food he and his staff serve at Anderson Dining Hall, and with fresh beef patties, hand-breaded chicken tenders, and produce grown on Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus, deservedly so. In fact, this year Chatham was ranked 7th in the nation for best food grown and sourced locally by Sierra Magazine’s 2015 “Cool Schools” report. The rating reflects the amount of food purchased locally and the presence of sustainable practices such as composting.

“Around 20 percent of the food and beverage we buy is from sustainable and local sources,” says Anderson’s General Manager Rob Coyne. “By ‘local’ we mean about a 150-radius. Local producers, artisans, family farms.”

“I encourage my staff to get creative,” says Chef Dan. “Once we got in some potatoes and fennel, and one of my staff members said ‘Hey, there’s this soup I used to make in my restaurant,’ and I told her to go for it. It was a big hit.”

Students in Anderson Dining Hall
Students in Anderson Dining Hall

Twenty miles north of Pittsburgh, Chatham’s 388-acre, net-zero Eden Hall Campus grows produce year-round with the help of a solar-powered hoop house, a roster of Masters in Sustainability and Masters in Food Studies students, and Allen Matthews, Chatham’s director and instructor of sustainable agriculture.

“If Allen’s got it, we’ll take it” laughs Chris Galarza, who has been executive chef at Eden Hall since July.

Eden Hall feeds fewer people than Shadyside (about 40 compared to 550), and Chef Chris uses this as an opportunity to build relationships with the students there. “I ask students what they like, what they miss about their mom’s cooking,” says Chef Chris. “We like to get them as engaged as possible. Today we did a Korean barbecue.”

“We want to minimize waste, so we get creative with what we have. The other day we had some leftover salmon, so we made some salmon cakes, and then discovered that the salmon skin puffs up just like a crackling when you fry it.”

“I give my team as much as autonomy as possible,” says Chef Chris. “One time we had some nice potatoes left over, and someone had the idea of a Pittsburgh-style lasagna, using pierogis. And we smoke our own brisket, and had some left over, and we turned it into smoked brisket mac and cheese.”

Eden Hall Executive Chef Chris Galarza (third from the right) with his staff
Eden Hall Executive Chef Chris Galarza (third from the right) with his staff

“I don’t think the kids up here have taste buds,” laughs Chef Chris. “They eat some of the spiciest things I’ve ever had in my life. One of the Falk School professors, Ryan Utz, grows Chocolate Bhutlah peppers, which are eight times hotter than a habañero. We make hot sauce with that and they put it on everything. We go through a half gallon every two weeks.”

We get everything as close to local as possible. All of our dairy comes from Turner dairy – local. Eggnog, most of our veggies are from Eden Hall or local sources, squash. Braised beef cheeks from Cunningham’s Meats, pork from Hatfield’s.

“I’ve worked at some crazy cool places,” comments Chef Chris. “I’ve worked at a five-star resort, and Eden Hall is still way cooler.”

 

Alumna Profile: Dianne Shenk, Master of Arts in Food Studies ‘12

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The decline of the steel industry hit Hazelwood—a Pittsburgh neighborhood of one-and-a-half square miles—hard. Today, it’s classified as a “food desert,” which the United States Department of Agriculture defines as an “urban neighborhood or rural town without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.”

Dianne Shenk, Master of Arts in Food Studies (MAFS) ‘12, is working to change that. She sells fresh, locally grown produce out of a farm stand that started life as an old hay wagon, and is now parked at one of the busiest intersections in Hazelwood. This is Dylamato’s Market (named for the first syllables of her children’s names), and from May through October, Shenk sells ripe, shining fruits and vegetables that would make a chef sigh.

But—and here’s what makes Shenk an activist as well as an entrepreneur—she doesn’t just want to sell to members of the community. She wants to go into business with them.

“I’m looking to create an opportunity for someone to become a business entrepreneur who has no access to credit, no savings, no investments. Someone who needs to make a profit immediately and really low overhead. Micro-micro-micro-businesses.”

There are types of produce—including herbs, lettuce and other greens—that Shenk can’t get as fresh as she wants from local wholesalers, and she wants involve the community in filling that gap. “I pay the growers two-thirds of what I can get,” she says. “If I think I can sell a bag of lettuce for $1.50, I’ll pay them $1.00. If someone brings me a little single serving bag of lettuce, if they bring me five bags every day, all week—and I’m here six days a week—that’s $30 a week. That’s just income for them.“

The mission of Dylamato’s Market is to partner with other locally-owned micro-businesses to create viable livelihoods and access to fresh, healthy foods in the Hazelwood community.  The Marketplace created by this partnership will be a positive social space in Hazelwood, and generate financial capital for community residents by capturing the local food economy.

Dylamato’s Market is part of a greater initiative too, what Shenk calls the Summer Marketplace: vendors on the same site offering a variety of foods. This past summer, Dylamato’s was joined by four of these “micro-businesses” selling baked goods, sausage sandwiches and grilled lunch foods, snow cones, and chicken and waffles.

Shenk sees the Summer Marketplace as a space to bring the community together around more than just food. For example, the site also has a stage for performances. “This summer we had a group of older people who had gone through Gladstone High School and played music together,” she says. “This is about thirty years later, but they still live in the area, and still get together and perform. So we had them here on a Friday evening, and we had like forty people here. This is a racially mixed community and it was a racially mixed crowd, and people brought their pets and kids.”

During her time in Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies program, Shenk focused on underserved urban communities. She wrote her thesis on “Food in Hazelwood: Making the Case for Fresh Produce in a Low-Income, Urban Community” and interned with Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, Paragon Foods, and Matthew’s Family Farm.

Chatham’s interdisciplinary Masters of Arts in Food Studies emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from urban to rural, and from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption.

interprofessional education in the health sciences

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Image courtesy Operation Task Force

Here’s one goal of Chatham’s 2015-2016 Interprofessional Education (IPE) kickoff event:

Understand a significant multidisciplinary health care issue that impacts patient/clients across all health care arenas.

With the selection of Dr. Jim Withers of UPMC Mercy, Chatham’s IPE Task Force hit the nail on the head. On September 17, Withers gave a moving presentation called “Street Medicine in Pittsburgh”* about the work of Operation Safety Net, an organization he helped found that brings medical care to homeless individuals.

His rapt audience? Two hundred and fifty Chatham students from the counseling psychology, nursing, occupational therapy, physician assistant studies, and physical therapy programs who are participating in this year’s IPE educational sequence.

“Have the courage to move into things that are challenging. You’ll learn a lot and feel better about yourself as a clinician.”
– Dr. Jim Withers

You might consider Withers’s work Problem-Based Learning at its most pure. “We were learning how to learn,” Dr. Withers—named by CNN as one of their 10 Heroes of 2015—told students. “We were leaning how to create healthcare not in a clinic, but grounded in the realities of people.”

It was an especially germane point to make: Reality is nothing if not interdisciplinary. That’s one reason why IPE is rapidly gaining ground internationally, with institutions free to define what it means and how it is best inculcated.

At Chatham, IPE is a two-semester program in which interdisciplinary groups of 10-12 students are assigned to one of six Chatham IPE Task Force faculty facilitators from disciplines spanning the School of Health Sciences. Groups and facilitators meet outside of class, once in the fall and once in the spring. Through case studies, discussion, lectures, videos, group activities, and role play, they work on strengthening competencies as set forth by the Interprofessional Education Collaborative:

  • Values/Ethics for Interprofessional Practice
  • Roles/Responsibilities
  • Interprofessional Communication
  • Teams and Teamwork

“The goal of interprofessional education at Chatham is to prepare students in nursing, psychology, physician assistant studies and occupational and physical therapy to learn from and about each other’s professions in order to practice as part of a collaborative, patient centered team. It is well documented that when practitioners from various backgrounds communicate and work together, the highest quality of care is delivered,” says School of Health Sciences Dean Pat Downey, PT, PhD, DPT.

“Our programs have incorporated interprofessional activities in the classroom for years,” says Jodi Schreiber OTD, OTR/L, Chair of Chatham’s IPE Task Force and Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy. “But when we saw that it could be formalized into an educational sequence, we realized that doing so would be a big advantage to our students.”

Chatham has had an IPE Task Force since 2013, and is strongly committed to strengthening the program. In 2014, the Task Force gave three presentations at an international conference. Topics included IPE challenges, opportunities and research; student perceptions; and supporting competency and identity development.

“We want to see if IPE makes a difference when students go into clinical practice,” says Schreiber.

Upon completion of the sequence, a total of nine hours, students are issued a certificate of participation, appropriate for inclusion in a professional portfolio. “Placement coordinators that we talk to are impressed that our students have interprofessional experience,” notes Schreiber.

Serving on the Task Force along with Schneider are Susan HawkinsStacie Agnesi, and Kelly Donkers from physician assistant studies; MaryDee Fisher from nursing; Sarah Jameson from physical therapy; and Anthony Goreczny from psychology.

* You can watch “Street Medicine in Pittsburgh” here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We Don’t Pick Out Pillows: the Science of Design”

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image from dnainfo.com

In New York City, land is so sought after that development is expanding to one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country—Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. That’s why chemistry students at the CUNY College of Technology are examining its water composition. Through a National Science Foundation-funded initiative, Chatham undergraduates have come on board to widen their perspective.

The Chatham students—who have been participating through their enrollment in Assistant Professor of Interior Architecture Greg Galford’s Green and Sustainable Design course—have developed and produced a short video called “We Don’t Pick Out Pillows: the Science of Design.” It aims to teach the chemistry students about building design and its impact on the environment.

Just under seven minutes long, the video introduces the chemistry students to topics ranging from how designers work to techniques for cleaning up contaminated water and land. It features Pittsburgh buildings that exemplify sustainable building techniques, including Phipps Conservancy and the Bayer Material Science Headquarters.

But the goal of the project isn’t just to make the chemistry students more well-rounded; it’s also to help the interior architecture students improve their cross-disciplinary collaboration skills. To that end, the chemistry students have provided feedback on the video, and Galford’s current Green and Sustainable Design course will be using that feedback to improve the video.

Chatham University offers a rigorous three-year Bachelor of Interior Architecture degree that requires no summer study, allowing greater opportunities for internships, study abroad and employment.

The Inspiration of Rachel Carson, ’29

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost‘s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

―  Rachel Carson,  Silent Spring

Rachel Carson was born in 1907, in a small town near Pittsburgh. In 1929, she graduated from the Pennsylvania College For Women (now Chatham University) with a degree in biology. In 1962, Rachel started a conversation that would reverberate across the globe for decades to come: She published Silent Spring.

 Silent Spring is widely credited with igniting the modern environmental movement. Time magazine named Rachel to their list of the 100 Most Influential People—and 25 Most Powerful Women–of the 20th Century, and she is considered by many to be preeminent environmental icon.

For half a century, Carson has been the patron saint of Chatham University. Just as Silent Spring singlehandedly inspired the environmental movement, Carson herself invigorated the Chatham mission.

“We claim Rachel Carson,” said Esther L. Barazzone, President of Chatham University, “but what does that mean? How are we going to live up to her legacy? One of my favorite lines is, ‘You need to have visible symbols of grace,’ which is a quote from Martin Luther. What is our visible symbol of grace?”

The answer: sustainability, a groundbreaking new field that has transformed how environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and engineers approach 21st century challenges.

Through our Falk School of Sustainability, students and faculty are re-examining the systems that underpin not just human life, but all life—including food, water, and energy. With the completion of our net zero Eden Hall Campus, we have a living and learning laboratory for sustainability, and the first of its kind in the world. Sustainability has been adopted as a core component of our university mission. We’ve implemented sustainable practices across all of our locations, and we introduce undergraduates to the field through a course and through an Eden Hall experience, regardless of their major. This approach creates a shared campus experience and helps integrate sustainability into other areas of study in the health and lab sciences, business and communications, and arts and humanities.

With inspiration from Rachel Carson, our efforts and commitments have earned us recognition as a leader in sustainability, including a Top 50 Green College ranking by the Princeton Review, a spot on Sierra magazine’s list of top 25 “cool schools” and a mention in Forbes as one of the places “contributing to Pittsburgh’s transformation into a destination for green living.”

Chatham University. It’s not just Earth Day. It’s every day.

 

Campus Community Profile: Mary Beth Mannarino

Mannarino blog[2]

Title: Associate Professor of Psychology
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Hobbies: Yoga, bicycling, reading, traveling, spending time with family
Joined Chatham: 2001

What is your main area of research interest?
I focus on connections between environmental health and sustainability and the health and wellbeing of people and communities.

What are some of these connections?
I’d say the connections show up in at least two main ways. The first is that climate change, pollution, and other factors are increasingly affecting mental and physical health. They can cause stress directly, if you’re living in certain areas, such as on a coast, or indirectly, as when air pollution affects health which affects stress. This is becoming such a large issue, yet most health professionals aren’t exposed to information about it unless they actively seek it out. Our program is really on the vanguard with this.

How so?
Since our psychology doctoral program began in 2009, we’ve offered a course in environmental psychology and sustainability. It’s mandatory for the PsyD students, and offered as an elective for master’s students. There’s interest in it across disciplines, too –we’ve had master’s students in Landscape Architecture and Food Studies take the class.

What does the class cover?
We talk about what climate change means globally, where we see effects in the US, and also how it impacts Pittsburgh regionally. For example, in the US, we see how drought affects the economic wellbeing of farmers and their families, and how this trickles down to affect food prices and food availability. So it’s not just “we have a drought,” but what does that mean? In most of our work, we emphasize social justice, because it’s often the people least able, due to limited economic means and education, to bounce back who are affected most seriously. Regionally, we talk about reliance on fossil fuels. Air quality is a concern. We look at how it affects children’s health in different parts of the city. It’s usually poorer kids who miss school, and get even further behind, and parents have to miss work to take them to the doctor, and so forth.

How else can connections between sustainability and psychology be made?
We stress sustainable considerations in clinical practice. For example, we think about mental health in terms of wellbeing, not just pathology. So we teach students to ask clients and patients what gives them pleasure, where they find relaxation in their lives, and how much of that they’re engaging in right now. We focus on change that persists well into the future. And we train students to consider environmental components in the treatment plans that they recommend.

What does that look like?
They might ask a client what their typical day is like, and what their work setting is like. Research has shown that access to nature and pets do a good job of supporting wellbeing, and can often be incorporated into treatment in a way that’s low cost and has no side effects. Community gardening can help with loneliness and depression in older adults. It’s not a cure-all, of course, but it can be quite powerful.

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What are your hopes for the upcoming year’s Global Focus on Climate Change?
Sustainability demands that you think and work across disciplines, and the nature of academia is such that it’s easy to stay in a silo of your own field. We’re hoping that the Year of Climate Change will get people talking to each other about what they’re working on, and about how we can collaborate across disciplines. It’s very exciting.

We’ve also been authorized by the American Psychological Association to offer psychology continuing education programs for credit. For Chatham, this means we can offer continuing education related to climate change and other sustainability issues to psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals. This is something we at Chatham really are uniquely positioned to do. We’ll be offering such a program during a conference that’s part of the Year of Climate Change in the spring, and bringing in activists and other people from the community.

Dr. Mannarino served as Director for Chatham’s Graduate Psychology programs from 2009-2014. She blogs about issues related to health, wellness, and sustainability here.

 

 

Undergraduate Student Christina Austin Awarded Research Fellowship

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“My mom is a Chatham alumna,” says Christina Austin ’17, “but that didn’t factor into my decision to come here. Chatham was actually one of the last schools I looked at. But when I came to visit, I saw that I could connect with people and have a close mentorship with professors in a way that I might not be able to do at a larger university.”

Austin, who is majoring in Biology, had hit the nail on the head. It was an email from one of those professors – Dr. Pierette Appasamy – that would lead to Austin pulling in research dollars, a feat that’s not always easy for faculty members to accomplish, let alone an undergraduate.

It started this spring when Dr. Appasamy learned of a research internship with the Allegheny Health Network Lupus Center for Excellence from the Office of Career Development. Dr. Appasamy forwarded the information to Austin, then a student in her Cellular and Molecular Biology class. “I immediately thought of Christina Austin when I heard about the internship opportunity,” says Dr. Appasamy. “It seemed perfect for her interests in hands-on work in biomedical research.”

Once Austin was accepted into the internship, the program director suggested that she might be a good candidate for the Gina M. Finzi Memorial Student Summer Fellowship Program, which funds students to conduct medical research under the guidance of a mentor. She was.

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For eight weeks, Austin worked in the lab, isolating white blood cells from blood samples that had been collected at West Penn Hospital. She stained the cells with substances that, when run through a machine, turn fluorescent where a certain protein is present. The goal of the study was to compare how this protein appeared in patients with lupus, with other autoimmune diseases, and in a control group of healthy individuals. Austin’s work may one day be used to help diagnose lupus, today an arduous process that often takes years.

Austin’s internship primarily focused on research, but she also worked on the clinical side. “I was trained to obtain consent from study participants,” she says. “I went through the IRB (Institutional Review Board) packet with them, and if they consented, we drew their blood that day. I liked that aspect of the internship a lot.”

In fact, Austin – who plans to go to medical school – liked it so much that she is considering seeking out a clinical internship for next summer. “I’d love to travel abroad and work at a clinic of some sort,” she says. “I’ve talked to classmates who worked in hospitals in Belize or Puerto Rico and had really good experiences.”

Outside of the lab, Austin is a Chatham Scholar, Vice President of Communications for the Black Student Union, a R.I.S.E Mentor, and starting this fall, she will also be a resident assistant. She offers this advice for incoming students: “Make sure you go to recitation and go to all the study groups before a test. They can be a lifesaver when it’s a topic you don’t understand. And get to know your professors and let them get to know you. They’re looking out for you, throughout your time here.”

She knows whereof she speaks.