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.
It could not be said that as a student in Chatham’s Masters of Fine Arts in Film and Digital Technology, Danielle Burkhart sat on her thumbs. She took classes and held several part-time jobs, but perhaps most transformative to her career was the time she spent working as a digital video graduate assistant. “My grandfather always told me, ‘you are only in school for a limited amount of time so give your best effort. It will pay off,’” said Burkhart. “Through the assistantship, not only did I become familiar with the applications available to editors, but I also had the opportunity to use these programs while working on productions at Chatham.”
Students who are awarded this competitive assistantship through Chatham get both a tuition discount and real-world experience through filming all events on campus. During the course of their work, they also serve as ambassadors of the Film and Digital Technology program. “I felt a lot of confidence and pride in knowing that Danielle was a representative of our program and of the University,” says Assistant Professor of Film and Digital Technology Kristen Shaeffer. Shaeffer also supervised Burkhart’s assistantship, and Burkhart considers Shaeffer a mentor, calling her guidance invaluable and her role in the community as a young, female, successful communications professional an inspiration.
While the MFA in Film and Digital Technology is offered as an accelerated one-year program, students have the option to complete the program at their own pace. Classes are held on weeknight evenings, allowing students to continue working during the day. “Students graduate with a strong portfolio,” says Shaeffer. “Films made as part of the production classes become a launching pad into the professional world of conferences and festivals.”
Or somewhere entirely different: After graduation, Burkhart worked the Pittsburgh Pirate’s digital video board. “Never did I have two days that were the same, she says. “The majority of my time was spent with Pirates production, where I worked ballpark events, home games, Pirates events in the community, and even spring training. When I was not out shooting these events, I was editing pieces for the Pirates Video-On-Demand channel, social media, or the Pirates official website.” Burkhart was with the Pirates for seven seasons. She is currently Athletics Multimedia Services Coordinator at St. Francis University, where her main areas of responsibility are live webcasting, media for the athletics website, and production for the video board. She still occasionally does work for the Pirates.
To learn more about Chatham’s MFA in Film and Digital Technology program, visit chatham.edu/mfafilm.
Each year, campuses across the country quiet down for the summer. It’s a time of stillness, reflection, and peace.
Unless your campus includes a working farm. In that case, you’re looking at about four months of experimenting, digging, collaborating, harvesting, improvising, and most of all, getting your hands dirty. This summer while other Chatham students were interning in marketing offices, hospitals, or non-profits, Food Studies students from the Falk School of Sustainability applied themselves with vigor to their own living laboratory, the Eden Hall Farm at Eden Hall Campus.
There was an abundance of garlic this year—so much that there wasn’t enough space to cure it in the normal facilities. So, students had to improvise. The pool house offered the solution, with enough room to hang what was left.
Each season also offers the chance to hone in on what works well. This time around, extra attention was put into thinning out the carrots that were crowding one another or showing weaker growth, giving the others a better chance to succeed. Tedious work, but it paid off: The student garden saw its best carrot crop to date.
The student garden also planted a selection of Japanese and Chinese crops this summer. One of the success stories was the hinona kabu, a Japanese variety of turnip. Using a traditional recipe, it became a great pickle, called sakura-zuke—pink like a cherry blossom. Working with these foods also became a way to grow cultural understanding.
The Eden Hall campus is a place for both experimentation and collaboration. Students grew rye for Wigle Whiskey, a local craft distillery in the Strip District. With a lot of help from other regional farmers, 3200 pounds of grain were harvested, enough to make two batches of rye whiskey. Everyone is eagerly anticipating getting to taste the results. During the 2014-2015 school year, the Falk School of Sustainability also collaborated with Wigle Whiskey on a New Product Development course that you can read about here.
The work and pick program also had another successful season. Students and faculty volunteer, regardless of experience, to help out in the fields. In exchange for their work, they get to take home food they’ve harvested themselves. The food may only last a meal, but the knowledge they gain is theirs for life. Consider getting involved next year, and check out the Eden Hall Farm Blog for more stories and updates.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
Last fall, graduate and undergraduate students in Chatham University’s sustainability program participated in Urban Planning and Political Ecology (SUS 606), taught by Dr. Michael Finewood. As part of the course, they worked in teams on a community-based project with the Borough of Millvale, producing proposals for two projects that contribute to Millvale’s goals to become more sustainable.
Project #1 – The Hillside Food Forest Team: Carmen Adamson MBA ‘15, Cassie Guerin BA ‘15, Julie Morris MSUS ‘16, Kayla Scherr MSUS ‘15, Christopher Seamon MSUS ‘15, Ezra Welsh MSUS ‘16, ILona Weyers BS ’17.
Challenges facing Millvale include unstable hillsides, water contamination, and the fact that it is a food desert. The Hillside Food Forest team addressed these concerns through a proposal to convert a hillside into a food forest. The proposal includes a comprehensive site analysis with design scheme, property acquisition strategies, and listing of potential partners as well as information about soil types, plant orientation, and low cost/ low maintenance management. The project highlights how a food forest—designed by and for community members—can strengthen community resilience and help strengthen Millvale’s local food network. Download the final report.
Pittsburgh Port Authority owns a parking lot in Millvale that has largely gone unused since the bus route was shut down. The Park-and-Ride Project team developed a proposal to convert it into a multi-use space. The three main objectives of the project were to establish green infrastructure for stormwater management, develop plans for a bike corridor that connects to the riverfront park (see map below), and create a public space that would help change community perceptions of a nearby creek, Girty’s Run, from a risk to an asset. The proposal includes site analysis with water runoff calculations, comparison of the efficacy of various types of green infrastructure, plans for implementing a bike-and-ride infrastructure, and a list of potential community partners and grant opportunities. The project highlights how green spaces can create multiple community benefits while contributing to the reduction of combined sewer overflows, a requirement of the Clean Water Act. Download the final report.
It is with great sadness that the Chatham University community learned of the passing earlier today of Elsie Hilliard Hillman, the nationally renowned and admired Pittsburgh philanthropist, civic leader, champion of political engagement and moderation, and tireless worker on behalf of causes of great importance to her – including the rights of women, minorities and gay community. Her passing is not just a loss for the Hillman family, her many friends, and the political world, but a loss of a piece of Pittsburgh’s heart as well.
Elsie and the Hillman and Hilliard families have enjoyed a long and close relationship with Chatham. Her late brother Tom Hilliard was for many years a Chatham Trustee before becoming an Emeritus Trustee, a position he held until his passing last year. And Elsie’s grandson, Henry Simonds, is currently a Chatham Trustee, carrying on the Hillman and Hilliard families’ legacy at Chatham.
Elsie was also personally engaged with Chatham – and especially with Chatham students – on many fronts. One of Elsie’s great joys was meeting and interacting with young people, especially Chatham students. If one looks back at all of the pictures of Elsie posing for photographs with past Hillman Chairs and Chatham undergraduates over the years, it is never quite clear who is having more fun: the students or Elsie! Just this past spring, Elsie took part in the Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics New Leadership program, which prepares college-age women from around the state for leadership roles. Earlier in the spring, she participated in the campus visit by newswoman Cokie Roberts, whose lecture and appearance on campus was made possible through the Hillman Chair.
Pittsburgh is a city of three rivers, in a county of 263 abandoned mine sites. If you appreciate water as a recreational resource, this is cause for celebration. If you’re savvy about pollution, it’s cause for concern.
This spring, Chatham launched a Maymester course designed to heighten both of these responses and show students ways to act on them. Natural Resource Leadership was taught by the Falk School of Sustainability‘s Michael Finewood and Sean McGreevey, Assistant Dean for Career Development. The course focused on acid mine drainage, with a side of whitewater kayaking on the Cheat River.
Acid mind drainage An abandoned coalmine eventually fills up with groundwater. This water absorbs minerals from the coal that makes it very harmful to fish and wildlife. When it escapes the mine—and it does—it’s known as acid mine drainage or abandoned mine drainage (AMD).
After two centuries of mining in Southwestern PA and West Virginia, we sit on billions of gallons of this acidic water. The main pollutant of surface water in the Mid-Atlantic region, AMD is an enormous environmental challenge.
The process of treating AMD to make it safe is called remediation. Remediation may be active (e.g., chemical) or passive (constructed wetlands, which use natural functions of vegetation, soil, and organisms to clean the water). Both passive and active remediation are used at the Cheat River watershed.
Cheat River The Cheat lies about two hours south of Pittsburgh, in West Virginia. In 1994, AMD buildup blew out the side of the mountain, turning the river orange for miles, killing fish as far away as 16 miles downstream.* In response, an organization called Friends of the Cheat was formed, and has implemented fifteen remediation sites in the area.
Natural Resources Leadership (SUS 407/507) The course met for three hours per day, four days per week, for three weeks. Here’s what happened.
Week 1: Each day, class included lecture and discussion about leadership, water challenges including acid mine drainage, and contemporary water policy. Because whitewater kayaking is significantly more challenging than kayaking on still water, classroom time was followed by whitewater kayaking training in the pool at Chatham’s Athletic Fitness Center.
Week 2: Students practiced their whitewater kayaking skills on Pine Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny, and spent time at two local remediation sites:
Wingfield Pines in Upper St. Clair is a local park designed to filter metals out of water by circulating the drainage (which is fluorescent orange to start) through a series of ponds and into a wetland, where native plants remove the last of the sediment before the (now extremely clean) water flows into the Allegheny River. It’s a nice habitat for ducks, and for dog-walkers.
The group also visited Emerald View Park, an urban park-in-progress in Mt. Washington. Emerald View is being created partly to restore the hillside after 150 years of mining, settling, vacating, and serving as a dumping ground. It’s in the early stages of becoming a site for AMD remediation, which means constant monitoring of water quality. “They need to monitor for about 1 1/2 years before they can develop the appropriate mediation techniques,” says Dr. Finewood.
Week 3: Equipped with kayaks, sleeping bags, and a newfound understanding of water resource challenges, the group then headed to the Cheat. They met with members of Friends of the Cheat, with whom they spent mornings doing volunteer manual labor, including planting grass, rebuilding a dam, and rolling about 25 tires up a hill and out of the canyon. They also discussed acid mine drainage.
In the afternoons, the group set societal concerns aside in favor of whitewater kayaking. The Cheat is known for tremendous kayaking, with beautiful scenery and interesting challenges for all levels. And even though each person is in his or her own boat, kayaking is very much a group experience, and requires significant skills in communication and envisioning.
One major goal of the course was to investigate how small non-profit community organizations can affect significant environmental issues. In the future, it may address issues other than water, such as ecosystems, biodiversity, and air quality. Course participants included Master of Sustainability students Josh Zivkovich, Ezra Welsh, and Kurt Lindsey, and undergraduate Chatham seniors Jennae Rekken, Erin Smith, and Nicole Werwie.
*Video and commentary about the blowout by bystander Randy Robinson is available here, here, and here.
Christine Bullock took off the year following high school graduation to pursue her dream of becoming professional ballerina, a skill she’d been honing since she was three years old. It was only when she entered Chatham in 2001 that she shifted her focus and discovered that her passion for health and fitness could turn into a full-time career.
While she began Chatham as a ballerina, she was soon certified as a yoga teacher; and as an RA, she taught students yoga in a residence hall living room. Christine recalls being one of the only people lifting weights in the old Chatham gym, and was a ribbon-cutter for the 2004 dedication of the new Athletic and Fitness Center. As a student, she ran through Chatham’s campus to Carnegie Mellon’s, weaving throughout Squirrel Hill neighborhoods and back again down Woodland Road. This routine was where she blew off the stress of a heavy Chatham course load.
She credits her psychology professor and academic advisor, Tom Hershberger, with sparking the flame which ultimately lead to her tutorial, a study of the effects of yoga on psychological and physiological wellbeing. “I taught yoga and then tested the cortisol levels and mood of each participant,” explains Christine. Upon her 2005 graduation, she left Chatham and eventually landed in California where she cemented her passion for fitness into not only a career, but also a way of life.
Christine believes the key to a sustainable healthy lifestyle is to find what you enjoy and focus on the kind of activity you look forward to – mentally, physically and emotionally. In her role as a fitness instructor, she promotes short, effective workouts and metabolism boosts like colorful veggies, smoothies and soups – “Healthy food isn’t just tofu and sprouts,” she asserts. “If you have trouble sticking to a nutrition or exercise program, something has to change, something is not right. Don’t be afraid to mix it up to keep things interesting,” Christine says.
But perhaps the most exciting development in Christine’s professional career is being named as one of five finalists for Women’s Health magazine’s “Next Fitness Star” competition. She’s featured on the July/August issue cover, along with the five other finalists, each competing for a workout DVD contract. The winner will be chosen by a panel of celebrity judges, as well as fans. People may vote once daily until Aug. 3rd with the winner being announced live on NBC’s Today Show.
Christine credits her time at Chatham for making her the woman she is today. “It was such a tremendous time in my life. The small classes and the intimacy of the school developed who I was. It’s where I established my character,” says Christine. She considers women like her Chatham classmates when developing her fitness videos, “My videos are prop-free. They’re perfect for busy women and can be done in small spaces, like dorm rooms. All you need is a yoga mat and a pair of tennis shoes!”
“I’m so lucky to have the Chatham support system to lean upon. They are such amazing women. From business leaders, to full-time moms, to experts in every field. I’m thankful to be a part of this group of exceptional women.”