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Students Explore Environmental Issues, Global Responsibility In Sparkill

Students are given a tour of the core repository at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which houses thousands of core samples. Photo Credit: Tom McGuire
Larissa Chraim and Dorothy Cucci work on an activity at Lamont-Doherty, part of the SUEZ Leadership Institute. Photo Credit: Tom McGuire
Suez Leadership Institute for Environmental Studies. Photo Credit: SUEZ Water New York Division

PALISADES, N.Y. - For most high school seniors, and college freshmen and sophomores, summer vacation is a chance to scrape some money together, head to the beach, and relax. For others it's a chance to learn about global environmental issues. 

Roughly 34 students participated in the SUEZ Leadership Institute for Environmental Studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill this week. 

The institute is a week-long residential program for high school seniors and college freshmen and sophomores to engage in a curriculum that focuses on and promotes awareness of environmental issues, such as sustainability, energy, climate change, conservation, and water. Those who participate earn three college credits. 

This is the program’s first of three years and it is funded through a $150,000 grant from the SUEZ North America Foundation. 

“We’re an environmental company so it just made all the sense in the world to align ourselves with these types of [programs],” said Ed Wallace, executive director of the foundation. For this reason, partnering with STAC, which has the faculty and facilities in place and a program in mind, was a natural choice.

The week began on Sunday with some fieldwork at the Sparkill Creek that focused on erosion, according to Steven Burns, Ph.D., who is the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at STAC.

On Tuesday the students spent the morning at the county sewage treatment center, a trip like the other activities, was intended to spark thought.

“People really don’t think about what happens to the sewage from their house,” Burns explained; how sewage leaves homes, is treated, and then reenters the environment.

Later in the day the group went to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, where among several activities the students visited the Core Repository, which houses thousands of core samples.

Larissa Chraim and Dorothy Cucci were busy observing the different particles from a core sample Tuesday afternoon.

Chraim, set to begin her senior year at Irvington High School, received an email through the College Board about the program while Cucci, who is getting ready to begin her senior at the Montclair Kimberley Academy, caught wind of the program from her father.

While Chraim has an eye toward a career relating to the environmental sciences, Cucci simply has an interest in the environment and wants to do her part.

They recapped the trip to the Rockland Country Club on Monday where conservation efforts are underway, such as allowing sections of the golf course to grow naturally, which encourages native species to return to the area and requires less water.

“The sewage treatment plant was not the funnest but it was still interesting. I’m glad I got the experience to go there,” Cucci said.

At the heart of these activities is an initiative that began back in 2000 with the construction of Costello Hall, built for the natural sciences, explained STAC President Margaret Fitzpatrick, Ph.D.

“Whatever you do, you always have to take a look toward global responsibility,” she explained. The topic of climate change is being explored across all academic disciplines at STAC, from how scientific research is used and whether it is done in an ethical manner to the ethics behind business decisions and their impact on the environment.

The chance to influence students when they’re idealistic and ambitious makes working in higher education exciting and rewarding but also makes this the perfect cohort for the program, Fitzpatrick explained.

Wednesday will feature a trip to SUEZs water treatment plant in Haworth and an education on the business of water, and Thursday will see the students take a trip to Clausland Mountain.

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Serves Blauvelt, Grand View-on-Hudson, Orangeburg, Palisades, Pearl River, Piermont, South Nyack, Sparkill & Tappan

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