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Scholarship supporting environmental research

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 29 - April 20, 1995

A Virginia Tech environmental engineering graduate student will spend the summer trying to improve the taste of Virginia Beach's drinking water. An undergraduate student in civil engineering will compare Disney World's daily solid and wastewater treatment operations with those of a normal municipality.

Ellen L. Hall of Vestal, N.Y., and Michael Witherspoon of Orlando, Fla., are two of five students who have received funding for their research, which concerns environmental issues, as a result of a $100,000 gift to Virginia Tech from the Waste Policy Institute (WPI). An endowment also has been established to fund the work of future students,

In the first year of awards, $2,500 WPI Summer Fellowships have been given to Hall and Sebastian Zacharias, a Virginia Tech doctoral student in biological systems engineering from Kerala, India, to assist them in their graduate research, related to environmental issues. WPI Undergraduate Scholarships of $2,000 have been given to Andrew Brought of Annapolis, Md., and Cheri Edwards of Gettysburg, Pa., to reward them for their success and achievement in their majors. A $1,500 summer stipend and $500 for expenses has been awarded for undergraduate research experience in an environmental program to Witherspoon.

A not-for-profit corporation affiliated with Virginia Tech, WPI is dedicated to environmental stewardship. WPI research helps clients formulate and support environmental policy and technical decisions. University faculty members are among resources it uses to address problems.

Hall will be working with City of Virginia Beach staff, doing research to find and treat the cause of taste and odor problems. A variety of algae and fungi can cause earthy, musty taste and odor, while pipe corrosion can cause metallic tastes. Once the specific culprits are identified, treatment should be possible. The research project will help Hall satisfy requirements for her master of science degree.

She plans a career as a professional engineer in water quality consulting and regulation. Hall is a university distinguished scholar, a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Water Environment Federation, and Tau Beta Pi.

While interning at Disney World last year, Witherspoon learned of the company's environmental-treatment programs, which minimize impacts on the Florida aquifer system and enhance recycling. For his research, he will observe Disney's daily solid and wastewater treatment operations.

Witherspoon will finish his bachelor's degree in civil engineering this summer at Virginia Tech and plans to pursue a master's degree, focusing on environmental geotechnics. He would like to design landfills or environmental cleanup projects.

In addition to the WPI award, he has received three scholarships. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Brought, a forestry and wildlife student, wants to be part of the decision-making process for natural-resource policy and regulation, particularly as they relate to international environmental problems. He plans to attend officer candidate school in the U.S. Coast Guard, and help provide clean-up and protection for coastal and inter-coastal waterways. Later, he plans to enroll in law school, concentrating on environmental law. Brought is a dean's list student and president of the Environmental Resource Management Club.

Edwards, a biological systems engineering major, is also minoring in biology and plans to continue for a master's degree. She completed two years of cooperative education at Maryland Environmental Services, where her work included monitoring the placement of dredge material in and around the Chesapeake Bay, assessing damage to ground-water quality, and developing alternatives to damaging practices. As an environmental engineer, she would like to work closely with biologists, ecologists, and others who share her passion for nature.

A scholarship student, Edwards is a member of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers and the Golden Key National Honor Society.

Zacharias' doctoral research is aimed at making computer models better tools for assessing the environmental impact of agricultural practices, such as the application of nutrients and pesticides where there are different soil types and conditions. Simulation models are important tools in reducing pollution, he explains, because they make it possible to assess alternative practices, and can be used in cases where monitoring is not feasible. However, current models assume uniform conditions across a field.

Zacharias points out that models need to incorporate variable conditions--saturated and unsaturated areas, for example--to improve the credibility of models as tools for making regulatory and management decisions.

He is a member of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, and the Soil and Water Conservation Society, and has published articles on his research.

The balance of the WPI gift to the university will be used to establish an endowment to support future students. It is anticipated that WPI will contribute further to the fund, according to Len Peters, vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School. The award program and endowment was designed by, and award recipients were selected by a committee made up of John Novak, who holds an endowed professorship in civil engineering; John Cairns, university distinguished professor in biology and director of the University Center on Environmental and Hazardous Material Studies; David Conn, department head, environmental design and planning; and Robert Cannell, director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.