A key component when forecasting what the Earth’s climate might look like in the future is the ability to draw on accurate temperature records of the past. By reconstructing past latitudinal temperature gradients (the difference in average temperature between the…
Q&A with 2020 Udall Scholar Anna Feldman
Anna Feldman, a rising senior in environmental engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, was recently named a 2020 Udall Scholar.
The Udall Foundation awards scholarships to college sophomores and juniors for leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to Native American nations or to the environment. Feldman is one of 55 students from 48 colleges and universities nationwide selected this year.
Here, Feldman talks about her research and her plans to pursue a career advancing water policy and sustainability.
01You are studying environmental engineering with an interest in water policy. How do those two fields come together in your current work and in your plans for the future?
Climate change and environmental stresses are creating a demand for collaboration and new solutions around water. I aim to spend my career advancing several critical sustainable development goals—improving water quality by reducing pollution and the release of hazardous chemicals and materials; advancing technology to best manage and equitably distribute water; increasing water-use efficiency and reducing water scarcity; and protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems.
The path I plan to take straddles two professional spheres—engineering and policy—so I am dual focused in my studies. Combining the technical knowledge from my degree in environmental engineering with social science insights from my coursework in environmental policy, I plan to bridge these realms to implement practical solutions to protect freshwater resources. My scientific background has trained me in the latest environmental research, while my policy experience and interpersonal skills have enabled me to communicate effectively with all stakeholders. In an age where the Earth is changing at an alarming rate, scientists need to lead the conversation about actionable solutions.
02Has there been one moment that has confirmed your desire to work on water policy and sustainable technologies?
In 2019, I spent 10 days traveling through Scandinavia as part of Sustainability and Environmental Justice in Europe, a signature seminar offered through the Syracuse Abroad London Center that focused on environmental justice and policy. In Stockholm, we visited Hammarby Sjöstad, one of the most advanced examples of sustainable urban development in the world. The district is run entirely on renewable energy, has a sustainable water cycle and uses new stormwater harvest technologies. The most impressive aspect of this neighborhood was how easy it is for inhabitants to live there sustainably. People are willing to make better decisions about resource consumption when sustainable options are easily accessible and normalized. In speaking with the district organizer, I learned that Hammarby is a direct result of communication and collaboration between scientists, urban planners and policymakers. This was the first time I saw tangible results of community-building through the bridging of different sectors. It inspired me to focus on policy and to one day create such initiatives myself.
03Tell us about the research you are currently engaged in.
I do research in an environmental organic chemistry laboratory with Professor Teng Zeng. Our research team is investigating how hydrological processes and human decision-making drive the distribution and transformation of organic micropollutants. My individual research seeks to determine organic compound concentrations in the waterways of Kampala, Uganda. I am looking specifically at organic contaminants from pharmaceuticals and personal health care products, which may pose a human or ecological health risk. My research findings are expected to be the first for this region of Africa and will provide preliminary data needed to determine water quality and conduct future environmental risk assessments.
My work in understanding how pollutants enter and change throughout a system will help equip scientists to successfully remediate contaminated sites and maintain healthy waterways. After publishing my work, I want to expand beyond my role as researcher to connect with stakeholders and changemakers in water conservation and health in Eastern Africa. My research is preparation for my future work facilitating the interaction between scientists and policymakers to mitigate water pollution.
04You have been very involved with Students of Sustainability (SOS) and Engineering Ambassadors. Tell us about some of the activities you have participated in with those organizations.
Through SOS, I helped coordinate the Syracuse University walkout for the School Strike for Climate last fall. I raised awareness and encouraged student participation, informed professors respectfully about the strike and asked for their support, and fostered substantial and sustained student interest in environmental issues. My efforts helped SU add nearly 200 students to the 4 million people protesting around the globe. I funneled the energy from this event into our regular SOS activities such as tree planting, recycling workshops and volunteering with a local food-recovery network. On a smaller scale, I built a partnership with a local farm to make affordable free-range eggs easily accessible to students. I’ve become known on campus as “egg girl,” which I don’t mind one bit.
With Engineering Ambassadors, every Friday during the academic year, some classmates and I headed H.W. Smith, a Syracuse public school near campus. There, with 30 eighth graders, we built everything from pool noodle rollercoasters to Hershey’s Kiss catapults, and taught some history, math and physics along the way. As an ambassador, I guided students through STEM activities to help build literacy skills and promote youth interest in science and engineering. These hands-on projects are powerful in cultivating creative and inventive mindsets in students.
05You are also the recipient of a Hollings Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). What are you doing as part of that experience?
I belong to a national cohort of 125 undergraduate students dedicated to environmental, oceanic and atmospheric sciences. We share climate news and discuss current events and our research plans. This summer I will combine my scientific and civic passions through a virtual NOAA research internship for the Kachemak Bay Natural Environmental Research Reserve in Alaska. I will assist in the development of a comprehensive groundwater model that uses spatial data sets, modeling frameworks, and local expertise to predict specific locations of aquifer discharge (natural springs). These springs are critical for salmon reproduction, a pivotal factor for economic and environmental prosperity. We will interpret the groundwater model for use in well planning, permitting, policy decisions and habitat protection. Although I had hoped to be on site in Alaska, I am still very excited to take on this internship remotely.
06Where does your planned path take you once you graduate from Syracuse University?
I hope to continue my studies at Columbia University and earn a master’s degree in sustainable water management. I then plan to work as an environmental engineering consultant for an action-driven non-governmental organization like Clean Water Action, where I can gain my professional licensure and build expertise working on water-specific issues. I will also volunteer with organizations that focus directly on water-quality management to protect public health and the environment, such as the New York Water Environmental Authority. This involvement will prepare me to eventually serve as a scientist for the World Water Council, where I can have significant impact on water conservation issues.
The Udall Scholarship honors the legacies of Morris Udall, a 30-year member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona, and his brother, Stewart Udall. Their careers had a significant impact on Native American self-governance, health care and the stewardship of public lands and natural resources. Universities may nominate up to eight students for the Udall Scholarship each year.
The Udall selection process at Syracuse University is administered by Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA). Interested students should contact CFSA at email@example.com by October. Applications are due in mid-March.