Engineering Captures Top Environmental Honors

The School of Engineering was well represented among the 2010-2012 Environmental Leadership Award recipients, finalists and honorable mentions. The awards, which are presented every two years, were presented in mid-November by the University’s Office of Environmental Policy and honor individuals and organizations whose activities that contribute to increased environmental stewardship within the UConn community.

Commenting on the superb showing by UConn Engineering, Richard Miller, Director of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy, said “What sets students, faculty and staff in the School of Engineering apart is their environmental problem-solving approach – it’s very action oriented – and their research and design projects can often be applied right here on campus. The result has been a tremendous synergy between academic and operational goals.” 

“Whether it’s clean energy, smart buildings, alternative fuels, electric vehicles or low-impact storm water design, the School’s environmental leadership contributes proactively to the reduction of UConn’s ecological footprint toward our Climate Action Plan goals and also provides the community with a ‘living laboratory’ for demonstrating more sustainable technologies and practices,” he remarked.

Among the award recipients were Dr. Allison MacKay, doctoral student Udayarka Karra, and UConn’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders – Nicaragua Team. Finalists included undergraduate Nirav Patel and Ph.D. student Carlo Santoro. Their awards and environmental contributions are summarized below.

Faculty/Administrator Award recipient: Allison MacKay, associate professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering.  Dr. MacKay was honored for her development of a general education course in Environmental Sustainability that debuted during the spring 2012 semester. The first class had an enrollment of 75 students, of whom 75 percent were non-engineers representing 25 different majors across the university.  A social science course, it focused on ways that society can reduce its environmental impact. An important facet of the course was Dr. MacKay’s decision to offer local examples of successful sustainability initiatives at UConn – including the cogeneration power plant that provides heating/cooling and power to the entire campus, biofuel-powered buses, and green buildings – and to help students explore the environmental impacts of decisions in their own lives via ecological footprint calculations.

Graduate Student Award recipient: Udayarka Karra, Ph.D. student in Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE) specializing in water quality analysis, wastewater treatment, bio-energy and microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology.  As a member of the Bioenergy Laboratory in CEE, advised by Dr. Baikun Li, he evaluates novel electrode material and scale-up of MFC systems for applications in wastewater treatment and develop underwater energy harvesting systems for marine sensors; he also investigates the microbial ecology for profiling the microbial consortium associated with MFC systems. He has been a graduate mentor for students participating in UConn’s National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program since 2011.

UConn Student Affiliated Group Award recipient: UConn chapter of Engineers Without Borders – Nicaragua Team.  A cohort of three engineering students associated with the UConn chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) has laid the groundwork for important environmental contributions to an impoverished village in Nicaragua that may spark enormous economic and societal improvements for village residents.  Through their efforts, May 2012 graduates Scott Cipoletti (Civil Engineering, CE) and Dana Boyer (Environmental Engineering ), along with CE junior Bryan Hallinan (EWB-Nicaragua project chair) and their advisor, Dr. Marisa Chrysochoou, are demonstrating that UConn engineers, and a commitment to environmentally sustainable solutions, can help to transform and improve the lives of people around the globe.

Undergraduate Student finalist: Nirav Patel, an Environmental Engineering senior who, like Udayarka Karra, is working in the Bioenergy Laboratory of Dr. Li.  His research involves the use of stainless steel as an anode electrode in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) used to convert wastewater into electricity.

Graduate Student finalist:Carlo Santoro, a Ph.D. student in Civil & Environmental Engineering, who is also working in the Bioenergy Lab. of Dr. Li.  Carlo’s work involves the design of different cathode structures and the evaluation of novel catalysts (especially bio-catalysts) without the use of highly cost materials in MFC systems. He also investigates MFCs systems fed with human urine and the potential recovery of nutrients for agriculture applications (e.g. fertilizer).

The School of Engineering also garnered a large number of honorable mentions: Drs.  Joe Bushey (CEE) and Peter Luh (ECE) along with former Associate Director of the Center for Clean Energy Engineering, Tricia Bergman; and the Fuel Cell at Depot Campus Team.

Published: December 7, 2012