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Student Spotlight

Lindsay Williams

Williams photo Arts & Science Senior

Lindsay Williams is a senior Environmental Sociology major who conducted Sociology Honors Research for her environmental sociology Honors thesis titled "State of Standards: Understanding the factors related to state usage of eco-labels in environmentally preferable purchasing." The goal of this study was to look at factors that affect environmental policy adoption by state governments in the United States and see if those factors are related to environmentally preferable purchasing standards in the states and eco-label use within those standards. This study aimed to increase understanding of interactions between public governance and private, market-based governance. Lindsay predicted that “bluer” states, states with higher budgets, and states with higher energy employment rates would be more likely to adopt environmentally preferable purchasing, and use eco-labels in their standards. She also predicted that political leaning would be less influential for green building label use than for cleaning product and paper product label use. Using a quantitative data analysis, Lindsay found that political leaning is predictive of having an EPP program, of using eco-labels in the program, and of using labels for green building. There was no relationship with traditional energy employment to use of environmentally preferable purchasing or use of eco-labels, and the relationship to budget was unconfirmed. Some of these findings are consistent with the literature, but some contradict the existing literature. Lindsay will attend Harvard Law School this fall.


Haley Gentry

Gentry photo Arts & Science Senior

The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign to inspire city leadership in at least 100 cities around the country to take ambitious steps forward by committing their communities to 100% clean, renewable energy has been the focus Haley Gentry’s Capstone Project in Public Policy research. A senior with a double major in Public Policy and Spanish, Haley has been interested in renewable energy for some time now. “The Ready for 100 Campaign has effectively reached across many once-thought unbeatable barriers in cities across the country,” says Haley. “The goal is increasing the spread of information and accountability in getting cities, counties, and states to commit to 100% energy through local council or legislature. Over half of renewable energy capacity added nationally and globally since 2014 has come from renewable sources. The technology has made renewable sources cheaper and promotes economic growth through lower costs and job creation.” The results of the study show that, overall, policy implementation is a process of coalition building. “When it comes to nations with privatized energy policy, localities and privately owned companies are responsible for meeting expectations and satisfying regional desires,” Haley says. “Discourse coalitions provide a story line for diverse groups to align with, garnering support to help achieve regional planning targets and energy goals. They help open the door to compromise between entities in policy development. In studying the renewable energy commitments of these 14 cities, coalitions played an important role in garnering support and acceptance.” Renewable energy policy looks drastically different from community to community. After analyzing all of these unique characteristics, several important findings arose from the study. First, regardless of background characteristics of a city, a 100% renewable energy commitment is very feasible. Second, despite a city’s individual history or politics, a frame of mitigating climate change through reducing greenhouse emissions will most likely be acceptable and useful. Similarly, the majority of constituencies and coalitions were environmentally focused. Also notable is the complete lack of organized opposition in every city studied. While the study focuses on just one type of environmental policy, its findings have wide implications. Given the variety of cities studied in terms of geographic location, size, and history, it proves that 100% renewable energy can be achieved relatively anywhere. However, there must be policy action at the state level to allow for local control over energy, as seen in some of the cities in this study. Fortunately, growth of the renewable sector and its decreasing costs has gained the attention of local leaders and citizens alike. The Ready for 100 campaign has proved that cities have the tools to be the leader in the fight against climate change.  Haley will attend Law School at Tulane.


Margaret Dorhout

Dorhout photo Arts & Science Junior

Margaret Dorhout is a junior majoring in Earth and Environmental Science. She has been working as a Research Assistant for Assoc Prof Jonathan Gilligan studying trends in extreme weather in Bangladesh. Dr. Gilligan was a co-PI in a major Office of Naval Research-funded project studying social and environmental change in Bangldesh. Margaret is working on analyzing weather records from Bangladesh to study trends in extreme weather. Margaret's work began by examining 57 years of weather records from 35 weather stations in Bangladesh to perform quality control checks and correct errors in data entry. Margaret then worked with graduate student Kelsea Best to analyze patterns in extreme heat and precipitation. “There is a lot of coding!” Margaret says about her research experience. “Bangladesh can be a hard place to model because it is hard to draw a baseline. Not only is there extreme weather, but sometimes there is war or other factors that are hard to duplicate.” “Margaret's analysis is an important contribution to a project, funded by the National Science Foundation, which is studying how environmental change affects population movement in Bangladesh,” says Gilligan. “Margaret's participation in this research project has benefited the research by improving the quality of our data and our understanding of extreme weather in Bangladesh and it has given her the opportunity to learn new skills in data analysis and to experience what scientific research is like. Margaret's work on this project will form the basis of a senior honors thesis next year.” Undergraduate research has taught Margaret how to collect data for research and perform quality control and quality assurance to make sure the data is reliable. Margaret is planning to use her research experience as the basis for a senior honors thesis next year.


Madeline Allen

Allen photo Arts & Science Senior

Madeline Allen, an A&S senior from the Boston area, began doing undergraduate research on volcanic super-eruptions. But for the past two years, Madeline has been working on her senior honors thesis by conducting research on flood hazards in west Tennessee. She is working with Assoc Prof Jonathan Gilligan in Earth and Environmental Science and Prof Mark Abkowitz in Civil & Environmental Engineering to find ways to better predict and prevent flooding from the Mississippi River, especially in Tennessee’s Dyer County. Madeline found that actual historical floods were much more extensive than widely used computer models of flood risk predict, so future planning will benefit from understanding that risks may be greater than many people think. “The analytical tools Madeline developed for her project will be useful in the future for assessing the potential impacts of climate change on flood risk in Tennessee,” says Gilligan. “Essentially, the goal of my research is to create a framework that can be used to assess flood risk and resilience in rural communities, with a particular focus on communities with limited resources as my target audience,” Madeline says. “The methodology is based around evaluating and augmenting Hazus - the nationally recommended tool for flood hazard assessments.” “Through Maddy’s efforts, Dyer County, TN has the opportunity to be proactive in its selection of risk mitigation strategies in the face of future flooding potential,” says Abkowitz. “Maddy’s methodology demonstrates how data analytics, spatial analysis, and visualization techniques can be combined to address complicated problems and present them in a manner that community leaders can understand and utilize. Moreover, Maddy’s approach is transferable to other communities, meaning that other flood-stricken regions of the country can benefit for her research as well.” Funded by a Housing & Urban Development grant, the research team Madeline is a part of uses Hazus software applications provided by FEMA to organize and study precipitation amounts and risk analysis. Madeline hopes to help mitigation planners and emergency managers lessen the impact of floods. Madeline has learned a lot about how to collect data for research, how to use sophisticated computational tools for analyzing data, and how to connect the data and analysis to real-world problems.


Umang Chaudhry

Chaudhry photo Arts & Science Senior

Umang Chaudhry, a senior majoring in Earth & Environmental Science, has done his senior honors thesis on gentrification, the process of renovating deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents. Mentored by Assoc Prof Jonathan Gilligan, Umang, an international student from Mumbai, has been studying for two years the effects of gentrification on neighborhoods in Nashville, such as the Gulch area and east Nashville. Umang has also been analyzing how gentrification in Nashville interacts with access to public transit. He has studied how easy it is to perform activities of daily living, such as commuting to work, grocery shopping, and seeing doctors and dentists, by different means (car, foot, and transit) for people living in different parts of Davidson County. “Areas where it is easiest to use public transit for daily living are experiencing the greatest amounts of displacement due to gentrification, and low-income and minority residents who are displaced are likely to move to places where it is considerably harder to get around using transit,” according to Umang. “This result is important for understanding both what parts of a city may be most likely to gentrify in the future, and for understanding how gentrification affects low-income and minority residents,” Gilligan says. Umang gained experience working with sophisticated computer models of transportation trends.


Emma Rimmer

Rimmer photo Arts & Science Junior

Emma Rimmer is double majoring in Earth & Environmental Science and Environmental Sociology. A junior from Florida, she is a Research Assistant for Assoc Prof Jonathan Gilligan. Emma is helping him update the quantitative assessment of household emission reductions related to the Behavioral Wedge. The Behavioral Wedge, changing household behavior to make a substantial difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, has a dual positive effect, according to Emma. “Changing household behavior not only cuts down on GHG emissions, “she says, “but also saves the homeowner money by reducing energy costs.” “Emma is helping me update a 2009 analysis of the opportunities for people to save energy and money, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their daily lives,” says Gilligan. “For this project, Emma has researched appliance efficiency standards, automobile fuel-efficiency standards, and data on how households use energy from various sources. A lot has changed in the last ten years and Emma's work will allow us to provide up-to-date information for households and for policymakers on the potential for individual action to make significant contributions to fighting climate change.” During her research experiences, Emma has learned a lot about how to collect data for research, how to perform quality control and quality assurance to make sure the data is reliable, how to use sophisticated computational tools for analyzing data, and how to connect the data and analysis to real-world problems. This gives her experience in clearly communicating what she has done to make her methods clear and accessible to other researchers and to make her results clear and relevant both to researchers and to planners and to the public.


Thushara De Silva

John Nay Ph.D., Environmental Engineering

Thushara De Silva completed her doctorate in Environment Engineering at Vanderbilt University in January 2020. Thushara completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Electrical engineering at University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. She also completed MBA in management of technology in the same university. She won Asian Development Bank scholarship and president’s scholarship for her post-graduate studies. She involved in power generation planning considering multiple aspects associated, during her work at Ceylon Electricity Board, power utility of Sri Lanka. She represented power sector in multi-purpose water resource planning and climate change mitigation committee during her work. She received trainings on energy system analysis, hydropower and other power technologies at international institute such as IEA, IAEA, International center for theoretical physics and International center for hydropower at Norway.  Her current research is on developing decision supporting models for water resources and energy infrastructure planning & management of Sri Lanka.


Ke "Jack" Ding

Jack Ding Ph.D. Candidate, Environmental Engineering

Ke Ding (Jack) is a Ph.D. Student in Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt University School of Engineering (VUSE). He received his undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering and Consulting Engineering certification from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. His research interests mainly concentrated on studying the inter-relationships of the Water-Energy-Food nexus, and providing sustainable solutions to the WEF issues globally.  He currently works on an analysis of WEF nexus for Sub-Saharan African countries. He is also a BOLD Fellow, which he primarily collaborates with faculties at Vanderbilt to develop an online module for the undergraduate course: Intro to Environmental Engineering taught at the VUSE. He currently serves as the president of American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (VU chapter), and the vice president of the CEE graduate student council.

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