Clark graduate students working on a range of topics — from improving the use of satellites and artificial intelligence in flood tracking to examining the socio-environmental factors that affect the existence and growth of urban forests — have received fellowships from the Edna Bailey Sussman Fund, which supports summer research opportunities in environmental studies. The Fund has provided funding to master’s and doctoral researchers in the Graduate School of Geography since 2014.
The University is one of a handful of institutions that receive Sussman funding, alongside Yale University, Duke University, University of Michigan, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Colorado School of Mines, Scripps Institute of Oceanography at University of California at San Diego, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The Graduate School of Geography is the only geography department to earn funding.
Professor Karen Frey, associate director of the Graduate School of Geography, described the donations from the Sussman Fund as “one of the most important sources of research support for our students, setting them up for success with their thesis and dissertation research as well as fostering collaborations with colleagues beyond the Clark campus.” To conduct their Sussman-funded research, each recipient is hosted by an off-campus institution in the U.S.
Since 2014, Clark has received nearly $320,000 to assist graduate research fellows with their projects; in 2021, the Sussman Fund supported the research of six geography Ph.D. students and six master’s students. In addition, the Fund awarded Doctoral Dissertation Writing Fellowships to five geography Ph.D. students in the final stages of their dissertation writing.
The total Sussman awards for the 17 graduate students in 2021 was $130,000.
Due to the pandemic, many of the research fellows conducted their work through a combination of remote and in-person experiences.
During his research, Xiangyu Wen, M.S./GIS ’22, completed an internship with Cloud to Street, a company that uses a combination of satellites and artificial intelligence to track floods in almost real time. At Cloud to Street, Wen was mentored by a fellow Clarkie, Tyler Anderson, M.A. ’18, M.S./GIS ’19. Wen’s adviser is Professor R. Gil Pontius.
Wen said he was motivated to pursue this research because of the increasing number of people exposed to flooding due to climate change and population migration. “I wanted to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of Cloud to Street’s population overlays in a wide range of scenarios,” he explained, “and attempt to improve these estimates and achieve values closer to ground data.”
Aandishah Samara ’21, M.S./GIS ’22, explored the connection between watershed characteristics and higher river nitrate concentrations, as well as the possibility of using that research to build a predictive model for understanding the drivers of river biogeochemical concentrations. Her off-campus host was the Woodwell Climate Research Center; Professor Frey is her adviser.
“Understanding how river biogeochemistry varies over space and time is critical for protecting and managing river ecosystem health,” Samara says, noting that her research produced crucial information that policymakers and conversation managers should be made aware of, in order to determine where to set up more protection regions.
Doctoral student Arman Bajracharya’s research, exploring the complex relationship between urban climate risk, social vulnerability, land cover, and land use, was conducted in various cities around Massachusetts, including Worcester, New Bedford, and Haverhill. His host was the Woodwell Climate Research Center.
Bajracharya, whose adviser is Professor Rinku Roy Chowdhury, explained that his research is examining the “associations between land surface temperatures across different types of land use, distribution of land use across environmental justice communities — characterized by minority population, low income, and English isolation — and the relationship between tree cover with neighborhood socioeconomic factors.”
Also receiving Sussman research fellowships in 2021 were:
Doctoral student Mara van den Bold received a writing fellowship for her dissertation, “Implications of influence: examining the evolving role of U.S.-based development institutions in renewable energy development globally.” Her research addresses how large-scale renewable energy projects in Senegal impact surrounding communities’ employment, land use, and access to energy.
“Challenges posed by climate change have made it abundantly clear that a systemic transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is required,” van den Bold says. “Yet it is critical that such energy transitions do not recreate environmental and social injustices.” Van den Bold’s adviser is Professor James McCarthy.
Marc Healy, a doctoral student advised by Professor John Rogan, also received a dissertation writing fellowship for his study, “Throwing Shade: Urban forests in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities.” His research centered around the Greening the Gateway Cities tree planting initiative in Massachusetts, and he investigated the human-environmental effects of urban forests, why canopies change over time, and how those canopies are managed.
Healy explains how the results of his research have “shed light on socio-environmental factors that affect canopy cover change, how urban tree management is dependent on municipal structure and budgets, and the cooling impacts of juvenile trees.”
Other dissertation writing fellows include: