environmental engineering

Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Charles Driscoll Selected for the 2023 Clarke Prize in Water Science

Professor Charles Driscoll in a river with two student researchers

Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Charles Driscoll has been selected to receive the 2023 Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Water Science and Technology from the National Water Research Institute. Driscoll is the University and Distinguished Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering in College of Engineering and Computer Science. 

The Clarke Prize is considered one of the most prestigious awards pertaining to water science. It is awarded to thought leaders in water research, science, technology, or policy in the United States. Past honorees have included some of the most significant figures in civil and environmental engineering; the water, biological, physical, chemical, health, and political sciences; and public planning and policy.

Driscoll’s research largely involves characterization and quantifying the impacts of air pollution, such as acid rain and mercury, changing climate, and land and water disturbances on the structure and function of ecosystems, and pathways of ecosystem recovery. Much of his work has focused on forests and associated aquatic resources, including long-term studies at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, NH and the Huntington Forest in the Adirondacks, NY. Recent work has included strategies for the decarbonization of sectors and achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Charles Driscoll

Over the past 40 years, Driscoll has advanced new analytical techniques, established and maintained long-term measurements and experiments, and developed a series of research and predictive models that simulate transformations of major chemical elements in forest vegetation, soil and surface waters in response to air pollution, climate and land disturbance. Beyond theory, he is interested in testing ‘in situ’ strategies to reverse the damaging effects of acid rain and mercury contamination, eutrophication, urbanization, and climate change. Driscoll has testified at US Congressional and state legislative committee hearings, and provided briefings to government agencies, industry and stakeholder groups on environmental issues. He has served on local, national and international committees pertaining to environmental management and policy.   

Driscoll will receive the award and give a lecture in Irvine, California, on October 21, 2023. For information about attending the event, fill out the form on the Clarke Prize page.

Learning Through Research: Hennecys Perez Castro ’25

Hennecys Perez Castro is a sophomore environmental engineering major from the Bronx, NY. In her short time at the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), Hennecys has participated in the Air Force ROTC program, a Marine officer program, she is an active member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and she is doing paid research relevant to her field of study.

“Doing research creates a great baseline to explore what you want to do. Being at an R1 university means there is a lot of funding and that opens up a lot of opportunity,” says Hennecys.

Hennecys learned about research opportunities through ECS Laboratory Manager and SHPE advisor Mario Montesdeoca. He helped her get started as a trainee in the environmental engineering labs as a first-year student. It gave her an opportunity to ask questions and learn how to apply for a Research Experience for Undergraduates.

Hennecys’ first research project involved measuring CO2 and O2 concentrations from different soil depths to explore soil respiration response and testing new low-cost CO2 sensor technology. During the fall semester of her sophomore year, she presented her research at the Long-Term Ecological Research All Scientists Meeting in California and took second place in a poster competition.

In addition to her ongoing CO2 censor testing, Hennecys is facilitating a lab project under University Professor of Environmental Systems and Distinguished Professor Charles Driscoll. The project involves conducting a sediment core analysis on samples collected from Skaneateles Lake just west of Syracuse. The research is a continuation of a larger project aimed at determining how the lake sediment is evolving due to the environment. Currently, Hennecys and her lab partner Oliver Raycroft are prepping the samples for chemical extraction. Once extracted, they will begin a data analysis to determine the effects of algae blooms, marine life viability, and to measure phosphorus concentration.

“The samples in the sediment cores tell a story. This research is small part of a bigger story,” says Hennecys. “The overall goal is important because this is information people need and can use.”

Research has helped Hennecys build a network and skillsets that will be important for her career development. It’s just one example of how she is utilizing resources available through ECS to prepare for her future. She says the support she has received through the ECS Office of Inclusive Excellence and SHPE, along with participation in several Syracuse University student leadership programs has augmented her education.

“Taking about my research has taught me how to present to a non-engineering audience. Overall, research is helping me learn skills I need to incorporate as I look forward to my career,” says Hennecys. “In addition to being a peer leader and an orientation leader, research helps me connect with others and build my confidence for post-graduation.”

Funding for Hennecys’ research is provided by Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the The Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement.

Sophomore Emma Liptrap Named a 2022 NOAA-Hollings Scholar

Emma Liptrap

Emma Liptrap’s passion for environmental engineering began in a parking lot.

In her junior year of high school, she set up a shadowing experience with a local engineering firm in her hometown of Salem, New Hampshire. Engineers brought her to a parking lot they were redesigning to mitigate stormwater runoff. They explained how water from large storms can become polluted from deposits on the ground and then flow directly into the nearby river.

“I had never thought much about parking lots or impervious surfaces before my shadowing experience, but after learning about their relationship to pollution and flooding I became fascinated—and committed—to learning more about stormwater management,” Liptrap says

Liptrap, a sophomore civil engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) and member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, is a recipient of a 2022 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship, which will help support her studies.

Named for Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings of South Carolina, the prestigious award provides tuition support ($9,500 per year) and paid summer internships with NOAA to recipients. The award is designed to support students working in areas related to NOAA’s programs and mission. Students apply as sophomores, do an internship in their junior year, and receive support and mentorship throughout their undergraduate career.

In high school, Liptrap began her environmental and stormwater work by creating a sustainability club. In the first year, she gave presentations about water conservation to elementary school students, organized trash pickups at local parks, distributed water barrels to town residents and led a project planting a garden at a local park to promote wildlife.

She also worked as an intern with an architect who prioritized reusing materials and building for the future. “I loved learning about LEED certification and analyzing how we could make each build more sustainable,” she says. In her senior year, she won the New Hampshire Department of Education’s Work-Based Learning Award for her work in the internship.

Liptrap enrolled at Syracuse because of the University’s civil and environmental engineering program, SOURCE undergraduate research funding program and research focus on the smart management of water systems. “I had also read about how Onondaga Lake used to be one of the most polluted lakes in the country, and the opportunity to learn more about how it is being restored excited me,” she says.

Her coursework involves technical engineering classes along with classes in social sciences to broaden her understanding of climate change. “Through my classes, it has been made clear to me that the work I will do in the future will require cooperation with many stakeholders, including scientists, policymakers and the public. I understand how crucial effective communication will be throughout my career and am developing those skills by learning how to give presentations and engaging in team projects,” she says.

Liptrap is working in the research lab of Cliff Davidson, Thomas and Colleen Wilmot Professor of Engineering in ECS. She is engaged in research using HYDRUS, a computer program that models the movement of water at different levels of saturation. The research is done on the 60,000-square-foot green roof of the Onondaga County Convention Center (ONCenter) in Syracuse, studying its capacity to prevent stormwater from overflowing Syracuse’s combined sewer system.

“Having a reliable program like HYDRUS to model stormwater runoff will help engineers designing green roofs in the future so that they can be built to fit an area’s specific needs,” Liptrap says.

Liptrap also joined the University’s Water Chemistry lab last summer, focusing on determining the rate at which pollutants in the air settle on surfaces in Syracuse. “This project will help provide a blueprint for how to measure dry deposition in urban environments so that these pollutants can be better studied in cities,” she says.

She currently serves as outreach chair for the University’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. She is also a member of Engineering Ambassadors, a club that facilitates engineering projects for middle school students to introduce them to key engineering concepts.

In the future, Liptrap wants to design and implement green infrastructure in cities as a civil engineer with a private consulting firm. “Many cities across the United States have plans to become more sustainable, and water management through green infrastructure will be crucial to this work,” she says. “The Hollings Scholarship’s mentorship and internship opportunities will be invaluable in helping me better understand the state of the field and explore career paths.”

Liptrap worked with the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) to apply for the NOAA scholarship. CFSA offers candidates advising and assistance with applications and interview preparation for nationally competitive scholarships. “Emma’s sustained focus on environmental issues, and her specific interest in managing stormwater runoff, made her a terrific candidate for the NOAA-Hollings Scholarship. Her interests and goals are clearly aligned with NOAA’s mission,” says Jolynn Parker, director of CFSA. “We’re thrilled she’s won this award and will benefit from mentorship and internship opportunities through NOAA.”

The 2023 NOAA-Hollings Scholarship application will open in September Interested students should contact CFSA for more information: 315.443.2759 or cfsa@syr.edu.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Profile: JB Ahmad ’15, G’16

JB Ahmad '15, G'16

Stepping outside of your comfort zone in order to achieve your goals may be a cliché, but it is also a simple truth. Civil and environmental engineering alumna J.B. Ahmad ’15, G’16, started her career journey with a choice to leave her familiar confines of southern California and head to the northeast.

“When I toured Syracuse University, I fell in love with the bright picturesque nature that surround upstate New York. For me, it supplied a feel, an experience, and a look that I didn’t think I would be able to get anywhere else,” said Ahmad. “To be able to experience seasons was something very new to me.”

In addition to being charmed by campus, Ahmad received a research fellowship that enabled her to pursue the degree and type of research she was interested in. Ahmad immediately found Syracuse University had a palpable sense of community, and the College of Engineering and Computer Science offered the right environment for her to develop her skillset.

“It felt like you had this whole extended family that’s rooting for your success,” said Ahmad. “At Syracuse I always felt a push within the department to look ahead and think bigger. I was taught how to learn, the importance of thought diversity, and innovation. My research taught me the value of examining ideas and being at the forefront of my field.”

Most of all it was the one-on-one attention from professors that had the greatest impact. Ahmad is grateful to have had the opportunity to establish deeper relationships with most of her engineering professors, but one connection stands out the most.

“My absolute favorite thing about Syracuse University is Dr. Svetoslava Todorova. I cannot put into words the depth of imprint she has left on my heart and in my life,” said Ahmad. “Her dedication to experiential learning and innovative instruction is unparalleled. She uses simulations and mock trials to promote learning on many levels. She is unbelievably patient and somehow always finds the time to give each student the attention and respect necessary to advance their ideas and knowledge. She serves as a constant reminder for me to appreciate the support and guidance I receive throughout my career, and to be a support for others whenever I can.”

“As a teacher, I remember the students who were different, who stood out from their peers by their personalities and abilities. JB was one of those students. During her studies at Syracuse University, JB distinguished herself with her innate curiosity, systematic problem-solving, and ability to interact with people from diverse backgrounds,” said Todorova. “These skills have helped her excel in her practice as a geotechnical engineer. She currently manages comprehensive billion-dollar projects, both domestic and international. She is a great example of what our students grow to become – leaders in the engineering field.”

In the short time since graduating, Ahmad returned to the west coast, currently serving as a geotechnical earthquake engineer and deputy project manager at AECOM. She has worked on several large, signature consulting assignments, including the multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail project aimed at connecting northern and southern California. Ahmad says her time at Syracuse University equipped her with agility and adaptability mindset necessary to consult on a wide-range of projects—providing innovative solutions for the world’s toughest challenges—and bring that leadership to clients. Her collective experience has helped her lead effectively in ambiguity, consistently execute on goals and priorities, and build long-term, collaborative growth partnerships with clients.

“How you think will affect what you are able to achieve,” said Ahmad. “Instead of thinking I can’t do this, try developing the belief I can’t do it yet. Setbacks can provide a way forward and through effort, learning, and persistence your skills can improve over time.”