Dr. Chul Park of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and Assistant Dean for Diversity Paula Rees, Ph.D., are among four faculty members who have been awarded Public Service Endowment Grants from a special campus fund designed to boost outreach, extend the campus resources into the surrounding community, and enhance the public service mission of the university. Park will be working on a wastewater treatment collaboration with the Town of Athol, while Rees will be establishing youth outreach programs in Springfield and Holyoke in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Administered by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, the awards support collaborations between community partners and university scholars to address complex public issues through community informed projects. The program’s vision statement calls on it to emphasize “converting knowledge into readily usable forms for immediate applications.”
Principal Investigator (PI) Park will be running a “Collaboration Between University and Municipality to Decrease Economic and Environmental Burden of Sludge Disposal” with community partners in the Town of Athol and the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). According to Park, the $15,000 grant will support a pilot at the Athol WWTP “to decrease the sludge production and therefore reduce financial and environmental impacts that current sludge disposal methods create.”
Park’s town-campus collaboration will address the fact that most municipal wastewater treatment plants use more than 50 percent of their operational budget to handle sludge, the byproduct of wastewater treatment, by trucking it away for landfill or incineration. Park and his colleagues point out that this sludge outsourcing process is not only very costly but also heavily regulated with high environmental impact.
PI Rees will be supervising a project called “Engineering the Gap – Building Bridges for Students from Holyoke/Springfield to UMass STEM.” Her community partners include the Mass 4H Youth Development Program of Springfield/Holyoke, the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club, and Holyoke High School.
The $10,686 award will support establishing three new outreach programs to expand and deepen support of the K-12 community partners, provide professional development for engineering graduate students, provide “a rich platform for faculty broader impacts work,” and provide a pipeline of diverse students from partner communities to engineering.
Rees and colleagues plan to establish a graduate student “Outreach Platoon,” a Sam the Minuteman/Minutewoman Engin-Brigade, and a Young Investigators Program. The programs will align with others such as the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship Program, faculty research grants, and alumni support. (June 2020)