Environmental Management PhD Students Scoop Up Awards

Naz Onel, a first year PhD student, receiving an award from Luis Montesinos, associate dean of The College of Humanities and Social Science, for best interdisciplinary graduate poster at this year's Student Research Symposium

The PhD program in Environmental Management at Montclair State University is only two years old, but its students are collecting an impressive number of awards. Thus far this year, five students have won regional or national awards, two have won internal awards, four have been inducted into national honor societies, and one has authored a book.

“We should be proud of our students’ achievements,” said Dibyendu “Dibs” Sarkar, a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies and director of the PhD program in Environmental Management at Montclair State. “This adds to the prestige of the program and increases recognition for the University.  Recognition is a major factor. It helps put us on the map.”

The trans-disciplinary doctoral program, the only one of its kind in New Jersey and one of the few in the country, aims to foster an understanding of the structure and function of environmental systems and their management.  It takes a holistic approach to research and education, integrating elements of physical, chemical, biological, social, and management practices into the study of natural and human environments.

The ten students and their accomplishments are listed below:

Regional/National Awards

*Third-year student Paola Dolcemascolo was awarded a $6,000 Gateway Research Learning Center Fellowship from the National Park Service in May, 2011 for her proposal, “Diamondback Terrapins in Gateway National Recreation Area: Using Genetics to Inform Management Decisions.” The Gateway National Recreation Area covers parts of New York City and northern New Jersey. Her research will be conducted at Sandy Hook, in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and other sites on the New York side.  The fellowship was established by the National Park Service and the Gateway Research Learning Center to encourage scientific and scholarly research that addresses management issues.

Dolcemascolo also received a $5,000 grant in January, 2011 from the New Jersey Water Resources Research Institute for her proposal involving the study of a water-borne fungal pathogen (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) and its effect on New Jersey amphibians and their habitat. The fungus has been linked to drastic declines of amphibian populations on every continent where amphibians are found, with an estimated one-third of species around the world in danger of becoming extinct.

Working under the supervision of  Kristen Monsen-Collar, a professor in the Biology and Molecular Biology Department (Monsen-Collar recently documented the presence of the fungus in New Jersey), Dolcemascolo will use the grant to determine the prevalence of the fungus in New Jersey and its relationship to environmental variables, such as water and air temperature. Understanding these relationships will contribute to long-term monitoring and conservation of amphibians and their habitats in New Jersey.

*Second-year student Mike Pawlish was part of a $15,000 “seed grant” in 2009 from Montclair State’s Colleges of Science and Mathematics and Humanities and Social Science, the School of Business, and the Office of Information Technology, which he used to conduct an 18-month baseline study of energy usage and ambient conditions (temperature, relative humidity, etc.) at the University’s data center.

From this foundation, a $218,000 demonstration grant from PSE&G entitled “Decision Support System for IT Management” was awarded to the University from a proposal prepared by a team that included Principal Investigator and Associate Professor Stefan A. Robila, and co-investigators Michael Weinstein, director of the PSE&G Institute for Sustainability Studies, and Assistant Professor Aparna S. Varde, along with Pawlish. The goal of the project is to seek energy efficiencies in data centers and to provide input for the design of future data centers to reduce their carbon footprint and energy usage.

*Rocio Duchesne and Faith Justus, both working under the supervision of Mark Chopping, associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies, were awarded grants from the Geological Society of America (GSA) this year.

Duchesne, a second-year student, received $2,975 for her proposal regarding vegetation changes in the Alaskan Arctic tundra.  She will travel to Alaska for two months this summer to take measurements on the different surface types of land cover there and compare her data with that in satellite photos. This is the first step in mapping and assessing vegetation changes in the Arctic, which has experienced a shift in vegetation during the last 30 years as a result of warming.

Justus, a first-year student, was awarded an $1,800 grant to quantify land use and land cover changes in Kenya, where increasing amounts of land are being used for the production of high value horticultural crops for export markets. Scarce data currently exists on this subject and the study is a necessary step toward designing improved watershed management plans and actions to be taken in regions perceived as “hot spots.”

She also received a $2,000 scholarship this year from the New Jersey Society of Women Environmental Professionals (NJSWEP). The purpose of the scholarship is to encourage women to pursue careers in the environmental field, to mentor students with environment-related majors, and to provide students with connections to NJSWEP’s membership for future internships/careers in the environmental sector.

*Fourth-year student Marcia Anderson took second place at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry regional meeting and was awarded $200 in the platform presentation category in April for her talk about Sustainable Mosquito Vector Management in Haiti, a plan which she developed in the wake of the devastating earthquake there in 2010. Anderson, a part-time student who works as an environmental scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is working with The Environmental Justice Initiative for Haiti, a non-governmental organization based in New York, to educate the Haitian population about mosquito control.

Internal Awards

*First-year student Naz Onel won first place and a cash prize of $500 in April at the graduate student poster award at the Fifth Annual Montclair State University Student Research Symposium for her poster entitled “Impact of Eco-friendly Product and Packaging Strategies on Consumer Information Processing.” The symposium showcases and rewards outstanding student scholarship and research at Montclair State. Approximately 450 students, including all of the students in the PhD program in Environmental Management, gave presentations in the University-wide competition.

*Third-year student Pravin Punamiya was honored as the Outstanding Doctoral Student of the College of Science and Mathematics. His research involves methods of eliminating veterinary antibiotics from the environment by the use of a ‘green’ sorbent material which is a waste byproduct of the drinking water treatment process. Over the last two years, Punamiya, working under the supervision of Sarkar, has won awards from the Geological Society of America, the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, and the New Jersey Water Resources Research Institute for his research in this field.

Honor Societies

*Pravin Punamiya, and fellow third-year PhD student, Padmini Das, were inducted into Alpha Epsilon Lamda, the Graduate Students Honor Society.  This year, the average GPA for graduate students inducted into the society was 3.93. Punamiya and Das, along with third-year student Luke Diglio and first-year student Naz Onel were also inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society for ranking in the upper 10% of their class.  All of these students maintain a 4.0 GPA.


*First-year student Sushant Singh authored a book examining arsenic contamination in soil, water, and food in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, focusing on one of the worst-affected cities, Maner, in the state’s Patna district. Arsenic contamination of groundwater is a natural geological phenomenon in many areas of the world, but few books are available on the subject. This is the first book to address arsenic problems in Bihar, the second worst arsenic-affected state in India, after West Bengal.

Singh began his research while studying for a PhD in Environmental Science in India. After transferring into the PhD program in Environmental Management at Montclair State in 2010, he consolidated his data into a book titled Arsenic Contamination in Water, Soil, and Food Materials in Bihar, which was published in March, 2011 by Lap Lambert Academic Publishing.