Students earn fellowships for environmental research
June 5, 2006
Six Virginia Tech graduate students interested in environmental stewardship have each been awarded $5,000 WPI Fellowships for their thesis or dissertation research. The students' research addresses such issues as safe drinking water, environmental activism, sustainable forests, and protecting lakes and wetlands.
Fellowship recipients are:
Jose Manuel Cerrato of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, a Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), specializing in environmental engineering: Cerrato, who terms himself a "social engineer," would like to work with international organizations in research related to water supply, water quality, and sanitation and health in developing countries. He did his master's degree research in Tegucigalpa with the collaboration of the National Autonomous Service of Aqueducts and Sewages of Honduras (SANAA) and the office of the Pan American Health Organization in Honduras assessing water supply and quality. He discovered that PVC pipes result in higher manganese levels at the tap compared to iron pipes because in PVC the manganese scale is easily dislodged by flowing water while in iron pipes manganese is incorporated to the internal wall surface. At Virginia Tech, Cerrato works with the Material Use: Science, Engineering, and Society (MUSES) group, a National Science Foundation-funded project headed by Andrea Dietrich, a civil and environmental engineering professor. Cerrato is also collaborating with Joseph Falkinham, professor of biology, to understand the interaction between water, bacteria, and pipe materials and other aspects of systems that deliver drinking water. Cerrato received his bachelor’s degree from the National Autonomous University of Honduras and received a full scholarship from the Organization of American States for obtaining his master's degree at Virginia Tech.
Philip K. Lehman of Newport, Va., a doctoral student in psychology: Lehman’s goal is to encourage environmentally responsible behavior and is studying factors contributing to environmental activism. He is studying with Virginia Tech psychology professor Scott Geller, a leader in large scale interventions to influence social behavior. Lehman earned his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg and his master’s degree from Virginia Tech. He has published numerous articles, including "Behavior analysis and environmental protection," in Behavior and Social Issues with Geller, edited a book on introductory psychology with Virginia Tech psychology department head Jack Finney, and is an instructor.
Krista Lynn Rule of Nampa, Idaho, Va., a Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering, specializing in environmental engineering: Rule’s research is directed at developing a biosensor to detect Cryptosporidium in drinking water. Cryptosporidium is a protozoan that causes cryptosporidiosis in humans. It will make healthy adults somewhat ill with diarrhea for one or two weeks, but can be fatal for young, old, or immuno-compromised people. Civil and environmental engineering professor and department head Bill Knocke said that, when completed, the proposed research will provide the water industry with a detection methodology with the potential to be more rapid and reliable than existing methods. Rule is a National Science Foundation Doctoral Research Fellow and received the 2004 American Chemical Society Up and Coming Chemist Award. She has presented her research at the prestigious Gordon Research Conference, as well as other venues. Rule received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho and her master’s degree from Virginia Tech.
Cristina Marie Siegel-Issem of Callaway, Va., a Ph.D. student in forestry: Siegel-Issem is doing research to evaluate the effects of soil compaction caused by forest harvest, and management operations on soil and forest health. She is particularly interested in soil-plant relationships and is studying root growth as a predictor of forest soil productivity. She points out that to protect soil resources worldwide, it is necessary to understand the interaction of soil physical properties, water, and air, and how and why different soils respond differently to compacting. She is developing models for tree growth for different species in National Forests in Missouri, Mississippi, and California. Siegel-Issem is a co-principal investigator on two funded research projects. Siegel-Issem has a bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and a master’s degree from Virginia Tech. She worked for the U.S. Forest service doing research on sustainable management of public forests, and one of her papers won best paper from the Soil Science Society of America. She is building a solar-powered home and drives a biodiesel-powered automobile.
Amy Villamagna of Buchanan, N.Y., a Ph.D. student in fisheries and wildlife sciences: Villamagna is interested in international conservation management and is examining the impact of nutrient pollution and water hyacinth on water quality and sustainability in Lake Chapala, Mexico. In particular, she is looking at how various water hyacinth control methods impact the lake and the people who rely on it. On a larger scale, her goal is to increase understanding of how ecological communities at different levels in a lake respond to changes in the environment and control efforts. Villamagna has a bachelor’s degree from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fl., and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland. Her honors include being a Ford Foundation Fellow at Eckerd and an International Lake Conservation Fellow, and earning the best paper award at the 2005 National Water Research Symposium.
Eva Pantaleoni of Massa Marittima, Italy, is a Ph.D. student in crop and soil environmental science: Pantaleoni’s research interests combine soil science and remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS). For her dissertation research, she is using soil and elevation data, remote sensing, and GIS to identify wetlands for the National Wetland Inventory and to develop a statistical model to predict the location of wetlands. A satellite launched by NASA in 1999 has been used to monitor volcanoes, climate changes, urban environments, glaciers, and fires. Pantaleoni is the first person to use the images and data to study wetlands. She is studying 536 square miles (3,600 km) of the coastal plain of Virginia to refine the use of these modern tools for environmental purposes. Pantaleoni received her bachelor’s degree from Bologna University and a master’s degree from Purdue University.
WPI was a not-for-profit corporation affiliated with Virginia Tech from 1989 to 2005. It provided environmental science and engineering services to government agencies and private businesses. Proceeds from fees that WPI earned from their total business base were used to establish an endowment with the interest to be used for student support.