I finally have my schedule of classes set for this semestre. I will be taking Sustainable Design in the Built Environment (ENVS 1400); Carbon Neutrality: Fact or Fiction (ENVS 2010); and Environmental Geochemistry (GEOL 1370) My class schedule will be as follows:
Tuesdays & Thursdays:
9:00 am- 10:20 am Environmental Geochemistry
10:30 am-11:50 am Sustainable Design in the Built Environment
1:00 pm-3:50 pm Graduate Seminar (Carbon Neutrality: Fact or Fiction)
I am really happy with all of my classes and the skills that each of them will provide me with. One of my main goals coming into the program was to improve my competence in science, which is why I chose to take the Environmental Geochemistry class. Environmental Geochemistry is a fancy term, but it is simply the study of how matter cycles through the environment. Among other things, we will learn about the carbon and hydrologic cycles, and how natural and anthropogenic pollutants cycle through the environment and how their chemical composition changes as they do so. In the next few weeks we will be taking a field trip to a nearby bay where we will take water and soil samples and then analyze them using state-of-the-art equipment, looking at levels of various contaminants. Those tests will form the basis for our semester-long project. At the end of the semester we will present our findings to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management! This class is perfect for me, as it not only provides me with a basic understanding of energy and water flows, it also gives me hands-on experience out in the field and a better understanding of how the scientists that I will one day be working with go about doing their jobs.
The Sustainable Design course is equally exciting, especially given that of all the courses offered by the Center for Environmental Studies at Brown, this course is the most germane to my interests and my potential thesis topics. The focus of the course is much less on theory and much more on practical applications of the concepts we learn in the classroom. The end goal of the course is a design project. The goal of the course is for us to “understand sustainability as it relates to fields such as planning, engineering, architecture. . .and construction.” I expect to walk away from this class having learned principles of green building, economic analysis, the tools of the trade, how to do an environmental analysis, how to conduct fundamental design calculations, and so on.
Lastly, the graduate seminar offers me the opportunity to work with a real-life client on the question of whether or not he or she should go carbon neutral, what that means and whether it is feasible. Our class of nine people will be divided into three teams of three, each assigned to a difference “client” (we aren’t actually paid for the work. . .). The clients are: The Ecological Society of America; the City of Providence; and a company that manufactures pallets for shipping. At the moment I am leaning towards working on the City of Providence project because it provides me with a chance to make a broad analysis of where the city can most effectively reduce its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, and then put together a powerpoint presentation outlining all the options the city has. And the most exciting part is that the city of Providence is taking this seriously: they really want to know what recommendations we will make.
What I am saying with all of this is that I am extremely excited about my classes, my professors and my fellow students. I am absolutely loving Providence, as well. For instance, this morning I went for a 40 mile bike ride through gorgeous countryside on a cloudy, cool day. Then I had lunch, and spent five hours doing readings for various classes. Tomorrow I have two classes, then I’m meeting with one of the other graduate students to discuss readings, then I’m going for a bike ride, and so on. I am already finding that sweet spot of being able to balance reading and thinking with cycling. My life essentially is consisting of working on my classes and riding my bike. I love the simplicity and discipline of it. . .
Life as a graduate student is very different from (and much better) than that of an undergrad. Since all the classes I take are related to what I’m passionate about, doing reading assignments feels like more of a pleasure than a chore. It’s a bit like when I was in Spain: every time I heard a word I didn’t know I would look it up, not because I needed to learn the word to do well on a test but rather because I was passionate about becoming fluent in Spanish. In the same way, I am going above and beyond my readings because all the skills I am acquiring are essentially to what I want to do with my entire life: make the world a more pleasant, attractive, equitable, enjoyable and prosperous place to live. Every new thing I learn and skill I add to my skill set is much more than something to add to my résumé; it is something that will empower me to realize my dreams of a better world. Ultimately, that is what is most exciting about being here: the sense that I am being given the chance to take my dreams and apply them to real-world situation in practical ways. In other words, I can go from bemoaning the lack of intelligent planning in cities, to being involved in projects that revitalize urban areas, to name just one example. I can’t really yet say what i want to focus on for my thesis even in broad terms, because I am excited by everything and the possibilities are on the verge of being overwhelming. I simply know that I am in the right place for me, at the right time, for the right reasons. I am headed in the right direction, and that is an indescribably good feeling.