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Celebrating a Summer of Sustainability Research

MCSI Summer Research Symposium Showcases Undergrad Sustainability Research

From the fight for environmental justice in public housing to creating microbial fuel cells, University of Pittsburgh undergraduates in the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program have had a busy summer.

The MCSI Undergraduate Summer Research Program pairs students with an advisor for 12 weeks over the summer to research wide-ranging topics linked by a focus on sustainability. Students work 40 hours a week and meet weekly with their advisors. 

“Our students are passionate about making a difference in the world, and their work over the summer proves their dedication,” said Gena Kovalcik, co-director of MCSI. “At the end of the summer, I’m always impressed to see the amazing progress the students have made and celebrate the skills they’ve learned while contributing to important sustainability research.” 

The program was started in 2004 with just five students participating. This year’s cohort of 30 undergraduates was the most educationally diverse to date, with students from all engineering departments, biological sciences, geology, environmental studies, economics, political science, computer science, and psychology. 

In addition to the research, students in the program have to write a final paper, produce a two-minute video detailing their work and its significance for sustainability, and give an oral presentation at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, which was held virtually this year on July 26-28.

You can learn more about the MCSI Undergraduate Summer Research Program and find a full list of this year’s projects here.

This year’s top three projects are:

Sydney DuBose
Environmental Justice Teaching

Sydney's research contributed to creating lesson plans for freedom seminars surrounding environmental justice. The 1-credit course titled EJ1: Place, Collective Economies, & Environmental Justice, will be available in Spring 2022. 


Heather Phillips

Microbial Fuel Cells for BMG Electrodes

Heather studies electroactive microbial life, specifically their generation of electricity through oxidation of organic and inorganic substrates. Microbial fuel cells are used in energy production, wastewater treatment, bioremediation and desalination. Her study evaluated the performance and reusability of BMGs as anodic materials for electricity generation. 


Natalie Britton

Assessing Environmental (In)justices in U.S. Public Housing Siting Decisions

Natalie's research tries to answer the question, are residents in public housing disproportionately exposed to air pollution and if so, why?