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Johnson C. Smith University providing hands-on sustainability research program for college students

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 4:55 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 15, 2021 at 9:40 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Johnson C. Smith University is providing an extensive research opportunity for college students across the country.

The 2021 sustainability science camp is a four-week program funded by the National Science Foundation.

JCSU assistant professor Dr. Mark Dugo is working with eight African American undergraduate students from across the southeast.

Dugo is the Assistant Professor of Biology/Ecology and Director of the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability.

“This helps them tremendously, they will understand the science beyond the textbook and they are able to do the research some of the researchers were doing at a very young level,” said Dr. Vijaya Gompa, the Dean of the College of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics.

Participating students are studying ecological or environmental STEM disciplines at their respective colleges or universities.

During the four weeks, students will get hands-on experience working in the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability at JCSU and the urban farm at JCSU’s Sustainability Village on campus.

Students will also travel to the highlands biological field station and explore the coasts of South Carolina.

“It’ll help me choose which job I want to go into. I’ll kind of want to go into a job with the climate,” said Wingate University rising senior Daniel White.

In addition, they are studying food deserts, particularly those on the west side of Charlotte.

A food desert is defined as an area where people have limited access to a variety of healthy foods.

According to Mecklenburg County officials, nearly 15-percent of households are food insecure.

According to officials, that means they have a reduced quality and variety of diet, may eat less, and that their eating patterns are disrupted due to lack of money and resources.

Students are exploring how sustainable practices including aquaponics, hydroponics, and urban farming can help reduce food insecurity.

“It a really helpful system for the urban setting where you don’t necessarily have that much space or greenery to and you can produce food quite easily like that,” said Appalachian State University rising senior Jessica Blackburn.

They are also conducting field and laboratory-based research activities in Charlotte’s urban watershed, with a focus on west side streams.

Students collected water quality data and bacteria samples on Thursday from a stream at the Seversville Neighborhood Park in West Charlotte.

“You get to tell the people what’s in the water whether it’s carcinogens or any kind of chemicals in there,” White said.

According to a release, the program will also explore socio-environmental relations, the importance of biodiversity, and reinforce cultural connections to the environment, particularly the African-Diaspora’s socio-environmental heritage.

Dugo says the goal is to make this research accessible to the community.

“We’re using free software so that intentionally community groups could use some of these same approaches where you don’t have to have a license and purchase it at a high cost,” Dugo said.

One goal of the program is to encourage Black students to study and work in ecological or environmental sciences fields where they are typically underrepresented.

“I was aware that I was one of the few Black students going to App State pursuing a biological career so attending this program just made me feel more comfortable and just assured me that I could do what I’m doing,” Blackburn said.

Students will also research and discuss environmental racism and the environmental justice movement.

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