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Young Scholars Past Projects

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The Clarkson Young Scholars Program is an innovative and challenging summer program at Clarkson University that attracts bright, creative, and motivated students. Working individually and in small groups, students conduct research, provide recommendations, and make a final presentation to community leaders. It is a stimulating program in a real world setting that fosters intellectual development, communication skills, and cooperative problem solving.  Each year, we develop projects that are real world issues to challenge the students.  The below projects reflect the programs from the past five years.

YSP 2013 - “Lifeboat Central: A Climate-Disaster Action Plan Coming to a High School near You”

As Hurricane Sandy made dreadfully clear this past November (or Hurricane Irene the year before, or the ice storm of 1998), a storm of that magnitude in a major metropolitan area can quickly make a shambles of “modern” life, from clean water and waste disposal to electricity and modern transportation. Experts warn of more storms or extreme weather in the future, and there are calls for emergency action plans to prepare for worst-case scenarios. Could such a storm, or worse, affect your home town, and how might your community prepare for it? Imagine that national and state officials were overwhelmed with the devastation, and it was months before basic services were restored. How might you and your neighbors survive in such a situation? How might you begin to construct and prepare safe, low-tech “lifeboats?”

The hypothetical scenario: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has called on municipalities to design Climate Action Disaster Plans that utilize public school buildings and grounds. These plans would ideally describe how a school and its grounds can be used to provide shelter (food, water, waste disposal, for example) for community residents for up to 90 days. The plans would include stockpiling of materials, low tech solutions for water treatment, waste mitigation, farming, heating or cooling, and medicine; and would address even basic rules of ethics and distributive justice. The plans would include an estimated budget for implementation.

YSP 2012 - School CAPS

Climate Action Plans, or CAPS, are comprehensive plans developed by governments (states, cities, towns, and villages) and institutions (corporations and universities). They outline specific steps to reduce contributions to climate change, and to save money from new efficiencies. The methodology accounts for every facet of an institution’s operations—energy, transportation, water/wastewater, construction materials, purchasing, food, and buildings and grounds—in terms of the operation’s current negative impacts on global climate and how alternative processes, systems and choices can reduce these impacts. Engineering analysis and an understanding of the economic, technological, political, and ethical choices behind the decision to undertake and implement a Climate Action Plan are crucial for its success. Despite their use by governments and higher education institutions, there has been little effort to encourage K-12 schools and school systems to adopt CAPS.

This year’s Young Scholars Program will work to change that. Working with three Clarkson professors specializing in Engineering, Energy Policy and Politics, and Sustainability Ethics, students will form a consulting group focused on helping K-12 school districts develop and implement Climate Action Plans. Students will work as an integrated team to learn the basics of CAPS, gather real-time data from local schools, interview school officials, apply the CAPS framework in a new institutional setting, and learn rudimentary principles of engineering, politics and public policy, and environmental philosophy. At the conclusion of the weeklong program, the “consulting group” will deliver a professional presentation to school administrators and energy experts outlining the unique challenges and overall benefits to K-12 schools of adopting Climate Action Plans.

YSP 2011 - Branding the Adirondacks

This year’s Young Scholars will be challenged to address how the park should market itself to young entrepreneurs.  They will need to identify where the pockets of opportunity are to create meaningful careers while capitalizing on the lifestyle of the Adirondacks.  Some questions that should be addressed include:

  • What are the constraints that exist and are they real or perceived?
  • What are the strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats facing the small towns in the Adirondack park?
  • How does the Adirondack Park build a “brand” that supports economic growth that fits the simplicity that makes it unique?
  • How does the park market itself to entrepreneurs from urban locations in hopes of attracting innovative, young talent?
  • How does the Adirondack Park begin to retain their youth in this area?
  • What is the Adirondack Business Brand?
Young Scholars students will learn about marketing and entrepreneurship along with how to develop effective leadership, critical thinking and teamwork skills.  In addition to interacting with Clarkson University professors and guest lecturers, there will be a field trip to the Adirondack Center in Saranac Lake, New York where students will learn more about current efforts to support small business communities and meet entrepreneurs from the Adirondack Park

YSP 2010 - Clean Drinking Water: A Common Expectation in the United States, a Luxury in La Margarita, Ecuador

Many people take for granted reliable access to clean drinking water; yet, according to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people use unsafe sources of drinking water. The problem is exacerbated by the global trend towards urbanization that marginalizes the rural poor, resulting in a cycle of ill‐health and poverty within which children are typically the first to suffer from the burden of disease.  Dirty water and poor hygiene are primary causes for both illness and mortality among many of the world's population.   To put it in perspective, poor water sanitation and a lack of safe drinking water take a greater human toll than war, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction combined. According to UNICEF, lack of access to these basic services kills nearly 4,000 children every day, and underlies many more of the 10 million child deaths annually. The Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that at any given time, nearly half the population of the developing world (3.4 Billion) suffers from waterborne disease associated with inadequate water and sanitation services. In its 2000 Millennium Declaration, the United Nations set eight goals for development, called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals set an ambitious agenda for improving the human living conditions and include, among other resolutions, the resolution to halve, by the year 2015, the portion of people who do not have access to safe drinking water.

Obtaining sustainable clean drinking water in the developing world is a social, environmental and engineering challenge. Sustainable projects must consider social, energy, environmental, and economic aspects. Without consideration of these factors in the context of the population to be served, the long‐term success of any drinking water system will be unlikely. Unfortunately, there are many examples of systems installed in developing communities that were unsuccessful simply because they were socially unacceptable, cost prohibitive to own and maintain, and/or difficult to repair with locally available materials. Successful systems will use readily‐available local materials, be affordable to own and operate, simple to install and maintain, and reliable. Ideally, they will operate at a cost benefit to the users.

This summer's Young Scholars will be challenged to construct preliminary designs for provision of clean drinking water to the community of La Margarita, Ecuador. La Margarita, a community of approximately 350 residents, with many of the challenges associated with lack of adequate water and sanitary services. The residents consume water from the nearby polluted Los Tintos River with little or no treatment.  Living in homes without plumbing, the most common pollutant in the River is human waste.  In a recent public health survey, residents of La Margarita commonly reported experiencing illnesses such as headaches, stomach cramping, and diarrhea 10 or more times per month, with children most frequently suffering.

Working with three Clarkson professors, students will learn about the culture of our host community, challenges associated with poor availability of water and sanitary treatment in the developing world, and fundamental processes associated with the removal of pollutants from water useful for the creation of clean drinking water systems in remote locations such as La Margarita . Students will create conceptual designs and models for clean drinking water systems that will consider social implications of the designed systems as well as the three E's of sustainability: Social Equity, Environmental Protection and Economic Viability. Students will be encouraged to follow the model developed by Engineers Without Borders‐USA (EWB‐USA). EWB‐USA is a non‐profit humanitarian organization established to partner.  Clarkson University is home to a chapter of EWB‐USA, and actively participates in global projects to improve access to clean drinking water and sanitation. The work completed during this summer's Young Scholars Program will inform future projects for the Clarkson University Chapter of EWB‐USA.

YSP 2009 - Nature 101: Waste Equals Food

This year's Young Scholars were asked to take a systems approach to designing two anaerobic digestion demonstration models that utilize bio-wastes to create energy and other valuable by-products. The first model was to utilize food wastes and be marketed to municipalities and college campuses, for example, which spend millions every year for energy and the disposal of food wastes. The second was to utilize animal wastes and be marketed to livestock farmers who are challenged with disposing thousand of tons of animal manure.

Working with three Clarkson professors, students learned the principles of anaerobic digestion, its use in producing methane and other byproducts, the environmental and social considerations involved in such a project, and the challenges involved in creating a closed-loop system that mimics nature. Students created conceptual designs and models that consider the amount of bio-wastes available, the energy created and how it will be used, and the utilization of the waste products at the end of the process.

Students were responsible for engineering and designing the two systems, building scale models, minimizing environmental and social impacts, assessing the economic costs, and providing a formal, professional presentation. Students presented their design proposals and models at the end of the week to experts and potential users from the Potsdam community.

YSP 2008 - Energy Park 101

Clarkson University are still in the early stages of developing a ten acre site that runs along the scenic Racquette River.  They invited this year’s Young Scholars Program to submit proposals.  These proposals were to integrate the following parameters:

1. Reflect Clarkson’s educational and research missions;

2. Contribute to Clarkson’s commitment to use renewable energy resources and to reduce carbon dioxide emission;

3. Provide open space for recreation; and

4. Preserve the scenic beauty of the Racquette River.

This year’s Young Scholars Program were to develop proposals and models for an “Energy Park” along Clarkson University’s riverfront property.  This park was to make a substantial contribution to Clarkson’s commitment to utilize renewable energy resources, limit its emissions of carbon dioxide, while providing educational and research opportunities in the area of renewable energy production.  This park was to additionally serve as a scenic recreation area.

Students worked collaboratively with Clarkson faculty to identify opportunities to create a sustainable energy park as part of the new campus master plan. After a brief overview of the problem space, students organized themselves into subgroups to undertake a systematic approach to identifying the key issues, developing options, and ultimately creating a “model” of what the University could embrace as it goes forward to become an example of 21st century energy efficiency and innovation. 

At the end of the week students presented their proposals and models to a panel of energy and architectural experts and Clarkson administrators.

YSP 2007 - Home Design for an Expensive Energy Future

This year’s Young Scholars Program formed a Small is Beautiful New Home Design (a fictional housing design firm) dedicated to providing creative small home designs for a variety of markets. The firm was invited to the New Homes Expo to present your ideas. Working with Clarkson engineering and environmental studies faculty and a General Motors facility consultant, students were to design 2-3 homes with detailed specifications dealing with size, energy and material use, type of market (upscale vs. low income, urban versus rural), and environmental and social impacts.  These homes were to feature designs that:

1. Minimized square footage;

2. Had high aesthetic value;

3. Used renewable and/or local building sources;

4. Used renewable and/or locally produced energy;

5. Strived for carbon neutrality within ten years of their construction;

6. Minimized water use; and

7. Were competitively priced.

Students were responsible for engineering and designing the homes, building scale models, minimizing environmental and social impacts, assessing the economic costs, and providing a marketing presentation.  Students presented their design proposals and models at the end of the week to professional architects and energy consultants from the Potsdam community.

Students during a Team Meeting