Research on Pittsburgh’s rivers affects everyone that lives in Allegheny County and the people that live here must be aware of the issue that is combined sewage overflow. Throughout the summer, I have been talking to people I know from the community about my research on combined sewage overflow and nitrogen discharge. So, I have had to practice describing my research in terms that the public understands. I feel that sometimes in academia when a concept is explained, the goal is to sound as smart as possible by using big words and fancy phrases. This causes people that are not in the academic world to misunderstand or avoid reading journals or other research publications because it doesn’t make any sense. I think that it is very important to describe your research in a way that is knowledgeable but also comprehensible by most people. So, when I talk to people about my research, I describe the general idea of my project and if they have questions or want to know more, then I will gladly describe it to them with the amount of detail they want to understand. I have had very intellectual conversations with people that are part of the community and did not go to university. People are naturally interested in the things that are going on around them and in their community. In the future, I plan to work in the government in policy for environmental science, but I want to interact with the people in my community and teach them about sustainability and raise awareness of the local environmental issues. So, I will be talking to community members and another group would be people involved in politics and lawmaking in general. Not all politicians have an in-depth understanding of the environment, but I will have to work with them when I am working for the government and policy.
In summary, I am researching the problem of combined sewage overflow. Combined sewer systems are built in a way that has the sewage waste and stormwater all flow to the same pipes. These pipes are built to have the sewage directed to the sewage treatment plant and for the stormwater to go to the remaining stormwater to flow into the river. However, during heavy rainfall events (which Pittsburgh experiences a lot of), the pipe gets too full and causes the sewage to flow with the stormwater which then ends up in the rivers. Using a mapping program called ArcMap, I will be finding out how much Nitrogen ends up in the rivers after these overflow events and how much does the ALCOSAN treat. Nitrogen is an important element to focus on when discussing sewage waste because it can cause a lot of harm to the wildlife in the rivers as well as humans. ArcMap is a helpful tool to show the severity of problems and how they affect different places. It is a great tool to show people from all different types of audiences to see how a problem works.
When I will be applying for careers in GIS after graduation, I will discuss how I’ve had to learn how to use ArcMap properly through experience. The classroom setting can give you the basics of learning how to use the program. However, real-life experiences and applications help you lock into your memory how to work through problems. For example, in the classroom, we are given all the data we need and the steps on how to solve the problem we are given. However, for this project, there are features that I have never had to use before and I have had to search for data all over the place by calling people, emailing mentors and members of my lab and peers, and looking up reliable data. It has enhanced my knowledge of finding data and how to use it. My problem-solving skills also have been improving due to constantly having to adapt to unexpected roadblocks. So far, this has been a valuable learning experience and I am excited to learn more!