By Steve Dwyer
They hail from four campuses of the City University of New York (CUNY): Baruch College, York College, City College of New York (CCNY), and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health, and from New York University (NYU) and Columbia University.
They are the recipients of the 2021 Abbey Duncan Brownfield Scholarship Program, an annual event designed to provide financial support to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing careers in the brownfield industry in New York City.
The program was so named in honor of the avid environmentalist, talented dancer and tireless community supporter who passed years ago.
Administered by the NYC Brownfield Partnership, the scholarships are one-time awards of up to $5,000, where funds are disbursed directly to the college at which the student is enrolled in coordination with the school’s financial aid office.
And this year—perhaps more than some other years—local college/university diversity reigned supreme. In fact, not only were most all institutions represented but the recipients all harbor vast and diverse callings within the redevelopment industry.
The 2021 recipients included: Taylor Hard, CUNY; Vivian Chan, in her final year at Baruch College with a career emphasis in public administration; Gurwinder Sahota, CUNY York College, a geology major working as an assistant site supervisor; Trent Strachan, CCNY, holding an interested in indoor air quality and brownfield cleanups; Eva Grunblatt, Columbia University graduate, eager to work in brownfields and currently working on her senior design thesis; and Michelle Ren, a student at NYU with an eye on brownfields.
In September, the Partnership board members scheduled a Zoom call that included outgoing president Ernie Rossano, incoming president and current vp Ezgi Karayel, treasurer Michele Rogers, secretary Laura Senkevitch, executive director Susan Boyle, and board members Mari Cate Conlon, Mary Manto and Keith Brodock.
The Partnership members used the 1-hour Zoom conference to allow scholarship recipients to showcase their skills and promote themselves; to remind them that since they’re all students they qualify to become NYCBP members at no cost; and to inquire about how they have been coping within the COVID-19 pandemic era.
Repeat Recipient Ascending
Taylor Hard, a project manager at the NYC Mayor's Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) where she manages brownfield redevelopment project, is what you call a “seasoned veteran” of brownfields: not only due to holding a position within a high-profile New York City office but Taylor has notched the Duncan scholarship two years consecutively. It’s proof positive that she read the fine print about eligibility (see below) and also showed a dogged determination to vie for it a second time.
Attending the CUNY School of Public Health, Taylor had worked in the private environmental consulting sector for a couple of years, studying geology as her undergrad. In May 2022, she will be graduating from the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy with an MPH in community health. “I write a lot about environmental justice, building conditions, renter’s rights and more. I've also been part of the Partnership for pretty much the entire five years that I've been here at OER, and had a lot of really great experiences going to their events,” she says.
During the Zoom, Taylor encouraged her fellow recipients to scout for paid internships—something she once took advantage of. Taylor says that OER, in the future, might be reviving its paid internship program…and they should keep an eye out for the opportunity.
Other first-time recipients might want to tap into some big-time inspiration from Taylor Hard’s story. One might be 2021 recipient Michelle Ren, a junior majoring in civil engineering at New York University—and also minoring in environmental engineering.
Vivian Chan enters her final graduate school year at Baruch, studying in the public administrator track. “My interests are in sustainability, health care and housing. I'm really grateful for the scholarship because it actually allowed me to pursue my interest in this field,” she says. “I love the networking part of it, and want to know about how to receive emails to be alerted to news.”
(Editor’s Note: As a member of the Partnership, you receive all of the email blasts. Student membership is free of charge).
Meantime, Trent Straughn is studying in the Environmental Engineering program at City College of New York. “I'm interested in indoor air quality and [am intrigued by] brownfields, the cleanup of brownfields. I'm grateful for this opportunity and thank you for the scholarship,” he told those on the call.
Eva Grunblat, a recent graduate at Columbia U, is currently “on the job hunt,” and hoping to work within the brownfields space. “I am specifically studying peripheral alcohols as part of senior design thesis,” she says.
The Zoom conference was getting close to wrapping up its hour when Ricardo Sheler, a student at NYU and a scholarship recipient, came on the call to share his own future career sentiments. “I am studying sustainable urban environmental [a food security intern] with Gov Lab,” he says. “I am eager to work on projects to solve public problems, and this includes [initiatives advocating for] public space and green space, plus brownfield development.”
Sage Advice Dispensed
In addition to being able to showcase themselves on the Zoom call and use it as fuel for future opportunities with Partnership members/companies plus more, the students had a chance to listen to brownfield professionals on the call provide advice for making their job searches easier.
Mary Manto. Board Member, told the group that “for entry level people in this industry in New York, you can expect to spend a lot of time outside conducting air monitoring and screening at construction sites. In New York City, a huge amount work is Hazmat environmental work, which, of course, segues nicely into brownfields. It is not uncommon to spend a lot of time outdoors doing this kind of work,” says Manto.
Board Member Mari Cate Conlon encouraged students to capitalize on LinkedIn regularly to network. “It’s a very important tool to have a conversation and get your foot in the door. Contract hiring and internships are ways to blossom—you can shine that way, and LinkedIn is a facilitator to it.”
Sue Boyle, the Partnership’s executive director, told the students that the key is “putting yourself in front of people who can either provide advice or mentoring. If Partnership members see people consistently at events, this demonstrates commitment to working in this industry,” says Boyle. “Have a cup of coffee and come to events: The Partnership is an organization that is happy to share knowledge, and one you can bounce ideas off. Get your name out there because it’s a great way to promote yourself—don’t hesitate.”
Boyle also spoke about the differences between public and private sector job opportunities. “If you work in government, it provides a real good opportunity to work in new programs, which is exciting because you can help develop these programs.” She said that sustainability and alternative energy are “still new initiatives, and great places to be.”
Keith Brodock, Partnership member, advised the group that if they opt to join smaller firms, it allows them to take on very broad, horizontal oversight of projects—dabble across multiple disciplines. This way, they can then decide what capacity they want to focus on. “Some folks who want a lot of responsibility right away might be happier in a smaller firm, where people are going to throw a lot more things at you,” he says.
For those having a hard time figuring out exactly where to start the process, Partnership members encouraged recipients to log onto the NYCBP membership page to find where all members are listed.
The Partnership plans to stay in touch with the scholarship recipients, who, once again, were encouraged to not “be shy about coming to events/virtual events. Keep an eye out for events on the ‘events’ section of the website and sign up for the email list.”
Abbey Duncan Brownfield Scholarship Program Eligibility
Scholarship recipients will be selected on a competitive basis. In order to be eligible for the award, students must be:
- Any undergraduate or graduate student enrolled at colleges in the New York Metropolitan Area;
- Enrolled in at least one course during the 2021 academic year; and
- Pursuing studies related to brownfield redevelopment, such as environmental engineering, environmental or geosciences, geology or hydrogeology, environmental policy, environmental planning, environmental justice, environmental law, real estate, sustainable development or industrial hygiene.