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Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Aug 25 / Julia Sosin

Interns present work at Joint Summer Research Symposium

On Wednesday, August 6th, 2014, the RISEUP interns presented their projects at WSU’s 3rd Annual Joint Summer Research Mini Symposium. Hosted by the Office of the VP of Research and the Dept. of Physiology (many thanks to Chris Cupps for including us!), the lineup of powerpoint and poster presentations included students from various undergraduate research programs like UROP, PSL 5010, AHA Undergrad Fellows, and Project SEED. Projects were very impressive, with topics ranging from molecular biology, epidemiology, psychology, biomedical engineering, sociology, with the RISEUP interns contributing a healthy dose of environmental research.

We are pleased to report that Jonathan Witham received third place for Best Oral Presentation for his report on water conservation and green infrastructure with ECT, Inc. He is pictured below standing with Dr. Jin, Chair of the Physiology Dept. (left), and Dr. Dunbar,  Associate Vice President for for Research (right).



After several stimulating hours of presentations, we celebrated all the interns’ accomplishments with refreshments and reflections.

Congratulations to the RISEUP interns for all their hard work, good questions, and positive energy for environmental research!

Stay  tuned for interns’ final reports, to be posted on our website in the upcoming month.

– Julia, RISEUP Coordinator

Aug 4 / Jonathan Witham

Scholars Lend a Helping Hand on Projects

A few of the RISEUP scholars decided to get together and help each other on their projects last Thursday. Phil, Jenai, and Jonathan all went to Peche Island to gather samples for Phil’s project on methods to control Phragmites. After crossing into Canada and exploring a bit of Windsor before taking a boat over to the island, we hiked the trails of Peche Island and took in the magnificent beauty of mostly untouched forestland and wildlife. Peche Island, located at the mouth of the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair, had hoped to be developed into a tourist island, but the developments on Belle Isle came sooner. However, the natural mature forests of Peche Island are something you cannot experience on Belle Isle, Detroit, or Windsor and is a great escape from the bustling cities. But now large Phragmites, an invasive species on the island, are overtaking the forest and there is a starking contrast between the forest and the tall stalks of the phragmites when you hike the island. Canada does not use pesticides to treat invasive plants, and the island is not currently managing them frequently. We took leaf samples of different locations of Phragmites on the island to bring back to the lab at WSU for Phil to analyze.

It was a wonderful day to catch up on our projects, help gather samples, and enjoy the day together as all of our projects are coming to a close. Projects will be completed with presentations at the summer research symposium in Scott Hall on August 6th at 12pm.


Jonathan, RISEUP scholar at ECT.

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Jul 29 / Julia Sosin

Field Trip: Consulting and Stewardship

Final report drafts were submitted last week and our fourth workshop came, conquered and passed. For our fourth workshop, we set out to explore two questions: what does an environmental consulting firm look like? And what has been going on with the Belle Isle environment since the transition from a city to state park? To explore this and other topics, we travelled to the Ann Arbor Office of ECT, Inc., and the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit, to meet with two of our RISEUP mentors.

To explore the first question, we traveled out to the Ann Arbor office of ECT, Inc., one of our RISEUP mentors, and received a warm welcome by the Vice President and Director of Water Resources, Dr. Sanjiv Sinha. Originally founded in Florida, ECT has offices in ten different states and covers issues throughout the entire country, with several projects in the Great Lakes. Dr. Sinha introduced us to the range of issues that company covers, including watershed management, green infrastructure, industrial permitting, ecosystem restoration, land use planning, energy generation siting, and more. Their staff is multidisciplinary, and, in addition to working with private clients, they partner extensively with municipal, state and federal governments. Not all of their projects have an engineering approach – some examine issues from a socioeconomic standpoint. Dr. Sinha presented on how two projects -one involving financially sustainable harbors, another comparing the effects of different water conservation strategies – team up with multiple agencies [the acronyms can be overwhelming], integrate research and develop models, receive input from community members [This was the first time I had heard of a “design charette” used in stakeholder engagement], and apply and share their findings.


RISEUP scholars glancing at project displays in ECT, Inc. conference room


Following our visit and drive back to Detroit, we dipped into the beautiful re-opened Belle Isle Aquarium to receive an off-hours, mini-tour of some native and exotic fish. Dr. Ram, the RISEUP Director and member of the aquarium’s Science Advisory Board, showed us some of the aquarium’s large collection of air-breathing fish and the new saltwater tank.


Mebby Pearson, head of the Island Stewardship Committee at the Belle Isle Conservancy, shared with us her experience on sustaining stewardship and multiple-agency partnerships in an urban parks. Through maps and aerial photographs, Mebby taught us about the history of the island’s natural area as a Red Ash forest and wetland, and the challenges it faces today against invasive species such as phragmites, buckthorn, honeysuckle and oriental bittersweet.  With the combined effort of several volunteer groups, the Student Conservation Association, corporate donors, and ecological consulting and design firms, and over several years, the Island Stewardship Committee has removed invasive species from over 29 acres of forest and the restoration of five different walking trails. Interestingly enough, Ms. Pearson added that the forest left behind after the invasive are gone may be restored quite differently than its origins – such as when an exotic insect like Emerald Ash Borer destroys the canopy. Ms. Pearson also discussed the history of the Belle Isle Conservancy, as a compilation of many different advocacy groups on the island. Today, the Conservancy works with the City of Detroit, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, the State Police, and other non-profits. Mebby emphasized that resolving conflicts between agencies relies heavily on understanding the different styles and agenda each group must employ, and recognizing the shared goal of improving the island for all.

–          Julia, RISEUP Coordinator

Jul 10 / Julia Sosin

Conflict Resolution, Air Quality / KAYAKING!

We have been learning a lot at RISEUP lately, and even having some fun.

Two weeks ago, our third workshop kicked off with a presentation by Amanda Rosales, the Acting Director of Graduate Admissions here at WSU, on graduate certificates and degrees. Ms. Rosales stressed that selecting what type of program to pursue is extremely individual, and that it is important not only to think of what you hope to gain from a program, but what you can contribute, as well.

A fantastic introduction to Conflict Resolution was given by Barbara Jones, the Community Dispute Resolution Specialist with the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. Conflicts can come in many forms, she told us – recognized, unrecognized, manufactured – and can be linked to many origins. Ms. Jones touched upon how considering the type and source of a specific conflict can help us better understand and predict which resolution style may be most effective. While RISEUP workshop participants may hope for collaborative resolutions in our lives, it is no surprise that many real-world tension is negotiated through accommodation, compromise, or competition. I’d like to learn more specifically about conflict mapping, a tool for understanding conflicts, elaborated on by Paul Wehr here. A piece of wisdom that Ms. Jones left us with is that in all conflicts, “needs” should take priority over “interests.”

One of the RISEUP mentors, Dr. Larry Lemke of WSU’s Geology Department, presented on a study of air quality in the Detroit-Windsor region that he participated in called “Geospatial Determinants of Health Outcomes Consortium” (or, the GeoDHOC). This study was not only interdisciplinary in nature – initially involving air sampling, environmental modeling and epidemiology – but focused on an environmental justice issue across an international border. The main finding of the preliminary study was a significant correlation between high asthma event rates in both cities and high levels of pollutants such as VOC’s, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Some complexities involved with such an ambitious study included needing sampling sites at smaller scales, and the barriers to accessing medical record data at different health institutions. More info on the GeoDHOC paper here.


What could be a better way than to break up literature review, lab work, sampling trips, conference calls, than to spend some time exploring our beautiful local environment? Last Wednesday, the RISEUP interns, staff, a mentor and guest traveled out to Belle Isle to experience park from the surface water. Thanks to Chris, Danielle and Larry from Riverside Kayak Connection, we were outfitted with neat kayaks, engaged in some team-building games, and led on a very cool tour of the northeast side. We paddled past the Yacht Club, the fishing pier, the intake for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept.’s drinking water, with a visit to the new fish habitat in the renovated Blue Heron Lagoon, and back up the Detroit River, to see the public beach and the Historic Boat Club. The weather could not have been more serene. Pictures below.

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Happy summer and thoughtful research!


–          Julia, Coordinator

Jun 18 / Julia Sosin

Statistics, Public Health and National Environmental Response

The month of June is in full-swing, enticing us with blossoming flowers, fireflies and longer days. Meanwhile, the RISEUP researchers are progressing steadily on their projects. Some themes that emerged from the intern reports last week included: the nuances of multiple agency partnerships, the long-term sustainability of community-supported projects, the power of visual evidence, the relationship between perceived abundance of a resource and subsequent interest in restoration, and the development of new research protocol.

Three stimulating presentations shaped our third workshop. To start, Dr. Shlomo Sawilowsky, a distinguished faculty fellow at WSU’s College of Education, offered some practical statistical advice – appropriate uses for measurements of a data set’s central tendency, how to minimize the influence of extreme values on a data set, etc. – in an entertaining, distinct and history-filled discussion. Natalie Sampson, a post-doctorate research fellow at the University of Michigan and a RISEUP mentor, invited us to consider the meaning of public health and its methods of research. As part of her work on a multidisciplinary, community-based participatory research team, Dr. Sampson studies how urban environmental factors, such as proximity to freight lines, cues of neighborhood care and the presence of green infrastructure, affect the physical and mental health of people.

The workshop closed with a discussion led by Gary Machlis, Science Advisor to the Director of the National Parks Service and faculty fellow at Clemson University, where he researches warfare ecology. In addition to reflecting on educational and career choices, Dr. Machlis shared how his experience with environmental assessments of disasters like the Deepwater Horizon Spill and Hurricane Sandy has required a more urgent delivery of scientific evidence than traditional peer-reviewed research. He advocated for applying academic privilege and resources to international problems, and suggested that domestic research can be successfully adapted abroad with the recognition of other countries’ unique situations and expertise. One project he shared that caught my interest was Revitalize Baltimore, a multiple-organization partnership spearheaded by the USDA Forest Service, the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources and the Parks and People Foundation ( This project’s involvement of community members (even sanitation workers!) in environmental monitoring and watershed restoration could offer lessons to similar efforts in Southeast Michigan and around the globe.


Julia, RISEUP Coordinator

May 30 / Julia Sosin

Research begins! And the Office of Sustainability visits

Greetings! The RISEUP Summer 2014 Program is well into it second week. Already, the five RISEUP interns have dug deep into their research projects, each which will cover one or more of the following areas: green infrastructure and water quality, the built environment and its inhabitants, beneficial-use impairments of water bodies, invasive species management policies and heavy metal contamination in urban soil.

Our second workshop this week included an overview to writing a research proposal, and an introduction to methods of “engaging” (no, really) these much-talked about “multiple stakeholders.”

Two special guests to our second workshop were Daryl Pierson and Chelsea Maralason, from WSU’s Office of Sustainability (, who shared some valuable insight on sustainability outreach and LEED certification. Daryl highlighted the many ways that WSU has begun the shift to a more environmentally-sustainable operation, including: waste reduction, electronic recycling, recycled material purchases, heating system upgrades, vehicle-sharing pilot programs and feasibility studies for alternative energy sourcing. The University faces challenges similar to other institutions of its size – balancing financial practicality with environmental and social planning, and tuning in to the needs and ideas of several different departments. But Wayne State’s footprint suggests that positive changes can have a grand impact, too. Just learning of the magnitude of the University’s water and sewage bill – and imagining how the installation of green infrastructure could reduce the expense –  illustrated this point.

Looking forward to an informative and engaging program!

Julia, RISEUP Coordinator