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Aug 21 / Zach Kilgore

RISEUP interns present at Joint Summer Research Symposium

On August 5th, RISEUP interns attended the 4th annual Joint Summer Research Symposium to present the work they have done this summer. The symposium, which was hosted by the VP of Research for the WSU Medical School and the Department of Physiology, showcased talks and poster presentations from a wide array of fields, including medicine, physics, sociology, and theatre.

Interns Jaime Gonzalez and Nathan Christie gave poster presentations as judges circled the room, while Andrea Pugh and Brett Zeuner gave ten minute talks to an audience of dozens of academic professionals.

Jaime Gonzalez stands next to his poster for the Joint Summer Research Symposium.

Jaime Gonzalez stands next to his poster for the Joint Summer Research Symposium.

In the coming weeks, the final reports for these projects will be posted on the RISEUP website. In the meantime, you can see the research symposium presentations below.

Aug 1 / Zach Kilgore

RISEUP and the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute

Following a discussion on environmental justice and race with Barbara Jones from the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, RISEUP was invited to present on environmental justice to high school students attending the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute at Wayne State.

The Center for Peace and Conflict Studies hosts the five-day summer program for students in 10th through 12th grade throughout the Detroit-Windsor border area. In the spirit of Ralph Bunche, the first person of color to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, students learn about social justice, conflict resolution, diversity, and world affairs through a series of talks and activities.

Although the program fell on the same day as the research symposium, where interns gave reports on their projects to a wide academic audience, RISEUP was still able to contribute. Program administrator Zach Kilgore, who is working toward a degree in urban studies and planning, collaborated with intern Brett Zeuner, to give a talk on environmental justice in Detroit through the lens of property ownership issues in urban community gardening.

“It’s really great that I’m able to contribute to these programs in such a large way,” says Kilgore. “Even as a student assistant, I’ve had the opportunity to add a perspective from my field of study – urban planning – which is very relevant to both RISEUP and Ralph Bunche.”

Kilgore’s talk highlighted issues Zeuner noticed while working on his project, such as the difficulty faced by community gardeners who try to acquire land in their neighborhoods. Oftentimes, Zeuner discovered, local governments are unresponsive to their requests to purchase land. In contrast, corporations have taken ownership of many of the publicly owned vacant lots.

“We had a really great discussion about environmental justice at the end of the talk,” said Kilgore. “I think we were able to get these high school students thinking about not just environmental justice issues, but about the academic opportunities they’ll have in college.”

Jul 9 / Zach Kilgore

RISEUP interns go on kayaking tour of Belle Isle

Belle Isle, often called the “gem of Detroit,” has been a sustainability battleground for years. This week, RISEUP interns got to see it from a unique perspective – by kayak.

The largest city-owned island park in the United States, Belle Isle has historically been the place where Detroiters went to relax after a long day at work. The island is home to 1.5 square miles (4 square km) of green grass, forests, and beaches with beautiful views of the Detroit, MI and Windsor, ON skylines. Of course, it may be more famous for its museums, historical features, and public aquarium, where RISEUP’s own Jaime Gonzalez is conducting his research on organizational sustainability.

However, the island park has been a topic of contention in recent years. Due to the financial stress of the City of Detroit, the grounds have been leased to the State of Michigan. It is now run as a pay-to-enter state park – to the dismay of many city residents. Leading up to this, the city government closed the Belle Isle Aquarium, the nation’s oldest operating aquarium building, to the public (it has since been reopened by volunteers). Meanwhile, invasive species, such as phragmites and quagga mussels, have damaged native ecosystems, as there is no sustainable funding source to remove them.

RISEUP interns saw these issues first hand. They spent the morning kayaking along the Detroit River with guests from program director Dr. Jeffrey Ram’s lab. While paddling, they discussed their projects and their project’s relationship to the issues they saw on the island. In one telling moment, intern Brett Zeuner, who researches community responses to urban gardening, connected the property ownership issues in regards to the island with similar ownership issues within the gardening communities he studied. In addition, RISEUP alumnus Jonathan Witham spoke with this year’s interns about writing successful final reports and his post-RISEUP experience.

Of course, the kayaking trip was not all about work and academics. Gonzalez, the intern researching the Belle Isle Aquarium, summed up his experience in one word: “exhilarating!”

Jul 1 / Zach Kilgore

RISEUP 2015 Updates

RISEUP 2015 is well under way. The interns have submitted their research proposals and have attended four workshops, where they have heard reports from other interns’ mentors, listened to talks from experts in relevant topics, and taken a firsthand look at sustainability in communities.

Each intern was required to write an in-depth proposal for their research project. These proposals discussed background on the research topic, specific aims of the project, research methods, and a plan for disseminating their findings. Although the vast majority of the work was done by the interns, they received extensive feedback from their mentors and program director Dr. Jeffrey Ram. According to Dr. Ram, “these are all excellent proposals,” noting the attention to detail given by the interns. To see the project proposals, please click here.

Every other week, RISEUP interns have attended a workshop to encourage collaboration, enhance their academic experience, and hear other perspectives on sustainability research. Highlights from the two most recent workshops include a field trip the Georgia Street Community Collective to learn about environmental and nonprofit sustainability at the neighborhood level, conflict resolution training from Barbara Jones of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, a talk on statistics and study design with Dr. Shlomo Sawilowsky, and mentor presentations from Dr. Natalie Sampson, Dr. Alisa Moldavanova, and Dr. Larry Lemke.

Next week’s workshop will include a kayaking tour of Belle Isle Park in Detroit, MI – a much needed break for these hardworking interns!

May 29 / Zach Kilgore

RISEUP students hear from Dr. Sanjiv Sinha, Daryl Pierson

At their first workshop for Summer 2015 on Wednesday, RISEUP interns discussed environmental justice and heard presentations from Environmental Consulting & Technology (ECT) vice-president Dr. Sanjiv Sinha and WSU Office of Campus Sustainability coordinator Daryl Pierson.

As mentor for intern Nathan Christie, Dr. Sinha spoke about his project from ECT, a firm that has done work for clients ranging from the City of Detroit to Coca-Cola Enterprises, Inc. This summer’s project is to develop a financial sustainability model for two small harbors in Michigan: Au Gres and Ontonagon. Christie will focus on collecting economic and demographic data from charrettes in these communities, as well as developing reports related to water funds and green infrastructure. In addition, Dr. Sinha discussed some of the concerns of small harbors, such as rising costs and ecological changes, and how his firm works with communities to address these problems.

Following Dr. Sinha, Daryl Pierson, who is the sustainability coordinator for the Wayne State University Office of Campus Sustainability, presented on many of the green initiatives that Wayne State is taking part in. One such initiative is Warrior Exchange, a Craigslist-style classifieds page for Wayne State departments who would like to sell their excess equipment and supplies instead of throwing it in the trash. In addition to sustainability of the environment, Pierson discussed making the initiatives themselves sustainable through greater student involvement.

May 21 / Zach Kilgore

RISEUP 2015 has begun!

RISEUP 2015 interns from left to right: Andrea Pugh, Nathan Christie, Brett Zeuner, and Jaime Gonzalez.

RISEUP 2015 interns from left to right: Andrea Pugh, Nathan Christie, Brett Zeuner, and Jaime Gonzalez.

Yesterday, RISEUP 2015 was kicked off with orientation. This year’s interns met, underwent training, and heard talks from Dr. Fred Pearson and Dr. Jeffrey Ram.

In addition to learning about Wayne State University campus resources and Detroit cultural opportunities, the interns began their online training in research ethics using the CITI Program.

Dr. Pearson, the director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, spoke about environmental conflicts, which are disagreements on environmental issues caused by stakeholders’ opposing interests, and how they relate to the students’ focus projects. The interns were also told of the academic opportunities offered by the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, including an undergraduate co-major or minor and a graduate certificate in peace and security studies.

As director of RISEUP, Dr. Ram lectured on the process of writing a research proposal, including all of its components as well as some helpful tips. He finished the orientation off with a driving tour of Midtown, Detroit and the Wayne State University campus.

May 1 / Zach Kilgore

RISEUP 2015 starts May 20th!

In 2014, RISEUP interns kayaked on Belle Isle in Detroit as a team-building exercise.

In 2014, RISEUP interns kayaked on Belle Isle in Detroit as a team-building exercise.

In just a few weeks, four talented undergraduate students from universities across the United States will begin their research on sustainability in Detroit as a part of Wayne State University’s RISEUP program: Nathan Christie of Wayne State University, Jamie Gonzalez of Cosumnes River College, Andrea Pugh of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, and Bretty Zeuner of Eastern Michigan University.

RISEUP, which stands for Research Internships for a Sustainable Environment with Undergraduate Participation, allows students to conduct research alongside mentors with experience in the field. This year, 133 students applied for RISEUP with a choice of 13 projects. Of those, four projects were chosen: heavy metal mapping in urban gardens with Dr. Larry Lemke, the role of environmental education and community outreach at the Belle Isle Aquarium with Dr. Alisa V. Moldavanova, the effects of green infrastructure on neighborhood satisfaction and health with Dr. Natalie Sampson, and sustainable small harbor management strategies with Dr. Sanjiv Sinha and Dr. Donald Carpenter.

Last year’s projects included assessing Great Lakes areas of concern, the environment of a post-industrial city, and improving water management in the Great Lakes basin.

In addition to completing a total of 480 hours of research and training, interns will write full length reports for online publication, present their projects at a symposium, participate in team-building activities including kayaking on Belle Isle in Detroit, and attend biweekly workshops. By the end of the summer, they will have received valuable experience in statistics, social and economic analysis, dispute resolution, sustainability, and scientific and public communication.

RISEUP is directed by Dr. Jeffrey Ram of Wayne State University. For more information, contact or go to

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