Registered: December 2016
City/Town/Province: College Point
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The six-foot stalk of smartweed came out with a satisfying pop. This was a particularly stubborn one; I had to brace my feet against the ground and tug with my entire body weight until the roots were completely dislodged. I grinned as I lugged the stalk over to the wheelbarrow and tossed it in. However, this wasnít the last of the weeds that took over the planting beds. The planting bed was just a giant sea of green, overgrown with invasive species. Stalks of mugwort and lambís quarters towered over me, and stalks of wild carrot popped up under my feet. I wiped my brow with the back of my hand and immediately got back to work. As the volunteers pulled weeds, wheelbarrows and burlap sacks overflowed with weeds. After they were filled up, they were taken and dumped at a larger pile of weeds.
It was a humid, cloudless July day on the promenade of East River Park. At 11 am, the temperature was already 95 degrees, but it felt like 104. Forty volunteers stood before me, swatting at hungry mosquitoes and shifting their weight uncomfortably. After a moment, I spoke as loudly as I could. ďGood morning, everyone! My name is Madeleine and today weíll be beautifying the promenade. Iíll be giving you a crash course before we begin so that we can all do a good job today. Itís incredibly hot, so donít forget to drink water.Ē I launched right into my lesson, identifying which plants were weeds and which were native. ďThe mugwort and wild carrot have to go, but the goldenrod and hostas can stay.Ē I incorporated both the knowledge and experience I gained at the Lower East Side Ecology Center and from my AP Environmental Science class. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, I remained patient and made sure to answer every question and encouraged them to take frequent water breaks.
The day before, my supervisor asked me to lead a group of volunteers because she was low on staff and she said that I was the best at plant identification among the nine high school environmental stewards that summer. I agreed, not knowing that I would be directing forty adults from New York Cares, a volunteer organization. By the end of the day, the pile of weeds became a mountain. The volunteers were exhausted, as was I, but we made a discernable difference for East River Park.
East River Park is significant both socially and ecologically - it is a significant part of the Lower East Side community in New York City. It is a vibrant and green sanctuary that is a refreshing contrast to a bustling metropolitan city. Maintaining and beautifying East River Park helps to protect the park as an oasis of calm in the center of the city. You can see people fishing or going on jogs along the promenade. East River Park is also a living history book of species that are native to New York City. Removing invasive plant species helps the native species flourish, and provides a habitat for native wildlife.
Since my sophomore year at the Bronx High School of Science, Iíve developed an affinity to environmental science and engineering in my Introduction to Engineering class. One assignment was to research any branch of engineering, and I picked environmental engineering. Researching environmental engineering has really opened my eyes to the important role of environmental engineers in society in terms of improving living conditions for others. I remember the first thing I learned about environmental engineers was that they designed desalinization technologies to make salt water potable.
Being environmentally conscious has grown to become a large part of my lifestyle after taking environmental science in my junior of high school. I learned about issues like climate change to species extinction to sustainable waste management to pollution of our ecosystem. I sought out ways I could get involved with environmental protection, and found an opening at the Lower East Side Ecology Center at the East River Park in New York City.
The stewardship program has increased my appreciation for green spaces in metropolitan areas. They are often taken for granted, as it is not uncommon for litter to be strewn all over the planting beds. Itís very heartbreaking for me to see cigarette butts and bottles and cans in street tree beds or any planting beds at parks. Iíve come to realize that the environment needs us as much as we need it. This stewardship program has also inspired me to continue my mindfulness of the environment and implement a waste reduction initiative at JESCO Lighting, where I interned over the summer. I collaborated with management to purchase classic blue recycling bins for paper and placed them near printers in the office; I also purchased other bins for aluminum and plastic in the kitchen areas. The program, along with my past experiences in my Introduction to Engineering class and AP Environmental Science class, has influenced me to pursue a major in environmental engineering. I am currently a high school senior, but in 2017 I will begin studying environmental engineering at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca. At Cornell, I hope to apply everything I learned at the Ecology Center to my studies, and I hope to carry on the spirit of environmentalism through my work.