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Freshmen get DEEP into energy and environment

Left to right, freshmen Ian Tracy, Tung Shen Chew, Hannah Farrow and Melissa Diskin develop their strategy for conquering the fishing industry in the FishBanks game, part of a preorientation session last month.
Left to right, freshmen Ian Tracy, Tung Shen Chew, Hannah Farrow and Melissa Diskin develop their strategy for conquering the fishing industry in the FishBanks game, part of a preorientation session last month.
Photo / Mark Morelli

It was uncharacteristically cool during the day last month when MIT atmospheric chemistry graduate student Matthew J. Alvarado found himself talking about global warming to a troupe of newly arrived MIT freshmen.

But that was OK. The 20 students who signed up for a first-of-its-kind pre-orientation session Aug. 21-24 were savvy enough to know the difference between weather and climate, Alvarado said. At the Public Garden, along the Freedom Trail and through Haymarket, Alvarado talked about how global warming could significantly raise the level of storm surges Boston experiences in the coming centuries.

The tour was just one of the ways members of the Class of 2011 learned about energy and environment in and around MIT through Discover Energy and Environmental Programs at MIT (DEEP@MIT), a new freshman preorientation program (FPOP) created with support from the d'Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in Education.

Participating students learned about relevant academic programs, green campus operations and pioneering student projects such as the Biodiesel@MIT initiative and the Generator, an event introducing students to energy-related opportunities around campus. DEEP rounded out existing FPOP programs on literature, engineering and outdoor adventures.

"We were able to give our first-year students a whirlwind tour of MIT's energy and environmental programs in research labs, campus operations and student initiatives, while also highlighting some of the pressing challenges and complex questions that they can explore during their MIT career," said Beth C. Conlin, education program coordinator for the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment (LFEE) and the MIT Energy Initiative.

"Everyone should learn about energy and be aware and proactive about their world," said participant Denys Zhuo. "I learned a great deal about alternative energy while getting to see some of MIT's cutting edge research performed by students as well as an awareness in my everyday activities of how to live more green and energy efficient." Zhuo, from Lafayette, La., is interested in materials science and engineering.

Patrick Ernst from Brecksville, Ohio, said, "I feel that my generation must make great progress in the field of energy production. Participating in DEEP allowed me to become familiar with programs at MIT that deal with energy and environmental issues."

DEEP program components included activities gauging the individual, campus and global impact of energy and resource use; interactive discussions with faculty on issues of science, technology and policy; conversations with students about how to get involved in energy and environmental activities; and tours of MIT facilities such as the Plasma Science and Fusion Center and the lab of Heidi Nepf, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

The most substantial activity of the week was a one-day audit of the energy and environmental footprint of Burton-Connor House, an MIT dormitory. The students approximated the dorm's--and an individual student's--impact in terms of electricity, heating, water use and recycling. Students calculated both the resource and financial savings of efficiency improvements in each of these areas.

DEEP organizers also collaborated with the Terrascope Program to play the interactive FishBanks game, in which students take on the role of fishing companies in a competitive fishery, attempting to preserve the long-term health of their industry. The game holds lessons on the management of common resources in a competitive market.

Amanda C. Graham, education program manager for LFEE and MITEI, oversaw the planning and implementation of DEEP@MIT. "It was terrific fun to meet students in their first few days at MIT who were excited and committed to making a positive environmental difference," she said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 26, 2007 (download PDF).

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