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HobcroftBy Ashlynne Hobcroft

Ashlynne Hobcroft is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in Environmental Sciences. 

During the spring semester of 2022, I was given the opportunity to study and work closely with Sustainable Carolina through the Sustainable Triangle Field Site (STFS). This semester, I was lucky enough to take classes led by intelligent mentors such as Mike Piehler, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Adam Gold, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the UNC Institute for the Environment, and Vik Agabekov, the former Sustainability Program Manager. In addition, I was surrounded by three other amazing Carolina students that share similar interests in sustainable urban planning. Having a nearly one-to-one student-professor ratio provided me with a unique opportunity to create meaningful relationships with my mentors that only the STFS would have given me.

Being able to remain in the research triangle was extremely important to me since the COVID-19 pandemic had turned my first couple of undergraduate years upside down. I wanted to make the most of my time on Carolina’s gorgeous campus, but also take advantage of one of the distinct opportunities UNC offers. Although the majority of our time was spent in our classroom courses, the concepts we learned were far from boring.

Out in the field with classmates
Out in the field with classmates.

In addition to the classes we took on campus, the four of us conducted a group research project that served as the required capstone course for all Environmental Science majors. This semester, our project focused on the idea of stormwater management, specifically with Booker Creek, a Chapel Hill watershed. The creek runs under Eastgate Shopping Mall, a food and shopping destination for Chapel Hill locals. However, the mall has experienced a higher rate of flooding which has had devastating impacts on businesses.

With this issue in mind, the team and I used Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies to enhance our skill sets and analyzed the maps to create an educational proposal for the town of Chapel Hill to insert water level sensors. We also did a handful of field days working on water level data. We hope that capstone classes in the future can take over our research and create a flood warning system, ideally letting the businesses have enough time to prepare their flood gates. This would save millions of dollars and maybe even lives.

In addition to our research, we took a handful of courses pertaining to sustainable urban design. One of the required courses for the capstone was Community Design and Green Architecture which is definitely my favorite class I have taken at UNC. Throughout the semester, we worked with a design program called Sketch-Up that allows you to create realistic buildings and community plans.

  Sketch up example created for the class.
Sketch-Up example created for the class.

Using our knowledge about Booker Creek, we redesigned Eastgate Crossing to daylight the creek and create open green spaces to promote better mental and physical health. I absolutely loved this project and it helped me realize what a potential career path may be. We also took a seminar class where local professionals came and spoke on a variety of topics.

Overall, the STFS was one of the best decisions I have made at UNC. It provided me with opportunities and skills I may not have gotten otherwise.

To learn more about the UNC environmental field sites visit: https://ie.unc.edu/education/field-sites/

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