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Certified Rutgers Environmental Stewards 2019

The following projects were completed in fulfillment of the internship requirement of the Rutgers Environmental Stewards program. Projects are organized by class location.

Atlantic County
Implementing Green Infrastructure at Cloverdale Farm County Park, Jeanne Connelly
Class of 2016
Pine Snake Tracking in the New Jersey Pinelands Heidi Donahue, Class of 2010
Expanding the Use of the Egg Harbor Township Nature Reserve for Community Youth, Jerry Sackin, Class of 2016
No Caps, No Bags Recycling Poster Contest Mary Stecher, Class of 2017

Burlington County
Collingswood Natural Resource Inventory, Tim Ifill, Class of 2017

Essex County
A Visual Catalog of the Flora and Fauna of Yantacaw Brook Park, Ivonne Klink, Class of 2019
Native Plant Species of Crane Park, Larry Klink, Class of 2019
Forest Regeneration at South Mountain Reservation, Tanya Prescott and Christy Zolty, Class of 2019

Middlesex County
Monarch Waystation and Middlesex Public Library, Clare Levourne, Class of 2017
Habitat Assessment of Ambrose Brook and Pathogen Monitoring on the Raritan River, Margo Persin, Class of 2017

Passaic County
Climate Change and Water Environmental Education, Susan Golden, Class of 2017

Somerset County
Raritan Headwaters Water Quality, Stream Assessment, Monitoring and Outreach Project, Thomas Bluj, Class of 2019
Wood Duck Nesting Project in Lord Sterling Park, Raymond Croot, Class of 2018
Pollinator Garden at the Raritan Municipal Building, Patricia Lobell, Class of 2019
Recycling Education and Compliance, Maureen Merrill, Class of 2019
Data Management, Analytics and Visualization for Water Monitoring: The Watershed Institute, Wullianallur "RP" Raghupathi, Class of 2019
Propagation and Planting Native Plants at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, Valerie Szkodny, Class of 2019
Recycling Beyond Plastic Bags: Removing Plastic Film from the Waste Stream, Patsy Wang-Iverson Class of 2016

Union County
New Providence Outdoor Explorers and Wilderness Adventures, Deborah Ibrahim, Class of 2017


Thomas Bluj
Raritan Headwaters Water Quality, Stream Assessment, Monitoring and Outreach Project, Somerset County Class of 2019
Thomas worked with the Raritan Headwaters Association on a series of projects that contributed to protecting water quality in the Raritan River. As a site coordinator for 20TomBlujChemicalMonitoring volunteers, he coordinated with the local DPW and helped collect 25 large bags of recyclables and 21 large bags of garbage in addition to large items like tires, and toilet seats from Mine Brook in Bernardsville. Thomas also volunteered as a citizen scientist conducting chemical analysis at 3 sites in addition to 6 stream habitat assessments and 6 steam biological assessments. He identified 120 macroinvertebrates per site to determine species diversity. This data was provided to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to support regional conservation efforts. Lastly, Thomas educated the local community at the Bedminster Farmers Market about the Raritan Headwaters Association and how residents can make an impact.

Jeanne Connelly
Implementing Green Infrastructure at Cloverdale Farm County Park
Atlantic County Class of 2016
Jeanne helped establish a native plant rain garden that infiltrates stormwater runoff from Ocean County’s Cloverdale Farm Park visitor center parking lot and roadway. The garden helps to increase biodiversity, decreases erosion, and prevents parking lot runoff from entering the pristine bogs near the visitor center. Visitors can view wildlife and learn about the benefits of green infrastructure. After consulting with a native plant and soil specialist, Jeanne worked with the park supervisor to obtain mulch, soil and wood from the Ocean County Recycling Center and native plants from a park patron. The 5000 sq. ft. garden captured 131,000 gallons of runoff in the first year. Based on this work a class has been scheduled for April 2020 to highlight the benefits of environmentally friendly gardening and interpretive signage is being placed at the garden site.

WoodDuckRaymond Croot
Wood Duck Nesting Project in Lord Sterling Park, Somerset County Class of 2018
Raymond worked with Somerset County Parks and Recreation to increase nesting opportunities for the Wood Duck population at Lord Stirling Park. There were 7 existing nest boxes, but these were not being maintained or used. Raymond cleaned and repaired the existing boxes and then built and installed 9 more based on suggestions from the park’s naturalists. The wood was supplied by the County and box installation was completed before the breeding season. Three monitoring trips during the first nesting season revealed that 4 of the 16 boxes were used by the Wood Ducks which were positive results. 53 eggs were laid, and 45 ducklings hatched successfully. Raymond plans to continue monitoring and maintaining the 16 nest boxes and add new boxes along the river’s flood plain.


Heidi Donahue
Pine Snake Tracking in the New Jersey Pinelands
Atlantic County Class of 2010
Heidi worked with the NJ Conservation Foundation to track and monitor 3 Pine Snakes named Husky Hank, Luna and Orion in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Pine snakes are a threatened species, and an icon of the Pine Barrens.  Small tracking devices are inserted under the snake's skin enabling their location to be monitored and recorded. As a volunteer, Heidi would go to the last known location where the snake had been recorded and dial in to the proper frequency for the assigned snake. Adjusting the volume and the gain, Heidi was able to use the feedback/sounds to move closer to the snake. The snakes are so well camouflaged, the tracking device is needed even when close to the snake. Once the snake was located, Heidi would record the GPS coordinates. All 3 snakes Heidi monitored moved around during the summer months, and successfully found dens for winter hibernation. Having accurate location information will enable volunteers and scientists to continue following the snakes in the spring.

Susan Golden
Climate Change and Water Environmental Education
Passaic County Class of 2017
Susan Golden delivers 2 informative presentations on climate change and water resource protection in order to help people understands the importance of these two issues as they make decisions in their daily activities. Susan delivers these presentations to schools and community groups. Susan attended a training in Denver in 2017 that earned her the rights to use Al Gore’s material for her presentation called “Climate Change: Facts and Solutions” which Susan adapted for New Jersey. She also developed her own presentation on water and society which focuses on water treatment, wastewater treatment, sewer systems, chemicals of emerging concern and pollution. Susan has delivered these presentations to over 1,063 adults and youth. In addition, Susan trained staff of the Hackensack River Keeper’s Urban Watershed Education program and 20 NJDEP Watershed Ambassadors who have delivered her presentation to 16 schools and 240 youth. Recently, Susan was hired by Suez Water as a consultant to develop curriculum for high school and college students.

Deborah Ibrahim
New Providence Outdoor Explorers and Wilderness Adventures
Somerset County Class of 2017
Deborah developed a program through the New Providence Recreation Department to help children spend more time in the outdoors and learn how to NewProvidenceStreamcare for their environment. Initially, New Providence offered to hold one class at Lion’s Park for children ages 3-5 for one hour a week for a 6-week period. Deborah initiated the class (Mud Pies and Tadpoles), developed the curriculum, and promoted the program to the public. A survey was then given to the parents to analyze any changes in their children’s behavior and awareness with nature. After two years, 30 survey responses indicated that students are not afraid to get dirty or wet. They are asking questions about nature, picking up garbage, recognizing plants and trees, and respect the surroundings for local animals. The program now uses 3 local parks and classes are 2 hours long for 28 weeks. The demand for the class resulted in Deborah being hired as an educator with 4 classes being offered a week.

Tim Ifill
Collingswood Natural Resource Inventory
Burlington County Class of 2017
Tim created a Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) for the Borough of Collingswood in order to guide any potential land use and environmental decisions and to serve as a resource for their Master Plan. A NRI is a way for a municipality to document an environmental baseline, cataloging the community’s various assets, challenges, and environmental concerns. The goal of the report is to be an objective index of resources including maps, data tables, and visuals. NRIs are an important tool for environmental commissions, planning boards, and zoning boards and can be adopted as part of a Master Plan. Tim compiled maps and data tables from the NJDEP, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, and other sources. Tim then used GIS software to place it in a context that can inform Collingswood residents about their environmental assets and guide decision-makers over the next 10 years. Due to Tim’s efforts the borough is now eligible for 20 Sustainable Jersey points as well as silver certification status.

Ivonne Klink
A Visual Catalog of the Flora and Fauna of Yantacaw Brook Park
Essex County Class of 2019
Yantacaw Brook Park is an 11.5 acre historic municipal park in Montclair. Ivonne photographed, identified, and indexed the plants and animals seen at the park. She then created a website for the public to learn about each species through links to other educational sites. Ivonne spent half of her estimated 90 project hours uploading content to the website (at least 45 hours), with information gathering, identification, photographing and designing the site taking up the other half. The website is linked to the Yantacaw Brook Park Conservancy and more than 750 people have visited the site already this year. The site also has a feedback survey so that Ivonne can continue to expand and improve the inventory. You can visit the site here:

Larry Klink
Native Plant Species of Crane Park
Essex County Class of 2019
Crane Park is a pocket park located in downtown Montclair. The Northeast Earth Coalition has been working on beautifying the park with a native plant ButterflyReleasedemonstration garden. Larry became interested in this effort and joined in by assisting the Coalition with an inventory of the native plant species. Larry located, identified, and mapped more than 70 native plant species in the demonstration garden and researched the preferred species habitat and their pollinators. The resulting inventory is on the Northeast Earth Coalition’s website. Larry also educated the public about the role and importance of native plants through several events this year, including a guided tour of the demonstration garden, a butterfly release, and unveiling of signage for the park. More than 130 people attended these events. The plant inventory and several related resources that Larry put together on the importance of native plants is available here:

Clare Levourne
Monarch Waystation and Middlesex Public Library
Somerset County Class of 2017MonarchBooks
Clare worked with the Borough of Middlesex Public Library to teach children about the Monarch life cycle and established a 250 ft2 native plant garden including milkweed and nectar plants. With support from the library director Clare selected and prepared the site, created a deer fence, designed the garden and selected appropriate plants to support the butterfly lifecycle. The library provided $100 towards plants and Clare started seeds at home and shared her own garden plants. Clare also attended The Duke Farms Monarch Teacher Training which helped increase her knowledge and abilities for working with children, identifying monarch eggs, and raising butterflies. On May 21st, 2019, in conjunction with library staff, Clare organized a Monarch Butterfly Waystation Program for 25 adults and children. The program included a story, a craft, and the children planted milkweed in the garden. Since starting this project Clare has expanded it to include 3 elementary schools in Middlesex for a total of 1000 ft2 of new butterfly friendly habitat. 

Patricia Lobell
Pollinator Garden at the Raritan Municipal Building
Somerset County Class of 2019
Patricia adopted a dormant, 500 ft2 garden at the Raritan Township Municipal Building and converted it into a pollinator garden in order to attract more birds, bees and butterflies and educate the public about the importance of supporting pollinators. Patricia removed non-native plants and planted approximately 150 seeds of Echinacea, Wild Blue Lupine, Milk Weed, Goldenrod, Blackeye Susan, Sunflowers and Big Bluestem Grass. The garden has since flourished with all of the pollinator friendly species becoming established. Patricia witnessed increased pollinator activity, maintained the garden throughout 2019, plans to install plant ID signs, and work with public works to install educational signage. In addition she continues to work with the Raritan Green team to plan additional gardens in town and communicates about the importance of pollinator habitat on the town’s Facebook page. The garden has impacted at least one town council member who installed their own pollinator garden since the project started. 

Maureen Merrill
Recycling Education and Compliance
Somerset County Class of 2019RecyclingSignsAtFair
Maureen worked with the Green Committee for the Somerset County Park Commission (SCPC) to evaluate whether signage and lids on waste containers would help reduce recycling contamination. Maureen designed the signs and the audit for a controlled, paired trial with signed and non-signed containers, and lid vs no-lid containers. Over 3 days of the 2019 fair, the containers were sampled and scored twice per day during lunch and dinner.  Results of the audit indicated that signage did not help with compliance. Having lids on the recycling containers helped with compliance but did not eliminate trash from the recycling containers. Maureen wrote the final evaluation report for SCPC and made numerous recommendations for improving trash and recycling at the fair including providing lids on all containers, and better training and outreach for fair vendors, 4H club members, and the public. Maureen also developed a recycling game played by 70 people at the Hillsborough Green and Wellness Fair and the 2019 Somerset County 4H Fair with the goal of gauging the interest of county residents in watching videos to learn more about proper recycling. Lastly, Maureen is working on videos for the township about recycling and waste which will be posted on Hillsborough Twp. The Good Life web page.

Margo Persin
Habitat Assessment of Ambrose Brook and Pathogen Monitoring on the Raritan River
Middlesex County Class of 2017
Margo worked with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) to conduct assessments of Ambrose Brook in Piscataway. The activities included conducting 8 habitat assessments, writing and submitting 6 blog posts for the LRWP’s website, and photo documentation of the brook.  Since conducting her assessments, she has volunteered at 3 river clean-ups and attended the training for the 2019 Lower Raritan Pathogen Monitoring Program. As part of this citizen science effort, Margo conducted 8 visits to 6 sampling sites on the Lower Raritan River monitoring dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity, and collecting pathogen water samples in order to assess the health and safety of recreating on the River. Per Margo “The impact of this project on me has been affirmative as it has modified how I see my environment and the community’s relationship to that environment and has inspired me to continue to work on water assessment and clean-up here in New Jersey”.

Tanya Prescott and Christy Zolty
Forest Regeneration at South Mountain Reservation
Essex County Class of 2019
South Mountain Reservation is a large, heavily wooded park that covers more than 2,000 acres in Essex County. The park has several deer exclosures installed to protect the native plants growing there. Tanya and Christy set out to assess and restore 6 of the regeneration sites in cooperation with South Mountain Conservancy. Two of the largest exclosures were damaged and these were chosen for fence repair. The 4 other sites had good fencing but needed invasive species removal. With the help of the Conservancy’s chainsaw trail volunteers, fallen trees were removed and fences were repaired. Christy, Tanya, and volunteers removed invasive Barberry, Japanese Angelica tree, and Wineberry. After the repairs and invasive removals, a native plant inventory was done as part of the Conservancy’s BioBlitz. Maple-leaved Viburnum, Mayapple, and Spicebush were found. Hopefully, the restored exclosures will lead to more native plants popping up and possibly being native seed banks for other areas of the park.

Wullianallur "RP" Raghupathi
Data Management, Analytics and Visualization for Water Monitoring: The Watershed Institute
Somerset County Class of 2019
The goal of RP’s project was to improve the database used by The Watershed Institute's Water Monitoring program. This involved developing a database to store, monitor, and visualize water monitoring data (e.g., organisms).  RP worked on their StreamWatch volunteer water quality monitoring data, specifically the macroinvertebrate monitoring data, which uses distinct indices (e.g., their high gradient macroinvertebrate index.) and different pieces of data to calculate a biological health score for a stream. Previously, they were using 2 different Access databases and 2 Excel spreadsheets to calculate the different scores which was inefficient and time-consuming. The volunteer team assessed the current systems, develop a methodology for conversion and migration, built the integrated database in ACCESS and developed the indexes, calculations, and visualizations to meet the client requirements. As a result, water monitoring data is consolidated in one integrated database and the volunteers and managers can automatically calculate the key indexes for scoring stream health. Additionally, they can visualize the data to detect patterns.

Jerry Sackin
Expanding the Use of the Egg Harbor Township Nature Reserve for Community Youth JerrySackinProject
Atlantic County Class of 2016
Jerry recognized the potential of an underused local treasure and took on the task of developing programs and opportunities to connect youth in Egg Harbor Township to the Township’s Nature Preserve.  Jerry did extensive outreach to various organizations and met with district and school administrators and scout leaders.  As a result, educational field trips and service projects brought over 625 students, staff, scouts and leaders to the Reserve for a variety of activities, including water and soil sampling and analysis, plant and animal species identification, habitat and forestry education, mindfulness in nature and an “Enviro-thon” developed by the high school science department.  Students also performed community service, stopping erosion by building a successful wildflower garden with donated compost and wildflower seeds.

Mary Stecher
No Caps, No Bags Recycling Poster Contest
Atlantic County Class of 2017
Mary was inspired to organize a poster contest for High School Students after touring the Atlantic County Utilities Authority’s recycling center as part of her RES class and seeing what kind of problems plastic bags and bottle caps can cause during the sorting process. Mary wanted to provide High School students an opportunity to creatively express themselves through a poster contest that would raise awareness about items that should not go into your recycling bin. She developed the contest rules and format as well as materials to publicize the poster contest. She obtained contacts at the high schools across Atlantic County and sent materials and followed up with them. Mary organized judges to choose winners from the close to 50 submissions. Copies were posted in a variety of locations around the community and are still on display at the ACUA's Recycling Center where they serve as an educational tool.

Valerie Szkodny
Propagation and Planting Native Plants at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve
Somerset County Class of 2019
Valerie spent 10 Wednesdays at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pennsylvania working with the Curator and Nursery Manager learning techniques for propagating native plants. Her goal was to learn how to propagate native species and to teach others the process using plant cuttings, seeds, and seedlings. During her time, she up-potted 18 different species of native plants for a total of nearly 1300 plants for sale at the Preserve, took 43 cuttings from a single species for propagation, planted seeds of 3 species, planted 30 plants of 5 species in the Preserve, and harvested and cleaned seeds from 7 different species. In order to teach other gardeners about the propagation process Valerie authored 3 fact sheets titled “A Step by Step Guide to Propagating Native Perennials- Part 1: Planting Seeds; Part 2: From Cuttings; Part 3: Handling Seedlings”. The fact sheets are currently in the peer-reviewed stage and will be published by Rutgers.  She also plans to propagate native plants at a teaching garden maintained by the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Somerset County.

Patsy Wang-Iverson
Recycling Beyond Plastic Bags: Removing Plastic Film from the Waste Stream
Somerset County Class of 2016Patsycarryingbench
Patsy’s focused on enabling East Amwell residents to keep plastics film out of the waste stream and to redirect them for re-use by TREX, a company that re-purposes used plastics films into decking and fencing materials. For every 500 lbs. of plastic, Trex donates a plastic recycled bench. Patsy made presentations at the monthly Township Committee meetings and received their support as well as the Environmental Commission, and the Recycling Committee.  Patsy devoted over 100 hours to the project by garnering the cooperation of TREX partners (Acme, Kohl's, McCaffrey's); finding locations to host the TREX boxes; sorting, bagging, and weighing plastics; delivering plastics to drop-off location on a weekly basis; recruiting and communicating with volunteers; and documenting data and reporting to TREX. The first 500 lbs. was achieved in November 2018 and since then the East Amwell Recycling Committee heads up the effort and has collected an additional 2000 lbs. of plastic bags.