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Stephanie Hughes applies water quality consulting experience in the classroom
Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2013
Stephanie Hughes is an Adjunct Lecturer in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences.
Stephanie became passionate about water quality and water supply as a graduate student at Stanford. She believes water is one of the most important resource topics of the coming decades, and she has worked as a consultant for wastewater treatment agencies in the Bay Area.
I [Aven Satre-Meloy, '13] was able to interview her to learn about her research and teaching interests, her experiences doing water consultation, and the advice she has for conserving one of earth’s most precious resources.
ASM: When did you first become interested in water quality and water conservation issues?
SH: I became passionate about water quality and water supply as a graduate student at Stanford. I was studying in the chemical engineering department when I signed up for a water quality class taught in civil engineering by Dr. Paul Roberts. Both Dr. Roberts and the topic were so engaging that I switched my graduate education efforts over to civil engineering in order to continue on this educational path of water quality and availability.
In my mind, water and energy are THE two resource topics of the coming decades. We in developed countries overlook the importance of these two resources all the time. In the rest of the world, one child dies of diarrhea every 40 seconds, women and children walk miles to gather drinkable water, and important commodities like vaccines and milk can’t be refrigerated to stay safely cold.
ASM: Besides teaching, do you conduct research or work on water issues in the community?
SH: In addition to teaching part-time at SCU, I am an engineering consultant, working with Bay Area municipalities and wastewater treatment agencies (such as the SFPUC and City of Palo Alto) to solve water quality challenges. We are constantly working on new problems, seeking to reduce or eliminate specific chemicals from reaching local waterways.
For example, I recently researched how to identify and manage hazardous chemicals when demolishing an old building, the results of which have now been posted to my client’s website.
ASM: How does your consulting work in the community influence your teaching?
SH: I often share past or current projects with my students to provide real-world case studies. The recent ENVS 23 recycled water project was an outgrowth of that. In ENVS 23, I added a wet chemistry lab to measure the total salinity and sodium content of the recycled water used for campus irrigation. Both salinity and sodium are believed to impact Redwood trees and other sensitive plant species.
The quality of SCU’s recycled water supply is supposed to improve later this year (due to the addition of reverse osmosis at the local wastewater treatment plant), so we gathered baseline data this quarter and in the Fall, our ENVS 23 students will test the water again and determine the extent of improvement.
ASM: Besides in ENVS 23, do you incorporate the topic of water in other classes you teach?
SH: My Environmental Technology class (ENVS 145) and Joy of Garbage (ENVS 10) are other courses that incorporate significant discussion of water quality. In Joy of Garbage we always go on a field trip to a local wastewater treatment plant. I hope that touring a wastewater treatment plant helps my students to not simply “flush and forget.”
ASM: What advice would you like to share with the SCU community about water conservation?
SH: All of us should be grateful for the water (and energy!) infrastructure that surrounds us, and we should do what we can to make sure that the water stays clean (or easily treatable) by being thoughtful consumers and seeking to avoid buying certain consumer products that might later mix with water. One simple example is to avoid anti-bacterial soap that contains triclosan. Last year, students at the University of Texas actually banned triclosan-based soaps from campus. Maybe SCU could be next!
By Aven Satre-Meloy, '13 Sustainability Intern -- Communications