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PSS Spring '09 - The Houghton House Renaissance

Finger Lakes Institute Receives Major Funding from Mellon Foundation

by Brenda Pitman

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A $1 million endowment, to be matched with $2 million in new funding, has been awarded to the Finger Lakes Institute by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. When fully funded, the award will enable the continuation of vital lake research, create an Endowed Professorship of Environmental Studies, support undergraduate research opportunities, and provide funding to allow high school students to attend summer programming.

"The Andrew Mellon Foundation has been instrumental to both the development of the Finger Lakes Institute and the growth of environmental studies on campus," says HWS President Mark D. Gearan. "Its generous support makes it possible for the Colleges and the Finger Lakes Institute to sustain its work."

Since its founding in 2002, the Finger Lakes Institute has successfully established itself as a major center of environmental research, education and community outreach for the Finger Lakes region.

"The work being accomplished through the Finger Lakes Institute is vital to the future of our local environment," says Marion Balyszak, director of the Institute. "This significant backing from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow necessary studies and community programs to continue."

One of those community programs is the Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute (ESSYI). ESSYI is the Finger Lakes Institute's two-week, residential, collegelevel program for talented high-school juniors and seniors. Taught by HWS faculty, 34 participants examine natural science, humanities and social science approaches to a variety of environmental issues through regional field work; in laboratories and classrooms; aboard The William Scandling on Seneca Lake; and during a four-day camping trip in the Adirondacks.

It's not surprising that when Georgette Morgan participated in ESSYI last summer she was captivated by the beauty of the area and the relative calm of Geneva. She lives in a six-story apartment building in the South Bronx.

"At HWS, the streets aren't crowded. You can take a nice walk when you want to relax. It was also so much fun to walk around on the grass. But what I liked the most was looking out at the lake. It's beautiful," Morgan explains.

Part of the Mellon Foundation's endowment award will enable students like Morgan to continue attending ESSYI for years to come.

"We are really pleased about this grant because students like Georgette bring a different perspective on environmental issues," says James MaKinster, associate professor of science education and ESSYI director. "Their concerns are often more immediate and practical."

Because she likes the area and so easily connected with HWS faculty involved with ESSYI, Morgan plans to attend William Smith in September. Her decision also nicely dovetails with one of ESSYI's program goals of helping talented students learn more about college and career options in environmental science.

"Engaging students at these early levels helps them gain a perspective about what opportunities exist in higher education and environmental careers as they plan for their future," says Balyszak.

Balyszak says HWS undergraduates chosen for summer research positions are in large part enrolled in environmental studies and do field research or assist in community or K-12 education outreach for 10 weeks.

"This program provides a weekly stipend plus room and board. It engages students in handson regional experiences that can be applied in future professions or as they pursue higher education," she says.

Sarah Holland, a William Smith senior, participated last summer. Her research focused on economic development and regional planning and included developing a database of all Finger Lakes municipal officials.

Hoping to work in environmental consulting, Holland is pleased with her experience on many levels. "I learned a lot, especially about working for a not-for-profit and about how organizations and communities interact," she says. "The experience helped me to think about what I want to do and hone in on what jobs I?m applying for."