- by Mount Saint Mary College
Mount Saint Mary College Chemistry and Biology students researched the trees in the City of Newburgh so the city can best plan how it will plant new trees.

Mount Saint Mary College Chemistry and Biology students researched the trees in the City of Newburgh so the city can best plan how it will plant 4,000 new trees. 


Throughout the fall semester, Mount Saint Mary College first-year students in the Natural Sciences assisted the Greater Newburgh Parks Conservancy’s (GNPC) tree planting initiative through a tree identification project.

Spearheaded by Lynn Maelia, professor of Chemistry, and Suparna Bhalla, associate professor of Biology, the project was implemented as part of their First-Year Experience (FYE) learning community after they were contacted by Marichen Montiel Hertling of Newburgh, N.Y., a Business major at the Mount. Hertling, who served as an Environmental Justice Fellow in Newburgh, discussed the GNPC’s tree planting efforts and how the college could get involved.

Through the FYE program, students took part in two Community Based Learning (CBL) events to complete this project. The first invited Kathy Lawrence, a member of the GNPC board of directors, to talk to them about the tree planting initiative; environmental justice and the advantages of urban trees; the sitting, location, and planting of urban trees; and the environmental justice fellowship in Newburgh.

“We wanted to use trees as our FYE theme to get students to think about trees in ways they never did before: the advantages, the biodiversity, the importance for the ecosystem, and the environmental justice associated with trees,” explained Maelia.

The professors followed up with an additional CBL event: a tree identification project that would provide data for the GNPC’s tree planting initiative. The project spanned both Biological and Chemical Principles courses and was incorporated into their laboratory sessions.

In Chemical Principles, students went to several sites along Powell Avenue where the Parks Conservancy was planning to plant some trees. They collected soil samples, and brought them back to the lab for testing, a process they had previously learned in class.

Meanwhile, in Biological Principles, students went to the streets around the college to assess the tree “situation.” They looked at existing trees: identifying the tree species, measuring the circumference, estimating the height, and measuring the proximity to various objects. Through this information, they assessed whether the existing trees were appropriately placed.

Biology students also assessed locations on street lawns where new trees could be planted, measuring the spaces and proximity to existing corners, signs, and utilities. They went on to make recommendations for what trees should be planted, taking the size of the tree and the desire for biodiversity into consideration.

Students in both courses have entered the data into a spreadsheet, which will be shared with the GNPC to assist in their efforts to plant 4,000 trees in the next two years.

The FYE Program welcomes first-year students and fosters success as they transition into Mount Saint Mary College's community of learners.

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