Amy Treonis: October's Sustainability Champion
Amy is an Associate Professor of Biology, and has been working at University of Richmond since 2005. She teaches Astrobiology, Microbiology and Microbial Ecology, and conducts soil ecology research.
This semester, some of her students are involved in exciting research at Reedy Creek. Below is our interview with her.
What aspects of sustainability in relation to biology interest you the most?
"The courses I teach reflect my interests in the big (planetary science) and the small (microbes). I think it’s fascinating how these two things connect; Microbes are invisible engines cycling carbon and nutrients around our planet. How human beings impact their functioning has enormous implications for global sustainability. For example, microbes produce most of the methane on this planet, and methane is a critical greenhouse gas. We need to know a lot about these methanogens in order to understand their responses to changes in their environments and their potential to exacerbate climate change."
How have you been involved in sustainability at the University and outside of campus?
"At UR, I led a faculty development workshop for the River City Project for a number of years. The goal of the workshop was to provide faculty across disciplines with the motivation and tools to integrate the concept of sustainability into their courses in some way.
"My research program often integrates issues related to sustainability. For example, my research students and I are currently collaborating with USDA scientists on a long-term research project studying the impacts of organic and conventional farming practices on soil biodiversity."
Describe your experience with the River City Project. What about the River City Project is most exciting to you?
"There are an infinite number of ways in which to approach learning about sustainability, but I thought it was really important for faculty participants to spend time outside during the RCP workshops I facilitated. I don’t think you can fully appreciate the goal of sustainability until you ponder what we are trying to sustain. I also think that something happens to groups when you change the setting in which they usually interact. A bunch of professors on a walk in a forest, learning about native plants, or picking up litter at Pony Pasture is a completely different thing than a bunch of professors sitting around a conference table. It was relaxing and fun and possibly the best way to get participants thinking and talking. Most importantly, faculty were able to connect their own experiences at the workshop with what they want to happen to their students. I’m happy to say that a lot of workshop participants have been getting their students outside for courses ranging from first-year seminars to foreign languages and everything in between."
What will your students be working on with Reedy Creek this semester? What are the most important things you want them to take away from this course?
"The Reedy Creek watershed, on the south side in Richmond, is just one of many urban streams that need to be improved to address the huge problem of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. These improvements can take many forms, including restorations that change patterns of stream flow or planting rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff. The City currently plans to do a major restoration on one portion of Reedy Creek, and we’ll be learning about that project, and the controversies associated with it, through field trips and guest speakers.
"In between, my students are carrying out experiments of their own design to study the current (pre-restoration) health of Reedy Creek, focusing on microbial communities and their activity. Authentic, course-based research experiences have been shown to enhance student confidence, abilities to work in teams and to problem solve, and resiliency when things don’t go as planned, all of which are important life skills. I also want students to see the importance of good science in figuring out how to deal with a complex, environmental problem. We will be communicating our results to the Reedy Creek Coalition, a group of citizens that works to improve the watershed."
Thank you Amy for your great work. We're grateful that you're part of our campus community.