Cal Poly Team Wins Environmental Challenge International (ECi)

Three students before a poster board.
Environmental engineering students Julia Loew, Molly Foster and Ramy Wahba at the Air and Waste Management Association Conference in San Francisco.

A team of environmental engineering Cal Poly students proposed a regulatory plan to reduce emissions from vessels in the San Francisco Bay and won the Environmental Challenge International (ECi) at the Air and Waste Management Association Conference in San Francisco.

The team consisted of Julia Loew, Ramy Wahba and Molly Foster (traveling group), Anja Cronjaeger and Marcus Lira (who worked on the project but could not attend the conference).

“We had to start completely at square one with a topic that none of us had any background in and a competition that none of us had participated in before,” said Molly Foster. She noted a lot of trial and error in learning to research and work as a team on the project. “We had to branch out from purely technical work and consider regulations and human/environmental impacts, which broadened our understanding of the issues at play in California.”

The Air & Waste Management Association is a leading environmental policy and technology association. The annual conference brings environmental scientists, engineers and regulators to share the latest initiatives addressing communities’ environmental issues.

Assuming the role of the new governor of California, the assignment was to choose a sustainable approach to regulate emissions from watercraft and reduce air quality impacts on port communities. Each student team described and justified their chosen program over other options.

This year’s challenge was the Bay Area, where San Francisco and Oakland have large ports with significant populations residing in portside communities. Each team’s research included existing and proposed studies, policies, laws and regulations related to emissions from port-related activities and their health impacts on portside communities at the federal and state level, including a critical review of California’s current regulations.

“It was surreal to be in San Francisco, just miles away from the ports we were proposing regulations for,” said Ramy Wahba, who is also studying ethics, public policy, science and technology. “My favorite part of the competition was easily the roleplaying portion, in which the judges took on different roles, including government officials, air pollution regulators and port-owners sustainability scientists, and asked us questions about our proposal from their respective perspectives. It was a very tangible example of how interdisciplinary field environmental engineering is.”

Judges included environmental air monitoring experts and those from specialty practices such as technology, sustainability and regulations.

“This was my first time deep-diving into a research topic like this, and I learned so much,” said Julia Emma Loew. “I worked alongside a team of such talented and fun people. I especially enjoyed networking with industry professionals and getting to know the students from the other ECi teams.”

Learn more about the conference and competition.


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