Academics: Majors and Programs

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Spelman Women Take Care of Mother Earth (continued)

Crystal Romeo, now 27, entered the field of environmental science through a natural progression.  She developed a love of nature and animals while farming with her grandparents in the countryside of Trinidad.  In high school, she had a mentor in an environmental program, and at Spelman realized her passion for environmental protection.

A 2006 Spelman graduate, with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and s­tudies, Romeo is enrolled in the department of environmental science and technology at the University of Maryland, College Park.  In 2015, she will receive a doctorate in environmental science specializing in estuarine-environmental sciences.

Romeo credits Spelman and the community of Black women with building her confidence. “No relationships that you develop with faculty members are ever capricious. They [professors] care about your success, and they are always willing to help with your progress,” she says.

As an undergraduate, she participated in the cleansing of wastewater using metal resistant bacteria strains, and completed summer internships where she did research on the use of fly ash and sewage sludge as fertilizers on soils.

Settled in the Washington, D.C., area, Romeo is a member of the local Spelman alumnae chapter, and says, “Although small, I make annual donations to the College and mentor two recent graduates.”

Recognized Through Accreditation

Since its accreditation in 2005, Spelman’s environmental science program has built a foundation for students that helps them contribute to a more sustainable environment, develop an important voice “in planning for conservation through an interdisciplinary environmental science curriculum.” As part of that process, the degree program, which also offers a minor in environmental health, provides Spelmanites a variety of research opportunities in the field to prepare students for graduate study and careers in medicine, the natural sciences, and public health.

Another graduate who heard the call to pursue environmental science was Shamim Okolloh. But the inspiration that led her to Spelman came from the work of a fellow Kenyan, Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai. Upon arriving at the College, Okolloh says she gained vital access to research projects in her major and formed relationships with students who had internships at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those links, she says, “helped me connect my academic classwork with real-life research in real time.”

Okolloh, 30, is now a student at the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas and will earn her master’s in public service, with a focus on international development in sub-Saharan Africa, in May 2012. She says that a critical component of her studies was working as a student researcher on bioremediation projects that used microorganisms to eradicate pollution – in a grant funded by the Department of Defense. The hands-on experience says Okolloh, helped her to develop analytical skills beyond the classroom.

Taking Sustainability Global

Putting theory into practice, summer 2011, Okolloh traveled to Uganda, to work on an international public service project in partnership with Heifer International. She will also help develop a curriculum for high school students to go on field trips to visit local small-scale farmers in the rural community.

Prior to returning to school, Okolloh researched air pollution for the EPA and was as an intern for the U.N. Environmental Programme. She also was a volunteer with Boreholes, a nonprofit that provides safe drinking water and sanitation to rural communities of the world.