Spring 2024

Schedule of Workshops and Topics to be Covered

Unless otherwise specified, all will be online over Zoom and will run on Fridays from 5:00 – 6:30pm. Below is the drafted schedule for Spring, 2024 subject to some significant changes at this point to reflect the academic calendar.

  • Weekly, Fridays 5PM-6:30PM (likely ending by 6:15PM)
  • All meetings will be online, some with an in person option. Mid Year Presentations will be in person.
  • Friday, February 2nd (students and faculty)
  • Individual introductions (pecha kucha style): each student/mentor please say your name/pronouns, academic background, capstone project, what you hope to get out of the project, what you see as a potential challenge to meeting your project goals, and one item from the readings you found uniquely compelling.
  • A review of the syllabus and expectations for mentors as well as students
    • Minimum 25 pages in final paper per group member (not including appendices/ bibliographies)
    • Group members may receive different grades 
    • Must produce new deliverables that build on a literature review of existing research (examples of what is and what is not enough)
    • Review of drafted, optional grading rubric for mentors
    • Review of CUNY academic integrity policy
    • Mid Year: Presentation and early draft. 
  • Save the Date: Friday May 17th for Mid Year Presentations (late afternoon/early evening). 

Finally, each student will workshop a personal writing sample (no more than one page) from another class with another student selected at random. 

  • February 9th
  • Back to Basics! Background research/literature review and healthy citation management
  • The benefits of diagramming your research project
  • Assignment #1: Diagram your project for next workshop as a group and be ready to discuss it (see site resources for various software you might want to use)
  • Project Management Logs
  • Description of Assignment #2: A group PML entry (due the following Wednesday) 
  • February 16th
  • Diagram discussions from each group and conversation 
  • Back to Basics! What makes a good paper? 
  • Description of Annotated Bibliographies 
  • Description of Assignment #3: 3 Annotated Unique Bibliography Entries from Each Group Member (due the following Wednesday)
  • February 23rd
  • Discussion of annotations from each student in breakout groups as teams
  • Back to Basics! What makes a good presentation?
  • Description of Assignment #4: For next class, each student should prepare a 5 minute, scripted lightning talk (with slides) on one of the key resources for their background research/literature review. Students should be prepared to give feedback on presentations next class. 
  • March 1st
  • Lightning talks and feedback
  • March 8th
  • Lightning talks and feedback
  • Description of expectations for mid-year written report and for mid-year presentations
  • March 15th
  • Any remaining lightning talks and feedback
  • Final paper formatting discussion
  • Students should bring a personal writing sample (no more than 1 page) next week to workshop to discuss in small groups of ~3. 
  • March 22nd
  • Back to Basics! Research methods
  • Description of Assignment #5: For next class, each group should be prepared to discuss what research methods their project might use and why. Students should be prepared to give feedback. 
  • March 29th: No Classes Scheduled
  • April 5th
  • Research methods discussion from each team and IRB discussion
  • Description of Assignment #6: Mid-Year Presentation Drafts. Each group should prepare a maximum of a half hour talk on their work so far (each group member should speak) and we will have one or two talks per week. This is considered a longer “rough draft” of the mid year presentation.
  • April 12th
  • Final writing workshop: teams swap early section of papers
  • April 19th: Beginning of Spring Recess (no workshop)
  • April 27th: End of Spring Recess (no workshop)
  • May 3rd (faculty advisors welcome) 
  • Midyear draft presentations
  • May 10th (faculty advisors welcome) 
  • Midyear draft presentations

Friday May 17th: Mid-Year Presentations (~4PM, the “Reading Day”).

20 minute maximum concise presentation from each group, 20 minutes of feedback and discussion.


  • Professor McDonald (topic #5): Kevin, Gabby, Josh
  • Professor Jans (topic #9): Ezra, Abby, David
  • Professor Mohamed (topic #3): Dave, Jason, Marija
  • Katherine (topic #8): Mitaly, Nico, Andrew
  • Professor Madamopoulos (topic #7): Divya, Amber
  • Professor Bobker (topic #4): Chloe, Lencho, Jonathan, Arrif

Projects on Offer for Spring 2024 Start

1. Understanding and Predicting Dzud Events and Their Impacts in Middle and High Latitude Drylands

Led by Professor Kyle McDonald (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)

Students will characterize dzud event risk and severity, assessing relationships between remote sensing

datasets (e.g. soil moisture, vegetation stress, landscape freeze/thaw state), dzud events, and associated socioeconomic impacts. Based on this analysis, students will develop an assessment framework for use in risk mitigation strategies. The understanding gained supports integration of physical and social sciences into decision making for anticipatory action.

Drylands in the middle and high latitudes have harsh environments with characteristically cold and arid

climates. The livelihoods of the people inhabiting these areas are threatened by constant climate-related natural hazards. Dzud is the Mongolian term for a natural disaster resulting from harsh winter conditions that reduce availability or accessibility of pastures, leading to an extensive loss of livestock/wildlife from either starvation or cold during the winter-spring. These events occur in grasslands and tundra in significant portions of the mid to high latitudes, covering approximately 45% of Earth’s terrestrial area. In Central Asia, these events have significant humanitarian impacts because they affect local livestock populations, especially in Mongolia where approximately 30% of the workforce is dependent on herding for a substantial part of their livelihoods. In North America, these events are called winter kill, and they can result in massive die-offs of wildlife.

The current dzud early warning system in Mongolia has been in place since 2015 and is developed by the Information and Research Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment (Mongolia) in collaboration with Nagoya University in Japan. However, fully characterizing summer and winter conditions associated with dzud risk has been a challenge, and false positives associated with prediction of dzud events are high.

This capstone study seeks to employ state-of-the-art remote sensing datasets collected from Earth orbit to develop risk and severity assessments for dzud events and associated socioeconomic impacts to inhabitants of dzud-prone regions. Initial emphasis will be on the dryland steppe of Mongolia where records of dzud events are available. Extension to other parts of the terrestrial high latitudes will include analysis of die-off events in North America.

Suggested Approaches:

  1. (i)  Investigate the relationship between dzud event occurrence, non-frozen season soil moisture (SM)conditions, vegetation water stress, and winter/autumn/spring freeze/thaw (FT) state conditions using remote sensing datasets, ground-based station data, and dzud occurrence data. NASA’s Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP) mission provides SM and land surface FT state datasets beginning in 2015. NASA’s ECOSTRESS mission provides vegetation water stress and precision thermal data characterizing surface temperature for approximately the last three years. Explore the role of FT timing and past summer SM for different vegetation zones in Mongolia.
  2. (ii)  Produce remote sensing-informed dzud risk maps based on prior summer soil moisture, current freeze/thaw state conditions, and ancillary datasets through an analysis conducted in a GIS framework supporting multi-criteria decision analysis.
  3. (iii)  Extend results to the regions of the global middle and high latitudes.
  4. (iv)  Conduct risk and socioeconomic impact assessments.

Students should be comfortable working with computer analysis tools and a GIS analysis framework.

This project will be carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems group in the Division of Science at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

2. Creating Living Biomaterials from Photosynthetic Microorganisms

Led by Professor Lane Gilchrist (Chemical Engineering)


After researching living biomaterials, propose a sustainable biomaterial design that can solve a bioremediation problem.


New biomaterials with an extraordinary combination of properties can be fashioned from living cells, including the ability to self-heal and adapt to changing environmental conditions. The metabolic functions of the living cells contained within the biomaterial structures can be used for heavy metal and toxic compound bioremediation with the cellular polymers forming load bearing structures that can be grown in place. In suitable designs they can self-assemble autonomously and grow into prepatterned structures, forming novel sustainable and economical biomaterials that harness cellular functions and structural elements.

Suggested Approach

(i) Initiation of the project by undertaking an extensive literature review of photosynthetic organisms and sustainable biomaterials.

(ii) Find a viable application for the engineered living material and compare with other abiotic systems currently applied.

(iii) Select different base microorganisms from different photosynthetic species based on biomaterial forming potential. Determine their growth characteristics and potential viability within renewable polymer matrices. Design an starting living biomaterial combination of organism and matrix and assess the performance characteristics in the desired application. Perform a comparative sustainability analysis of the living biomaterial, using life cycle assessment.

(iv) Time permitting, work with a bioengineering lab to collaborate on the implementation of the design.

3. Circular Microgrids: Designing Integrated Energy Infrastructure

Led by Professor Ahmed Mohamed (Electrical Engineering) and proposed with Jason Ochs


Produce a schematic design for (a) a scalable set of synergistic renewable technologiesand distributed energy resource systems, and (b) investigate their potential widespread application and economic feasibility. Use the results to propose a sustainable and cost-effective collection, storage, and distribution system of renewable energy resources.


Most spaces in our built environments rely on a standard set of assumptions. One such assumption being that the inflow of raw energy resources (e.g., natural gas, electricity, and oil) to energy consumption systems (e.g., boilers, electric stoves, and vehicles) stands independent to the stream of waste products generated using the same. In other words, the still usable waste products (e.g., heat, natural gas, and oil) generated by typical energy consumption systems are assumed to be of no immediate use at their current site and are designed to be shipped off and stored in landfills, flushed down the drain, or recycled in distant central locations. 

However, in recent decades there has been an increased interest in “closing the loops” or connecting the outflows of still usable waste products to the inflows of raw energy resources. In theory, a circular use of resources would enhance the overall efficiency of a given system by increasing the proportion of energy into it while reducing the wasteout. Due to a reshuffling of technologies and laws in the built environment the speed at which this practice has been incorporated has slowed. For example, new local laws 92 and 94 in New York City require green or solar roofs, two seemingly separate systems with disparate inflows and outflows that have only begun to be implemented as scale. 

Updated design practices connecting the energy outflows and inflows of the built environment and account for new technologies and laws will be crucial for rapid wide-scale adoption of closed loop systems. The aim of this project is to produce a schematic design for a scalable set of synergistic renewable technologies and distributed energy resource systems, connect and close their loops, and investigate their potentialwidespread application.

Suggested Approaches

(1)  Identify a scalable set of synergistic renewable technologies and distributed energy resource systems relative to the most common energy consumption and waste systems in the built environment. 

An analysis of the energy inflows and outflows of the most common building and system types and the most common and relevant distributed renewable energy system typeswill help create a holistic model of the energy inflows and outflows of those systems.

(2)  Identify synergies between the various productive and consumptive systems. 

From the model created in step 1, synergies between productive and consumptive systems can be identified. For example, a green roof below raised solar panels may increase efficiency of the panels and yield bio-mass suitable for compost and generation of biogas to be used on site. 

(3)  Conduct a product and economic feasibility study. 

4. West Harlem Energy Proposal

Led by Michael Bobker (CUNY Building Performance Lab)

Working with manufacturers and vendors will be crucial in developing feasible product selection. Also, a long-term life-cycle cost analysis will be instrumental in determining the feasibility of application at scale and identifying any methods to help speed widespread adoption of circular microgrids.  


This project will explore the retrofit technologies and processes for a low-carbon and grid-interactive Harlem neighborhood.  The project will initiate work of the newly founded Harlem Retrofit Lab and Design Partnership, developing the basis for a community-governed virtual microgrid, West Harlem Energy.  

The goal of the project will be to have well-articulated retrofit packages for typical apartment buildings and rowhouses, as the basis for presentations to property owners to support their decision-making and planning.  The project will also introduce students to cutting-edge concepts and applications of great value in professional practice and community energy planning.  


West Harlem Energy Proposal – the overall, long-term project

A team coordinated by CCNY with community partners will design, implement, and demonstrate connected energy community and microgrid services for a dense urban community – promoting energy reliability, resiliency, efficiency, carbon reduction, with community engagement and benefits. The project will create a replicable template for community energy services in urban neighborhoods. In addition to technical feasibility and benefits, the project will model organizational relationships incorporating major institutions, community organizations, utility companies, and city government. The benefits of a project of this scope can be measured in terms of resource and energy/cost savings but also in non-energy benefits such as productivity enhancements, health improvements, environmental advancements, energy literacy, and broader benefits to the economy through the development of environmentally focused jobs.

Capstone Project Focus

Beginning with an understanding of NYC’s Climate Mobilization Act (Local Law 97) as a driver of deep-energy retrofits, students will explore the application of technology options such as Passive House envelopes, heat recovery, EV charging, energy storage, and heat pump electrification.  Retrofits will incorporate sensors and controls for coordinated interaction with the electric grid, applying the concepts of GEB (Grid-interactive Energy-efficient Buildings) and DERMS (Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems) that are currently under development and piloting at US DOE National Labs. 

Suggested Approaches 

  • Conduct technology-specific research, connect with specialized designers and vendors 
  • Create schematic conceptual designs for retrofits in typical conditions
  • Explore project finance methods and meet with institutional “green financiers”
  • Apply Urban Energy Modeling techniques for assessing scenario impacts
  • Leverage and build upon existing knowledge in building systems, energy, and/or architecture. 

5. Wildfire Impacts on Coastal Water Quality Collaborative

Led by Professor Kyle McDonald (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)


The capstone team will assess impacts of the increasing prevalence of wildfire on coastal water quality and examine the intersection of associated wildfire impacts and stakeholder needs in California. This effort supports integration of remote seeing technologies, coast process science and social sciences related to climate change.


Wildfires in the western United States are expected to increase in frequency and intensity under a changing climate. There is an urgent need to quantify and anticipate wildfire impacts on aquatic ecosystems through changing watershed hydrology and nutrient transport, with coastal ecosystem response being particularly not well understood. This limited understanding of post-fire impacts on coastal water quality and infrastructure have resulted in challenges in local agency response and management. This project will help identify and explore post-fire monitoring protocols through the lens of space and airborne remote sensing, with the goal of improving understanding of watershed scale changes due to fire impacts after an event as well as supporting coordination efforts for monitoring post fire conditions and hazards.

Suggested Approaches:

  1. Develop and document understanding of stakeholder monitoring needs for post wildfire conditions and coastal impacts, in terms of datasets and technical capabilities.
  2. Review remote sensing assets that can complement and resolve coastal processes impacted by fires and develop exemplar case studies to show case capabilities.
  3. Report on opportunities at the intersection of remote sensing and post wildfire coastal monitoring and assessments in California.

Students should be comfortable working with computer analysis tools and a GIS analysis framework.

This project will be carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Earth Science section in the Division of Science at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

6. Civic Sustainability Improvements, Messaging, and Engagement at CCNY

Led by Adjunct Professor Stephanie Rose (Science Education)


To research, envision, develop, and enact sustainability plans, projects, messaging and programming to support The City College of New York’s campus sustainability efforts.


There is a great opportunity for colleges and universities around the world to help lead the way with both sustainability efforts, and their messaging about those efforts. There are many universities and networks to collaborate with, such as the International Sustainable Campus Network and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education which even has a ranking system for sustainability efforts on campuses. Here at The City College of New York (CCNY), there are efforts underway to improve sustainability behaviors as outlined on the CCNY Facilities Department webpage. But there is a great need for improved civic sustainability messaging and engagement efforts at City College so that all who are part of the City College community can be informed and participate in making more sustainable choices and work together to lower the college’s carbon footprint, and eventually the carbon footprint for the whole City University of New York (CUNY) system which includes 300,000 people (CUNY Conserves). Involvement in this project has many future applications in efforts to create more sustainable workplaces globally.

Suggested Approaches

  1. To build on the work of the previous capstone team from 2022-23, to research and document the sustainability initiatives underway on the City College campus through interviews and surveys, and the development of stakeholder maps.
  2. To research how college campuses across the CUNY system, and across the country, set up governance structures around sustainability and share information with their campus communities to encourage more sustainable practices and behaviors.
  3. To develop strategies for improving sustainability on campus through community- based participatory research.
  4. To research how the City College campus is currently sharing information about its own, and other local, sustainability efforts through signage, electronic screens around campus, events, social media, and websites. To envision the possibilities for improved civic sustainability efforts, messaging, and programming on the City College campus.

7. Impact of solar thermal and heat pumps in the energy savings for residential building in NYC

Led by Professor Nicholas Madamopoulos (Electrical Engineering)


The objective of the project is for the first time to quantify the impact of

1. Solar thermal domestic hot water and 

2. Heat pumps

in NYC.


NYC has set very challenging goals for energy reduction and carbon footprint reduction (https://www.nyc.gov/assets/sustainability/downloads/pdf/publications/New%20York%20City’s%20Roadmap%20to%2080%20x%2050_Final.pdf  ).  Decarbonization is intended to be driven by the  of replacement of gas/oil heating systems with heat pumps. However, removing all fossil fuel from the equation may not be viable, since current and proposed Photovoltaics and Wind power plans may not be able be able to cover the needs.  Hence, any reduction in the energy requirements in domestic buildings will offer opportunities to meat the goals.  

Solar thermal is very underrepresented in the east coast. However, we do get a lot of sunny days in NY metropolitan area.  Solar thermal domestic hot water solutions have offered great benefits in many countries.  The interplay between solar thermal for hot water and heat pumps for space conditioning should be quantified in terms of energy content, monetary impact for the user and carbon footprint for the state.

Suggested approaches

A study of the available residential stock in New York city will be performed based on the existing Department of Energy databases.  Different simulation scenarios for 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- family homes will be developed in Energy Plus (or other simulation platform) and comparison among the reference (i.e., existing HVAC systems) and the introduction or only solar thermal, only heat pumps and both will be performed.  

The results will be analyzed to provide technical feedback on the performance of the instruments as well as serve as a guide to develop guidelines and incentive programs from the city.

8. Community-Centered Hazard Mitigation Planning in NYC

Led by Katherine Gloede Silverman (Sustainability) with support from NYCEM


Evaluate community risk and vulnerability of NYC neighborhoods to increasingly severe weather events as a result of climate change to create a neighborhood-specific Hazard Mitigation Plan.  


New York City Emergency Management (NYCEM) routinely updates its Hazard Mitigation Plan. The Hazard Mitigation Plan, mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, breaks down hazards facing NYC, strategies that New Yorkers can use to mitigate these hazards, and strategies for reducing the impact of disasters to come. 

NYCEM is looking to better engage NYC communities in the planning process by partnering with academic institutions to create hazard mitigation planning projects for specific neighborhoods that match the needs of each selected community. Hazards impact NYC neighborhoods differently, and having a plan tailored to a community’s specific needs can mean more effective responses to disasters. 

One focus area could be inland areas of Brooklyn and Queens that were heavily impacted flash flooding during 2019 Post-Tropical Cyclone (PTC) Ida, which came with little warning and late in the evening. The historic flooding event occurred late in the evening with little warning, resulting in 13 deaths (mostly in homes with basement units) and over $781 million in damages across the city. However, community organizations would need to be located in these areas. 

Working closely with NYCEM and local community organizations, students will have the opportunity to apply urban planning skills and analysis to a multidisciplinary effort to combat the ever-growing threat of severe weather to historically underserved communities and play an integral role in creating a safer, better-prepared city.  

Suggested Approaches  

  • Empower and support local community organizations to create neighborhood hazard mitigation plans that address urban planning challenges as they relate to hazardous events, climate change, and environmental justice.  
  • Utilize existing preparedness and mitigation tools and resources in combination with planning skill and knowledge to support the development of a local hazard mitigation plan. 
  • Document the planning process via a planning guide that details challenges, successes, and personalization added while developing the hazard mitigation plan. 

9. A Comprehensive Examination of Post-Consumer Clothing: Insights from Woodside, Queens, NYC, and Manila, Philippines

Led by Professor Urs Jans (Chemistry) and proposed with Ezra Undag and Abby Manwiller (possibility of adding third group member if it’s the right fit–up to the team)

  1. ObjectiveThe purpose of this study will be to characterize post-consumer clothing, in terms of material composition, brand attribution, manufacturing origin and garment classification, at select points of disposal in Woodside, Queens, NYC and Manila, Philippines. The findings from this study will then inform the design and development of an Extended Producer Responsibility policy proposal for textiles.
  2. BackgroundThe fashion industry, as reported by McKinsey, is valued at around $2.5 trillion and produces goods utilized by diverse global demographics. In recent times, major fashion brands have strategically reduced their price points while incorporating lower-grade synthetic materials. This shift encourages consumers to purchase cheap garments more frequently, thereby perpetuating a throwaway culture. Notably, an estimated 85% of all textile waste ultimately ends up in landfills and incinerators, with approximately 20% of it never being worn.
    The lack of producer responsibility shifts the burden of end-of-life textile management onto local governments and communities in New York City and Manila, rather than fashion brands, exacerbating environmental and social issues associated with the fast fashion industry. With the objective of shifting primary management responsibilities to fashion brands, this study aims to identify post-consumer clothing elements, including material composition, brand attribution, manufacturing origin, and garment classification, at designated disposal points in Woodside, Queens, NYC, and Metro Manila, Philippines. The results of this study will shape the creation of a proposal for an Extended Producer Responsibility policy regarding textiles.
  3. Suggested Approaches
    1. Literature Review: Review existing studies on post-consumer clothing and textile recycling programs, with a focus on material composition and end-of-life management.
    2. Quantify post-consumer clothing in Woodside, Queens and Manila, Philippines: Collect data on post-consumer clothing from a clothing swap in Woodside, Queens, and from collection bins at laundromats and residential buildings. Data will also be collected on second-hand clothes sold at public markets in Manila, Philippines.
    3. Gather Qualitative Data on Clothing Waste Culture: Conduct interviews and surveys in select communities to identify gaps in waste education.
    4. Analyze Data: Characterize post-consumer clothing by material composition, brand attribution, manufacturing origin and garment classification. A comparative analysis will be conducted on sample post-consumer clothing data between New York City and Manila, Philippines.
    5. Recommendations: Brands, recyclers, and communities can use the findings from this research to inform their systems and processes related to clothing design, textile recycling and environmental advocacy. The findings from this study will then inform the design and development of an Extended Producer Responsibility policy proposal for textiles.