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Research Student

Sustainability Studio

Under a baking summer sun, a group of whale watchers and scientists stood aboard the American Princess as the vessel cut through the waters on the western end of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens.

Grateful for the periodic ocean breeze, they watched and waited.

Then, they saw it: A Humpback whale majestically breaking the water’s surface.

Alexander Mildener ’18 immediately recorded the mammal’s behavior, coordinates of the sighting, and whether he recognized the whale based on its fluke - a tail as unique as a human fingerprint.

The sustainability and biology major was whale watching as part of his senior capstone in his Sustainability Studio class. He was collecting data from whale sightings, which he would later analyze to better understand the dynamics of the whale population around the New York Harbor, Long Island and New Jersey.

“I really got a taste of what scientific research is like,” said Mildener, who incorporated a summer internship with Gotham Whale, a New York City-based whale research and advocacy organization, into his project. “This is a passion I’ve had since birth, and it’s just been amazing.”


Sustainability Studio is the second course in a two-part sequence for senior sustainability majors. Students spend the fall semester choosing their research topics. Then in the spring, they complete their projects.

“This really gives [students] a chance to delve into a topic of interest, develop an applied research project, and then actually put it into action following the scientific method and all of the aspects of good academic research,” said Dr. Jase Bernhardt, PhD, an assistant professor of Geology, Environment and Sustainability who teaches the course.

The class is made up of 15 students, some of whom, like Mildener, combined their sustainability major with another area of study, such as chemistry, business, and geography. Pakelody Cheam, ’18, a dual sustainability and public relations major, used her background to establish green policies on Hofstra’s campus. She’s focused on determining what motivates students to change their behaviors, such as turning off lights in their rooms when they leave for class.

“I’m getting the experience to actually do things,” said Cheam, who held focus groups with students to learn about green behavior on campus. “All of this is going to help me understand more about people in order to enact change.”


Students’ research topics range from exploring sustainable building materials and increasing water bottle usage to looking at what environmental efforts could mean for economic growth around the world. A few students plan to pursue a master’s degree in sustainability from Hofstra and incorporate elements of their research into their master’s theses.

As the semester drew to a close, students wrote final reports and presented their findings at Undergraduate Research Day. Held at the end of each semester, Undergraduate Research Day celebrates student research across all disciplines. It’s the culmination of the students’ work in their field and reflects the mastery of both methods and foundational knowledge.

Some students may also submit their work to scientific journals. Francesca Pavlovici, ’18, examined sustainability practices in Hofstra’s Chemistry Department. She hopes that submitting her research will motivate other universities to hold their labs to a higher sustainable standard.

“I didn’t expect to get the amount of research that I actually do have,” said Pavlovici, a chemistry and sustainability major. “And now it’s just turned into this whole thing where people really want to get involved with my research. It’s wonderful to see how something so little just blossomed into something really great.”