Student Field Research, Student Research

ENVS Lab Life!

By Easton Lane, 25C


Bella Roeske

Bella Roeske (24C) is an Environmental Science Major in the BS/MPH 4+1 program with Department of Environmental Health in the Rollins School of Public Health, which allows undergraduates to complete a Bachelor’s of Science in ENVS and a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in Environmental Health. In addition to being involved in many organizations on campus, Roeske works for the Prokopec Lab, which researches mosquitoes biologically and ecologically to better understand disease transmission and improve public health.

Originally planning to pursue a Human Health major, Roeske enrolled in ENVS 131 (Introduction to Field Studies) and ENVS 240 (Ecology) during freshman year and she “loved the department and the professors so much that I took more ENVS classes my sophomore year and ended up dropping Human Health to focus on Environmental Sciences.”

ENVS 131 allowed Roeske to learn more about the environment at Emory, while one of her favorite undergraduate classes, ENVS 341 (Field Botany), gave her the opportunity to fully immerse herself in Emory’s ecology. The department also connected Roeske to the Prokopec Lab, where she was able to combine her interests in public health and environmental science.

A day in Bella Roeske’s life is not typical for an Emory student: instead of going to early morning classes, Roeske finds herself in the insectary most mornings around 9:30 AM, rearing mosquitoes and conducting whatever lab work is on the agenda. On Tuesdays, Roeske embarks on a 4-hour Field Botany lab, exploring the ecology around Emory in forested areas like Lullwater Nature Preserve.

In between these activities, she attends classes on Emory’s main campus and at the Rollins School of Public Health, and she also has occasional board meetings as an executive for the Emory Ecological Society and as a member of the Symposium on Biological Diversity. When she’s not out conducting research, exploring Emory, and shaping the school’s approach to environmental issues, Roeske likes to hang out with her cat at her dorm, where she works as a Residential Advisor for Emory freshmen.

Reflecting on her wide-ranging experiences within the department, Roeske highlights how some of her “favorite memories as an ENVS major have been meeting friends who have similar ecology-focused interests, including going herping at Stone Mountain and looking for salamanders in Lullwater.”


Jack Kagan

When Jack Kagan (24C) got to Emory, he knew one thing: even with a background in biology and chemistry, he was looking for a different path than pre-med. After taking the ENVS introductory course ENVS 130 (Environmental Sciences) as someone interested in the outdoors, Kagan realized that ENVS allowed him to explore his academic interests in a way that was meaningful to him—leading him all the way to Professor Debjani Sihi’s biogeochemistry lab.

In the Sihi Biogeochemisry lab, Kagan assists in research that explores how “chemical elements cycle through ecosystems as well as the physical environment,” currently focusing on the ways which differing land-use strategies impact the efficiency of carbon use. 

This semester, Kagan has also enjoyed Dr. John Wegner’s ENVS 341 (Field Botany) class, which has added ecology to his area of environmental interests. “If you told me in high school that I would get to spend an afternoon walking around a nature preserve identifying plants for a college class,” Kagan says, “I would probably laugh at you.” 

ENVS 341 is not the only lab Kagan is taking this semester. Having enrolled in ENVS 250 (Cartography and GIS) Kagan’s Monday and Tuesday are filled with environmental fieldwork, followed by a Wednesday research stint in the Sihi lab. Despite the busy nature of his days, Kagan rewards himself with open evenings that he uses for free-time and meetings for various on-campus organizations like Emory Ecological Society.

Additionally, Kagan’s extensive time in labs and extracurriculars this semester have produced his “favorite memories related to ENVS,” as he has had the opportunity to meet other environmentalists while “looking for salamanders on a rainy Thursday evening.” The Sihi lab has also introduced Kagan to those with similar academic interests outside the undergraduate bubble, allowing him to gain valuable lab experience alongside graduate and post-graduate peers. 

Murray Sternberg

It took a few majors for Murray Sternberg (24C) to find his fit: from Anthropology and Human Biology on the pre-med track to the Physics Department’s Engineering Sciences major, it wasn’t until Sternberg ventured into Geoscience that Environmental Science revealed itself as an academic pursuit. Having always been interested in the environment outside of school, ENVS gave Sternberg an opportunity to apply his scientific background to something that mattered to him. He was also able to keep Physics as a minor, maintaining an interdisciplinary learning approach. 

As part of Professor Debjani Sihi’s soil biogeochemistry lab, Sternberg has gained hands-on environmental research experience. From using a soil corer to extract samples in Emory’s woodland areas and taking liquid samples from soils in solution to measure nitrogen levels, every day spent in the Sihi lab brings something new to analyze.

Sternerg’s wide-ranging ENVS course-load has also given him a greater interest in fields studying Earth processes. In one of his favorite classes, ENVS 348 (Water Resources), Sternberg notes how “getting hands-on experience inspecting dams helped me think about what an environmental engineer or technician might do in the field,” and he also values the ways in which ENVS 385 (Biogeochemistry and Environmental Health) helped him understand the importance of how “environmental scientists communicate ideas to others.” 

Even with Sternberg’s unique ENVS and Sihi-lab dominated schedule, he organizes classes and extracurriculars so that after a Monday-Thursday work week, Friday-Sunday becomes “a mix of studying and relaxation.” He also likes to fill his spare time with friendly tennis matches and walks in Lullwater or Mason Mill Park. 

Sternberg was also able to experience some of his favorite moments at Emory in environmental science classes. As part of ENVS 348, his class “took a field trip to Stone Mountain Park, where we hiked up to the headwaters of a stream and observed different types of dams the park was using. It was a beautiful park and a really fun way to connect what I’d been learning in the classroom to the outdoors.” Throughout his Emory career, Sternberg has embraced the field-work opportunities that come with being an ENVS major, building an exciting foundation for his post-college aspirations. 


Madison Borman

At the beginning of Madison Borman’s (24C) Emory career, a decision between majoring in Biology or Environmental Science presented a dilemma: one that was eventually solved when Borman took several environmental science classes and discovered the interdisciplinary, diverse nature of the ENVS department. Within the major’s flexible framework, Borman has become enmeshed in spatial studies of the environment, as she currently conducts research in Professor Michael Page’s lab in the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship.

Before she began working in Professor Page, Borman notes how ENVS’s intermediate breadth offerings for Methods in Environmental Science sparked her interest in spatial and statistical studies of ecosystems.

 “ENVS 270 (Environmental Data Science) taught me how to use R and visualize food deserts in Atlanta. ENVS 250 (Geographic Information Systems and Cartography) taught me how to work with ArcGIS and create an in-depth technical paper. ENVS 385 (Introduction to Remote Sensing) taught me how to work with ‘rasters’ and visualize changes in land cover and surface temperature.” Borman also had the chance to take a 1-credit discussion class through Emory’s Interdisciplinary Studies Department, which discussed “Revolution and the Anthropocene” and built a community of interdisciplinary thinkers. 

The skills Borman developed in these classes have translated directly to her work with Professor Page, where she contributes to “an interactive web-based map that allows historians and the public to compare current day Atlanta to different eras of Atlanta” for the OpenWorld Atlanta Project. The map’s data uses all kinds of historical information to construct a full image of Atlanta in different years, and its contributors, like Borman, have interdisciplinary interests. 

Generating geospatial data is a big time commitment, and to ensure that she is able to maintain a school, work, and life balance, Borman takes all of her main classes like ENVS 255 (Environmental Communication) on Monday and Wednesday, leaving Tuesday and Thursday open for lab work, homework, and social events. On top of everything, she balances an internship with the EPA with her commitments, but still finds time to attend Emory Spoke meetings and relax. 


Catherine Haus

Catherine Haus (24C) came to Emory already knowing she had a passion for the environmental sciences. Originally a Political Science and Environmental Science double major, Haus switched to ENVS as her only major when she learned about the Social Science and Policy (SSP) track, adding Qualitative Data Science as a minor. The SSP track has led Haus to many places in the department, including the Saikawa Lab and the Amazon Rainforest. 

On her way to research in the Saikawa Lab, Haus was impacted by interdisciplinary classes like ENVS 215W (Great Books of the Geosciences), where she learned about the importance of science communication. She also notes Professor Saikawa’s ENVS 326 (Climate Change and Society) and Professor Wilson’s ENVS 371/372 (Ecology of the Tropics) among her favorites, which may be due to the fact that through Ecology of the Tropics, Haus had the opportunity to spend Spring Break 2023 immersed in the Amazon Rainforest. During the trip, she and her classmates “fished and ate piranhas, hiked for hours, and went on early morning and evening boat rides down the Amazon River,” and she also had the chance to “interview a local Shaman about ethnobotany.”

Haus’s work in the Saikawa Lab has focused on testing homes in Atlanta’s Westside for chemicals like lead and cadmium “in soil, paint, dust, and bodily fluids.” Taking on multiple roles within the lab, including being part of the coding team, air pollution team, and the home visits team, Haus is always contributing valuable work to the lab’s mission to analyze the sources of pollutants in the soil and air.

Haus highlights her work as part of the lab’s “report-back” team, which involved sending test results back to participants: “I formatted the template for the report-back, inputted graphs, and wrote results. It felt rewarding to directly contribute to the streamlined process of research.”

Saikawa Lab is a main presence in Haus’s schedule, but that doesn’t stop her from engaging with ENVS classes or learning experiences outside of the classroom. Monday is usually her busiest day, consisting of Italian from 10:00-11:15 AM, piano from 2:30-4:30 PM, and ENVS 352W (Green Business) from 6:00-9:00 PM. Haus makes sure to keep her courseload diverse so that her work remains refreshing: from Italian to piano and environmental science, she exercises different parts of her brain every day. To keep things interesting, she sometimes skateboards “before bed to focus my body and mind on something other than my computer.”