• Academics
Leopold Scholars Open Windows on New Environmental Research
Christina Conner

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed the door on summer campus research for the 2020 Leopold Scholars, students opened windows to new opportunities. Working with Lawrenceville’s Director of Sustainability Steve Laubach, Scholars created home-based independent projects.

In ordinary times, Leopold Scholars, named for pioneering environmentalist Aldo Leopold (Class of 1905), recognizes Lawrenceville students who are committed to sustainability, environmental ethics, service, and leadership during their Lawrenceville experience and beyond.

Steve Laubach, the School’s sustainability director, explained that he and Science teacher Darcy Brewer planned to focus on teaching water ethics and beginning a long-term study of water quality in the Shipetaukin Creek that flows through campus and connects it with the Delaware River Watershed. “When we are able to safely resume this program, we will work with students to document conditions of the creek and monitor improvements in the water quality following stream restoration efforts as part of the Tsai Dining Hall and Athletics Center project. It will involve a partnership with the Stroud Water Research Center of Avondale, Pennsylvania,” Laubach said.

With campus closed to students this summer, Scholars were instead given the option of pursuing a variety of programs, including home gardening, plant ID, and reading and discussing Leopold’s landmark 1949 book “A Sand County Almanac.” Scholars have been given the opportunity to begin preparing to present at the next poster session, which may well be in the spring. Others are pursuing additional research projects on aspects of environmental ethics as delineated by Leopold in areas such as the history of conservation in the Progressive Era or the ethics involved in animal agriculture. Three examples are provided below, by Fourth Formers Allison Haworth, Lina Olazabal, and Coco Sandoval Rodriguez.

Haworth ’22 planned and built a raised vegetable garden in her backyard where she’s been growing cherry tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and basil. “I especially enjoy projects where I can work with my hands, get dirty, and share the rewards of my hard work with my family,” she said. It has definitely been rewarding to watch my plants grow from seedlings to mature plants that grow fruits. Along the way, I have encountered several setbacks caused by weather, fungus, and invasive insects. Finding effective and responsible methods to combat each of the issues has been extremely challenging. . . I have certainly gained a greater respect for farmers than I ever had before.”

Olazabal ’22 has taken a different approach, researching how religion as well as economics can influence environmental sustainability. The southern California resident is interested in climate change, having witnessed its impacts through wildfires near her home. “I believe that learning and discussions are important to bring about change throughout the world through government policies, personal actions, etc.,” she said.

Inspired by Leopold’s seminal work, “A Sand County Almanac,” (which all the Scholars read), Sandoval Rodriguez ’22 wanted to further her understanding of the author’s environmental ethics philosophy. Leopold felt that ethical boundaries should expand beyond from human to human and extend to consideration of soils, waters, plants, and animals.  “As I began to think more about what I learned, I decided I wanted to do more research on animal ethics in the farming industry, something that Leopold did not touch much on,” she said. “I wanted to learn more about Aldo Leopold while also conducting research of my own.”

Olazabal added, “Through discussing [“A Sand County Almanac”], I feel as though I and my peers became more aware of the specific movements that Leopold was a part of and how the same ideals even many years later are coming to life and being taught now in schools and at home. . . . I’m so glad I applied for the Leopold Scholars Program. What a great opportunity!”

While the Scholars were disappointed they couldn’t work together on campus, Haworth said they “continued learning together via discussions and sharing photos, techniques, and advice. I am grateful for this opportunity and I would like to thank Dr. Laubach for all of his time, dedication, and support along the way.”

For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.

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