Jacob Morse

Jacob Morse Wants to Help Cities Adapt to Climate Change

As both an undergraduate and a graduate student, Jacob Morse ’21, MS ’23, was heavily involved in the music scene at WPI. “I did choir all four years, was in an a cappella group, and did a lot of theatre productions,” he says, adding that he also held leadership positions in choir, musical theatre, and other music groups on campus. “I just really like conducting and singing.”

In a way, it’s fitting that he chose to pursue a master’s degree focused on the environment and remediating the effects of climate change—after all, the birds need somewhere to sing, too.

A Shift in Focus

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Morse first stumbled upon WPI after a friend applied to the robotics engineering program. WPI’s environmental engineering program appealed to him, so Morse followed his friend’s lead.

“Once I got here, my interests eventually began to shift more into conservation and focusing on our environment, nature, and remediation,” he says. “The more I learned in my classes, the more I learned that I was more interested in the science aspect of STEM rather than engineering.”

That revelation eventually led him to swap out his environmental engineering degree for one in biology with a concentration in environmental biology. By the time Morse entered his senior year, The Global School had announced a new degree program, the MS in Community Climate Adaptation. The collaborative, research-based program focuses on teaching students to address the challenges that come with climate change as well as the ability of communities around the world to adapt to them, matching up well with Morse’s goals of working with local governments, cities, and neighborhoods to address climate change.

“It’s been really cool,” Morse says, noting that while he was the program’s only full-time grad student (advised by Prof. Sarah Strauss of the Department of the Integrative and Global Studies and Prof. Carrick Eggleston of the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering), a handful of other students were also earning the degree through WPI’s BS/MS program. “It’s been flexible, so I’ve been able to shape my studies into something I really want and enjoy.”

It’s been flexible, so I’ve been able to shape my studies into something I really want and enjoy.

Part of Morse’s studies included the Graduate Qualifying Project, or GQP, an immersive, extended research project experience similar in scope to the Interactive Qualifying Projects of undergraduate students. His work focused on the city of Springfield, Mass., and how to better assist residents more vulnerable to heat emergencies, the urban heat island effect, flooding, and other negative effects of climate change.

“They’re aware that the city needs to start to adapt,” Morse explains, “but they’re not sure how to fund potential projects, or where to begin.”

That’s where Morse came in. He discussed with residents and local government officials how climate change fit with the city’s overall planning efforts and reviewed an adaptation and mitigation plan shared with the city by the Pioneer Valley Planning Committee several years ago. Morse was tasked with adapting these recommendations into something conceivable.

“There are parts they were really receptive to, and then parts that had been deemed kind of impossible, so they stopped trying to do it,” Morse explains. “Part of my recommendations touched upon how they could take those impossible things and make them possible.”

Morse’s GQP gave him the chance to not only contribute to real-time efforts and learn the ins and outs of how cities are structured and how they function, but to learn about green infrastructure and its different uses—everything from rainwater harvesting and rain gardens to the utilization and accessibility of cooling centers for those without homes or air-conditioning.

“They’re all programs and strategies that deal with human resilience,” he says, “and it’ll all prove useful, especially if I end up working with a government official who wants to utilize them.”

A Passion-Filled Future

Now that Morse’s time at WPI has wrapped up, he’s begun his job search with plans to continue the type of work he completed for Springfield, either as part of a city’s planning operation or as a member of the local parks and recreation department. As someone who’s completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at WPI, Morse is in a unique position to reflect on his own time in Worcester and also offer advice that’s applicable to both undergraduate and graduate students.

“School is important, but it’s also important to put yourself out there and find what you’re interested in,” he notes. “Take advantage of all the clubs to better understand yourself.”

Following that message himself has allowed Morse to not only earn his groundbreaking MS—he crossed the stage during Commencement in May before officially completing his degree in early June—but continue pursuing his passion for music, ultimately ending his time at WPI with one last musical hurrah as part of the senior a cappella group that performed at this year’s baccalaureate ceremony.

While Morse is still deciding what’s next, that aforementioned sendoff makes it clear that he’ll keep the singing going. And thanks to his work, others—including the birds—will be able to as well.

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