Regional Environmental Council Weekly Blog

WEEK 7: The Final Countdown!

Just seven short weeks ago our team began our IQP.  From the very first day we encountered obstacles, some relating to our project and some teaching us about life in the city.  Our team overcame these challenges to create the best project we could.

From sorting through census data, to endlessly pinning hazards on our map and of course our focus groups with REC, we gave this project our all and had unique experiences along the way that we wouldn’t have gotten on campus or anywhere else.

Our team bonded over trips to Panera, Dunkin Donuts, and a great local spot called the JC Grill.  We bundled up in the project center as the weather got colder and even decorated our workspace for the holidays.

As the last full week of our project comes to end the feeling is bittersweet.  We are pleased to see our entire project come together in its final form but will miss the routine we have grown accustomed to over the last seven weeks.  Our team has come a long way from ID2050 and we hope all of our hard work will aid the Regional Environmental Council in reaching level 2 of the CARE Grant.  This was truly an experience we will never forget.


WEEKS 5 & 6: I Can See The Light

After a relaxing Thanksgiving break our team is refreshed and ready to tackle the final stretch of our project. Early on in the week Margaret set out to address a curveball given to us by REC the day before our break. A miscommunication had led us to believe that REC was only interested in gathering environmental hazard locations, but it was made clear to us that in order to apply for the C.A.R.E. grant short descriptions for each hazard were required. Despite originally seeming like a daunting task, Margaret was able to complete it with relative ease and the endeavor was not as time consuming as we had originally thought. While Margaret was eagerly crunching away at this task, Katie and David went out and purchased a foam backing as well as additional pins so that construction of our physical environmental hazard map could begin. They also picked up a wreath which hangs nicely from our office door and seems to be boosting project morale.

Plotting the physical map is looking to be a meticulous and time consuming task, but Katie and David have developed a tag team system of completing it which seems to be working well. Katie has been calling out environmental hazards types and there locations, which David will then find on the map and pin with the correct color much like a large game of environmental hazard bingo. Meanwhile, Mike has been doing an excellent job of creating and ironing out our findings and discussion chapter. Now fluent in the google map editor, he has created many great visuals for this section of our report. In addition he has successfully been able to organize our findings and write about their significance.

Now that our data has been gathered and conclusions have been drawn, what lies ahead is creating effective mediums for expressing them. These mediums will primarily take the form of our final report and our final presentation. It has been made apparent to us that conveying our findings is just as important if not more important than the findings themselves and as a result we will be putting all we have into making our report and presentation as effective as possible during these final weeks.


WEEK 4: Is IQP what you expected?

Stepping into the Worcester Project Center four short weeks ago, our team was prepared for a long day of work in a typical business setting. We were expecting to follow our proposed timeline for our project closely.  Within the first week of our project, it was clear that there was no definite schedule we could follow because our methodology had already began to change. This did not come as a shock to our team though, because we understood that our project would be subject to change.

After we met with one of our sponsors, Benito, we had a clear vision of what we were going to be doing. He also began planning a field trip with us to Worcester’s Earn a Bike program, so we could experience one of Worcester’s interactive programs first-hand. Our group did not think that we would have this fun experience, while working on our project. We were especially interested in this program because it provides an activity for students to partake in after school, and we held focus groups for people of that age group.

The focus groups were held with boys and girls in fifth through eighth grades. Katie and Margaret went to the Boys and Girls Club with the female students, while Mike and David went to the Seven Hills Charter School with the male students. The students brought up the concerns they felt in their environment, such as gang violence or abandoned buildings. A lot of different information was obtained from the separate age groups, and this will be useful with looking for particular environmental hazards in their areas.

Overall, IQP has not been too different from what we were expecting, but some things have come to us as surprising. One thing that we found to be particularly unexpected was that we finished so much data collecting and other work in such a short period of time. Unlike a typical day in the life of a college student, this project is the only thing we have to worry about so we are able to dedicate an entire eight hour work day completely to the project.  Within the first two weeks, we had collected data for the five Worcester neighborhoods. We then began working on finding environmental hazards within those communities. Our team never imagined that we would be working faster than our proposed timeline for our project, but it was fulfilling for us to see that we were accomplishing so much in such a timely fashion.


WEEK 3: Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful!

But our project is so delightful!  It’s been a busy week for the REC team.  We continue to research environmental hazards that exist in Worcester and have compiled a list of over 1000 sites!

The next step in our project is to plot these hazards on a map of the city.  This week we purchased a large street map of Worcester from City Hall.  We plan to hang this map in our office and use color coded pins to mark the location of different types of hazards.  This map will allow us to better visualize the distribution of hazards in Worcester, much more effectively than a list could ever do.  Our sponsor is very excited about this map.  They already plan to hang it in their office when our project is over, and they have been very helpful in assisting us to get the materials we need for it.

On the demographic end of our data collection we are doing well.  We have collected income, race, and education data for our five original neighborhoods and our six comparison neighborhoods.  At our last sponsor meeting we discussed the possibility of looking into more demographic factors if time allows, to really get to the root of the problem, to see which factors put a population at higher risk for exposure to environmental hazards.  Some possible demographics we will look at are unemployment rate, percentage of population that is foreign-born, and college attendance rates.

Another major development this week had to do with our focus group.  When we were discussing it with our sponsor, they informed us we would have the opportunity to ask the teachers questions as well.  This will be valuable in giving us another perspective.  We also met Mercy, an REC employee who works with their Food Justice Program but will be helping with the focus groups.

Overall, our week has been very successful.  By Monday we should begin plotting our hazards and hopefully by the end of the week have a decent start to our map and we should start to see patterns emerge.


WEEK 2: Hurricane Sandy Can’t Slow Us Down

We had a wet and windy start to our second week of IQP, with hurricane Sandy cancelling Monday activities at the project center. During this time away, our team communicated through email and set up our project by uploading our team and project descriptions. On Tuesday we had a meeting scheduled with Koby from the REC, but unfortunately he was unable to attend because his basement had been flooded by the storm. Instead we met with Benito, who was more than accommodating. During this meeting we set up a regular weekly meeting time with REC to deal with potential questions and ensure that the project is heading in the right direction. Benito also told us that he was working on getting us a map that we could use to physically plot out environmental hazard locations. At the end of the meeting we were surprised when Benito told us we should try to have more fun during our IQP experience. He suggested that we set up a fun activity with the REC and we ended up scheduling a day to visit the Worcester Earn a Bike program.

Margaret and David began collecting locations of environmental hazards, while Mike and Katie continued collecting demographic data. One of the problems we ran into when collecting the environmental hazard data was that we didn’t know the exact locations of neighborhood boundaries. To accounted for this by obtaining the locations of hazards in the general area of each neighborhood and then walking to city hall across the street to inquire about the concrete locations of each neighborhood. We plan on now filtering out sights that we have gathered that don’t fall on streets within our assigned neighborhoods.

We also began searching for possible comparison communities to use in our project. Our primary deciding factor in choosing these communities was how well they fit into a census tract. We chose this parameter because it would make gathering data much easier and accurate. After filtering through possible candidates, we believe we have arrived at the set of communities that will be used for comparison. In addition to this we began making revisions to our methodology.

Overall this four day week has gone by just as fast as the first and we are excited by the rapid progress we have been making.


WEEK 1: Reflections

It feels like just the other day that we had our first class for ID2050, and yet here we are already 15% done with our project term.  Week 1 at the Worcester Community Project Center was exciting and fulfilling, and certainly flew faster than expected.  Even with a four-day work week, the group was able to accomplish more than expected.  We learned that our project would be more about research and data collection/organization; we were not expected by REC to actually compare and analyze.  This basically cut in half our objectives for the seven weeks, though we really would like to do the analysis part of the project as it was a critical part of our original plan.  For now, our focus will stay on gathering data for the different demographic factors for each neighborhood as well as defining the land area boundaries of each neighborhood.

The boundary line where one neighborhood starts and another ends is not a well defined spot, which has created a minor speed bump for the team.  To gain a better idea of the geography of these neighborhoods, we decided on Wednesday that we should consider getting a wall map of Worcester where we could mark neighborhood limits as well as individual ecological hazards as they become known.  Interestingly enough, when we met with REC on Thursday, we learned that they had separately had the same idea and their maps were already ordered and in the mail.  I suppose great minds think alike…

The group’s favorite and most unexpected part of the week was when we found out that we had the opportunity to sit in on several focus groups on November 15.  Not only that, but we also will be conducting a focus group ourselves.  We will be sitting down with the students of a Worcester charter school to discuss social, economic and health problems in their community, why certain problems may arise, and what is being done to combat them.  We were told that while they may be young, kids in Worcester today are certainly old for their age in terms of community awareness and struggles.  The focus group participants will remain anonymous, but we are going to have them fill out a sign-up sheet with at least their home address.  This way we will be able to relate the qualitative data that we get to an area of Worcester.  Michael and David will be joining Koby and Benito from REC at the school to talk with the boys, while Katie and Margaret will get to go with the girls to the Boy & Girls Club.  We are all very much looking forward to the experience.