ESE Institute Newsletter

Spring 2013

Letter from the ESE Director

Melissa Lenczewski assumes leadership of the ESE Institute

As Spring finally arrives, I am happy to introduce myself as the Director for the ESE Institute. I have actually been involved with the ESE Institute since the beginning and am excited to have the opportunity to help it grow.

A Little Background

My current research program is interdisplinary and multidisciplinary in nature and exactly dovetails with the ESE program. I draw together microbial ecology, hydrogeology, and geochemistry to investigate the fate and transport of pollution in water. I have worked with an interdisciplinary group of researchers at NIU and around the world (see my website for research collaborations). My research has led to leadership roles in the National Groundwater Association and this year I was elected to national board of directors for the Science and Engineering Division. I have also been hand-picked to chair the government affairs committee to increase communication between groundwater professionals and the federal government.

Leadership Style

My leadership style relies on my ability to bring people together to discuss a topic, come to consensus on the best course of action, and then implement the recommended course of action. I believe the best ideas come from our collective thoughts, and that NIU’s support for shared governance will only continue to make the ESE program better. During my time at NIU, I have carefully cultivated collaborative relationships through the entire university and plan to develop them further. Knowing who to contact and how to get things done at NIU is an essential part of being successful as the director, as is my desire to find creative solutions for problems as they arise and resolving issues with our students’ interests taking precedence.

Vision for the ESE Institute

My vision of the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy (ESE) is to build the premier regional center that fosters interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, teaching, and community engagement to promote the understanding and effective solutions to environmental and energy challenges. The ESE Institute will offer rigorous undergraduate and graduate programs; support the planning, execution, and dissemination of research; engage students in research and experiential learning; encourage outreach and community involvement; and promote sustainability at NIU and in the region. The Institute will graduate vital educators, researchers, and community leaders who will bring a high level of recognition to both the ESE Institute and the University.

I could not do any of this without the support and assistance of the students, faculty associates and office staff. They are the heart of the ESE Institute and make it a pleasure to come to work every day. We all want to see NIU and the northern Illinois community become greener and more sustainable, and I am excited to lead part of this adventure.

People at ESE

New ESE Faculty Associates

Nick Barber – Department of Biological Sciences

Theodore Hogan – Department of Engineering Technology

Mitch Irwin – Department of Anthropology

Andrea Smalley – Department of History

Wesley Swingley – Department of Biological Sciences

James Wilson – Department of Geography

Read more about each of these new Faculty Associates on the ESE Institute website at

Faculty Highlight: Mitch Irwin

Grew Up: Toronto, Canada

Childhood Memory: Dr. Irwin had a lot of memorable times in Cottage country in Ontario - kingfishers, northern pike, moose, beavers...

Favorite Book or Movie: The Lorax

Funny: In the field, many things are funny that would not be funny in real life. He can now predict with high certainty when a lemur is about to pee, and get out of the way - this skill was not so honed in his first field experiences.

Joined NIU's Faculty: Dr. Irwin joined NIU as an assistant professor in August 2012

Environmental Inspiration: Choosing to study our closest relatives, primates, and then observing firsthand how we are allowing their environment to crumble around them.

Interested in NIU ENVS: Dr. Irwin feels passionately about taking an interdisciplinary approach with other faculty at NIU, to benefit ourselves and afford better opportunities for students to get involved.

Research Summary: Dr. Irwin's research integrates observational techniques and lab analyses to assess how primate health responds to seasonality and habitat degradation. In other words, he writes down what primates do and analyzes things like feces and foods in the lab. The goal of all of this is twofold - to understand ecological adaptations in the wild (especially adaptations to seasonality), and to understand how the threat of habitat degradation affects primate health - hopefully leaving us able to do something proactive about it.

Student Opportunities: Students interested in fieldwork in Madagascar and/or lab work should contact Dr. Irwin directly - opportunities are available for motivated undergraduate and graduate students!

Student Highlight: Lindsey Gordon

Lindsey Gordon, biodiversity and environmental restoration major, completed a lab internship with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) in Springfield, Illinois.

In describing her experience, Lindsey said, “This internship experience closely related to my academic studies in the environmental studies program, which introduced me to environmental policy. Additionally, laboratory procedures learned in chemistry labs allowed me to better understand the daily activities required by my internship at the IEPA. As my focus and interest in the environment centers around biodiversity and restoration, exposure to the IEPA allowed me to build hands-on experience around my classroom learning.

"During this internship, my daily work was in a laboratory setting with several lab associates and chemists. Before this internship, I did not have the life experience necessary to be able to approach colleagues in a confident manner to discuss work issues. The IEPA internship provided an opportunity to learn the techniques of field sampling. I learned how to use a portable GIS tracking system, GEO pro, and instruments to capture water samples. Not only did I learn actual techniques and machine operations, but I also gained the knowledge needed to perform the task alone.

"After this internship, I am even more committed to my educational goals in environmental science. I now have a better understanding of the importance of environmental policy and of the research performed to monitor the impact society has on the ecosystems around us.”

ESE Events

Green Lens Environmental Film Festival

Saturday, April 20 to Thursday, April 25 in DeKalb, Illinois

Join us this Earth Week for a celebration that puts our planet in focus. The Green Lens Environmental Film Festival will include film screenings, kids' activities, nature activities, art shows, mini workshops, and DIY presentations to help attendees learn how small changes can make a big impact on the health of our world.

The festival is supported by Northern Illinois University Institute for the Study of the Environmental, Sustainability and Energy, NIU Outreach, the DeKalb County Community Foundation, and other local sponsors.

Moving out? NIU joins Keep America Beautiful, Goodwill to collect students’ recyclables in May

NIU has been selected as one of five colleges and universities nationwide to partner up with Goodwill Industries and Keep America Beautiful on a pilot “move-out week” program.

For the full story, go to:

Jane Adeny Memorial School (JAMS) for Girls in rural Kenya

All are invited to an afternoon of African-Indian music and food in support of The Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls in Kenya, Africa.

Sunday, April 21st, 2013, Noon to 3:30pm.

The House Café, 263 E Lincoln Hwy, DeKalb, IL 60115

Adults $25/ Students $14/Children under 12 – Free

Light buffet meal of African and Indian dishes. 50/50 Raffle with tickets priced at $1 each. Performance by Fareed Haque’s Indian band The Flat Earth Ensemble and African musician Mathew Tembo. Tickets may be purchased at the door or before the event. Call Jill Sanderson at 815-761-7464.

About Jane Adeny Memorial School: founded by Teresa Wasonga and Andrew Otieno, JAMS is a not-for-profit school dedicated to providing orphans and impoverished girls the opportunity of a high school education. or find us on Facebook.

ENVS 302 Field Trip Recap

On April 13th, ENVS 302 students toured Angelic Organic farms in Caledonia, Illinois. Students learned about community-supported agriculture (CSA), the different farming practices Angelic Organics employs to grow a diversity of produce throughout Illinois' growing season, and got to meet some of the animals that the Angelic Organics Learning Center uses as part of their farming and outreach strategies. Chickens, for example, are used to promote soil fertility with their manure and scratching of the soil. Chickens also eat pest insects, which might otherwise damage crops. They also have the added benefit of laying eggs, which Angelic Organics sells at the Learning Center and to CSA customers.

Students learned about the techniques used to produce a living, thriving, healthy soil on which to grow the eggplant, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, peppers, potatoes, and many, many other produce species that Angelic Organics produces for CSA customers. They got to compare conventional agricultural soils to those from organic farms and talk about the differences and what drove them.

Angelic Organics Learning Center employees told students that around half of the farm fields are not in production at any given time and instead are planted with "cover crops" such as peas and oats that serve to prevent erosion, promote nutrient cycling, and deter pest insect species from learning and returning to where certain crops are grown.

Students also learned about drip irrigation and enjoyed seeing the sustainable Learning Center building, which uses hay as insulation, whole trees as structural supports, and solar panels to produce energy. Lastly, students got to meet day-old goat kids, the 30-year old farm work horse, and Mango the Australian Shepard who protects the chicken and other livestock from predators.

Green Living in the Residence Halls

Huskie Service Scholars: Apply for the ENVS Team

HSS is a program strives to develop a peer network and provide support that enables students to engage in service work on campus and in the community. First-generation or low income students entering NIU for the first time are placed into teams with an upper classmen mentor. Teams then work with a site supervisors to provide regular service to their campus partner. In addition, students will attend campus wide service events and collaborate to plan off campus service projects. Monthly meetings will provide collaboration, training and reflection opportunities for students. At minimum, students will dedicate 300 hours to service work, mentoring, reflection and training opportunities. Upon completion of 300 hours of service, students will receive a tuition waiver of $1,132.

Students who become engaged on campus during their first year are more likely to succeed in the university setting. The Huskies Service Scholars Program provides mentoring, training and funding to students to help them become engaged and be successful. The program aims to provide support to first generation and low income students. Mentoring is truly at the heart of this program.

In order to receive the tuition waiver, students must meet the following criteria:

  • Students must earn a minimum of 12 semester hours each semester of attendance (both fall and spring semesters), excluding summer semester.
  • Students must maintain a cumulative grade point average of 2.00 or above in all NIU course work. Students who fall below a 2.00 will have the tuition waiver immediately revoked.
  • Students must remain in good academic standing and judicial university standing at all times. A tuition waiver will be immediately revoked if a student is not in good standing, and will not be reinstated to the Huskie Service Scholars program.
  • The tuition waiver is only available for one year and is not renewable.

Apply Here:

OSEEL Website

Giving to Environmental Studies

Please consider making a donation to the ESE Institute (home of Environmental Studies). Contributions will be used for student scholarships, program development, or your personal priority. Here is the information on how to direct your online donation to the ESE Institute and Environmental Studies:

  • Go to:
  • Make A Gift Now (red button in top-right corner)
  • I'd like my gift designated to:
  • Select "a specific area"
  • Within pop-up box, select "University - General"
  • Select "Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy"
  • Enter an amount