Somewhere along the line of my academic career, a passion grew for interdisciplinary study, one that combines my lifelong fascination for maps, my love-hate relationship for hard science, and my gravitation toward languages. Combine these three, and it amounts to my CIEE internship with the Quaker-run Monteverde Friends School, La Escuela de los Amigos.
It began with the simple idea to study how students arrive and leave school. The Monteverde Friends School is currently becoming carbon neutral and has established a Carbon Neutrality Committee to address both indirect and direct carbon emissions. In fact, their largest source of greenhouse gases is transportation sector. Nevertheless, this is indirect as the school has no control over how students travel to school. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of this project for the school, which has no form of mass, organized transportation. From the money used to personally drive students to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted on these trips, it is extremely costly to keep this system sustainably.
So my fellow intern, Leah, my supervisor and MFS parent, Marcela, and I set out to survey parents about how their children travel, and somewhat to our surprise, the response from parents and staff to our questions was overwhelmingly positive. We gleaned information about daily or bi-daily trips to school, specific types of personal vehicles they drove, and how they envisioned school transportation in the future. Yet, it turned out that data collection was not going to be the most arduous step; data analysis definitely took top place. Thanks to Leah’s tremendous calculations on how various car models consume fuel and emit gas, we were able to clearly see the magnitude of MFS’s transportation emissions via graphs and maps.
And the process of creating the maps for me, from designing the survey to presenting the final product to the committee was a fantastic learning experience. Using QGIS and ArcGIS, writing a survey to serve a bilingual community, and working with a peer and a supervisor to accomplish this has led to a productive and informative internship month. The greatest accomplishment was the tree offset map, which took the combined effort of Leah, Marcela, my academic advisor Hector, and me. It told the story in relative terms of how many trees would need to be planted per household to mitigate the school’s transportation emissions. It accounted for tree mortality rates, distances traveled from the school, and gas emissions adjusted by kilometers per liter. It was a map inspired by interdisciplinary research coming from all areas of academia and real-world applications.
The MFS has a mission to lay the academic foundation “necessary to contribute to a peaceful and just society.” This statement goes beyond the classroom for them while they address how to leave a more environmentally just world for future generations. This internship has offered fundamental knowledge for MFS to pave the road toward carbon neutrality. With this information, we hope they will finalize a solution that will not only save families money, but also drastically cut their daily greenhouse gas emissions.