Student Stories: Environmental major studies abroad in Iceland

Mariah Chuprinski
June 01, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In a remote Icelandic village, Sara Prizzi hiked with her classmates on a glacial outcropping. All around her, hundreds of tiny waterfalls cascaded down the sheep-dotted mountains, headed for the central river that led to the ocean.

The senior environmental resource management major, with a watershed and water resources minor, in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, spent seven weeks in Iceland last summer taking classes, conducting research and learning the Icelandic language.

She spent the first week visiting a sustainable community called Solheimar Sunhouse, which is an enclave where a small group of people live communally and sustainably with the common purpose of leaving no carbon footprint. Among other sustainable efforts, they share cars and make their own soap and food.

ERM major student story

Shown here walking along a glacier, Sara Prizzi went to the University of West Fjords, where she took courses in environmental engineering, geothermal energy and hydropower.

IMAGE: Penn State

"The community uses geothermal-powered greenhouses, which was fascinating to see in action," she said.

From there, Prizzi headed to the University of West Fjords, where she took courses in environmental engineering, geothermal energy and hydropower. After two weeks, she traveled to the University of Iceland, which is in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. There, Prizzi took classes in economics and worked on an independent research project.

"My project was a proposition for a cheap, sustainable wastewater treatment plant. Iceland still does not have any treatment plants, and the sewage, as a result, goes right into the ocean," she explained.

Prizzi learned that even though the country appears pristine and environmentally friendly, a lot of contamination exists under the surface.

"Eighty-five percent of the country's energy resources go to the aluminum production plants, leaving the rest of the country without proper energy for heating and electricity," she said. "My classmates and I discussed the problems and the potential solutions, which was a great learning experience and something I can apply to my future career."

During her years at Penn State, Prizzi and a few classmates founded the ERM Society. The club meets biweekly to talk about environmental issues with students inside and outside the major, network with alumni and potential employers, and attend workshops and career fairs.

"It's the fourth year for the club. I recently passed the baton to younger students to keep it going. It seems to be going strong and has a good reputation within the College of Ag Sciences," she said.

In addition to her leadership in the ERM club, Prizzi works in a weed ecology lab and a hydrology lab on campus.

Graduating in May 2016, Prizzi is applying for jobs within the field of hydrology. She could work for the government or environmental firms as a consultant. She also is considering graduate school to study energy production and consumption.

Whatever she decides to do, the time she spent in Iceland will prove to be beneficial.

"I learned so much in such a short amount of time. I'd recommend this program to anyone who wants to gain a global exposure to environmental issues that affect us all," she said.

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Last Updated January 02, 2018