Urban sustainability on the mind of Schreyer Scholar at home and in Europe

Jeff Rice
April 30, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jessica Chou spent last summer in Philadelphia, working as an intern on an urban farm and farmer’s market of a non-profit organization that delivered meals to homebound seniors. It was the Penn State Schreyer Honors Scholar’s first taste of living in a city, and it sparked a greater interest in the sustainability of urban environments.

That interest has only grown this spring. Chou, an environmental resource management major in the College of Agricultural Sciences, is spending the semester studying in Copenhagen as part of the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) program. 

“I really wanted to come to Copenhagen to explore more of that urban lifestyle,” Chou said, “and understanding how society is going to have to deal with a growing urban population and how we’ll have to make sure we keep the environment in mind.”

Chou’s coursework includes classes on sustainable development, strategies for urban livability, and environmental economics, though much of her education has taken place outside of the classroom. She visited urban planners in Stockholm, Sweden, and was impressed by the city’s underground piping system for disposing of food waste, trash and recyclables. During a separate trip to western Denmark, she visited a public school whose curriculum is centered on the environment and sustainability and also spoke to local residents living near the Wadden Sea, whose homes could be underwater in the next 50 years due to rising sea levels.

“There are so many people in these dense areas that we need to protect from natural disasters, and so we need to be creative on how we can make cities resilient,” said Chou, who has minors in entrepreneurship and innovation and in environmental and renewable resource economics. “It’s scary to know the people's homes and livelihoods are under extreme threat. 

“Action needs to be taken now to avoid more catastrophes beyond those that have already been affected by human-induced climate change. I think that urban areas are good places to target to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and to improve living conditions.”

Chou is already taking action to help the environment. She was recently accepted into the Drawdown Scholars REU Program, a partnership between Penn State and Project Drawdown that involves undergraduates working to find solutions for action on climate change. Her faculty mentor is Associate Professor of Crop Production/Ecology Heather Karsten. Chou’s research will focus on Conservation Agriculture and Nutrient Management solutions of Project Drawdown.

Chou, who entered the Schreyer Honors College this past fall, is also a member of Penn State’s Student Farm Club and the Music Service Club. She said her interest in the environment was originally inspired largely because of a high school science class, and she one day hopes to be a chief sustainability officer for a large company and help create environmentally friendly business practices.

“I was most fascinated by how connected the whole world is,” she said. “We’re all connected by the environment, even though we may be separated by borders, or governments, no matter what our actions and decisions are, they will still somehow affect someone on the other side of the globe.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses. They represent the top 2 percent of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.

Last Updated April 30, 2019