National Geographic Explorer

Really excited to learn that I’ve been awarded a National Geographic Explorer Grant under their Reducing Ocean Plastic Pollution program!  The project Experiential Learning with Indian Educators: Collecting Local Data to Share with Politicians and Scientists is a collaboration with faculty member Dr. Jaya D.S. at the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, India. I’m collaborating with colleagues at the University of Kerala throughout the spring 2019 semester. The grant will bring 100 teachers from across India to Kerala for a training workshop on engaging students in marine debris collection.

Dr O and Dr Jaya_Thangassery Harbor

Here I am with Dr. Jaya at Thangassery harbor, Kerala. Photo by Alwyn Biju.

Woot woot! Can’t wait!


PAYCE podcasts and story on UHart Web

Check out this story on the Uhart website about the PAYCE program, focusing on Genesis who went to train in Jordan this summer to learn podcasting skills.

The podcast series that is a result of the project was created by young adults about making a difference in the United States, Palestine, and Jordan. Hear short, inspiring profiles of young adults using different forms of civic and political engagement. Season one was made by Palestinians and Americans using compelling stories from Des Moines Iowa. Season two from Palestine and around the States brings a new set of inspirational stories about social action and change. Season three will be stories from Jordan and Palestine will drop throughout the month of November. Season 4 is under production in the West Bank and throughout the U.S. The series is funded through generous support by the Stevens Initiative, Drake University, and Al-Quds Bard College.


The program is available on buzzsprout and iTunes



PAYCE in the West Bank

As a part of the PAYCE (Palestinian American Youth Civic Engagement) program, we spent a week in June 2018 meeting stakeholders and groups of youth engaged in politics in Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. It was an incredible experience. Learn more about PAYCE here.

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So proud to be a part of this group of scholars and students working internationally to promote civic education for students in the US and the Palestinian territories.

Check out the PAYCE (Palestinian American Youth Civic Engagement) project here.

Marine Debris Coverage in the Media

What an amazing opportunity– we had the chance to share the results of our study with Senator Ted Kennedy Jr, one of the co-Chairs (along with Representative James Albis) of the Connecticut General Assembly Environment Committee and the news media on Wednesday June 22, 2016. Here I am with two of my rockstar students!Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 2.25.17 PM.png


The University of Hartford Marketing and Communications team (Sophia Olsen, John Senecal, and Meagan Fazio) made a compilation of the coverage in Storify here.



There is no away

After spending a few months collecting marine debris on Connecticut shorelines as part of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant, I’m more cognizant than ever that there is no “away”. Sure, we throw things away all the time… but at best this means they are incinerated or buried in a landfill. More often than not they are simply left to wend their way through our skies, streets, and waters until they sink into the ocean or are carried by tides and winds to some shore.

My students and I collected for approximately eight hours off-season in Connecticut in the winter of 2016 and found over 1,600 individual pieces of debris. Seventy-four percent (74%) of what we found was plastic (by number of pieces). Plastic made up 18% of the total by weight. Think about that. Think about how light plastic is in comparison to the other kinds of debris like glass, metal, wood.

plastic bottles

Here’s a photo of some of the plastic cups and bottles we found in Connecticut in April of 2016.

In response to my environmental work, I’ve tried to be more aware of the plastic in my home. Don’t get me wrong, plastic is a miraculous invention– it’s lightweight, inexpensive, and incredibly useful. But at the same time, it’s a resource that should be used responsibly.


Do you like to collect debris when visiting beaches? Check out the marine debris tracker app from the University of Georgia.

Learn more about NOAA’s Marine Debris Outreach and Education program here.