Freshmen Explore Science of the Urban Environment

  • NYC 103 students at the River Project at Pier 40 on the Hudson River.
  • NYC 103 students visit the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
  • NYC 103 students test water quality on the Hudson River.
  • NYC 103 students traverse the Great Lawn in Central Park, where two giant reservoirs served the city's thirst for water from 1842 to 1931.
  • NYC 103 students at the SIMS Municipal Recycling Plant, Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
  • NYC 103 students study native species in Central Park.
Students in the NYC seminar “The Urban Ecosystem” use the city as their laboratory.

As the most populous city in the United States, New York is a complex urban ecosystem. In Prof. Leri’s freshman seminar on The Urban Ecosystem (NYC 103) this fall, students are learning about various aspects of science and technology using NYC as a case study. Through field trips, projects, and readings, students explore the science of the urban landscape, as well as the particular environmental challenges faced by NYC.

The class has investigated biodiversity in Central Park, water quality on the Hudson River, sewage treatment at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, and solid waste management at the SIMS Municipal Recycling facility in Brooklyn. Students also carried out a performance art project to put climate change into local context by acting out the high water line in lower Manhattan, in remembrance of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. 

Junior Biology major Emma Kamen, who is serving as peer leader for the seminar, says, “As we explore the city each week, students learn about how important the environment is to urban life, while exploring crucial city systems that typically go unseen. Through field trips, public interaction, and individual research, students in the course are learning about the state of the environment, and the many ways that it is affecting all aspects of New York City.”

Throughout the semester, students have documented their experiences with photos and videos posted on Instagram using the hashtag #urbanecogram. 

Follow NYC103 on Instagram @marymountecoseminar.

And check out a sample of the students’ “HighWaterLine” project videos below.