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Jul. 28, 2011

Mellon Foundation Helps Fund Urban Studies Summer Internships

Six Trinity University students gaining 'real world' experience while sharing talents

SAN ANTONIO - Two high-achieving Trinity University students - one preparing for his senior year and the other a recent graduate - have spent the summer outside the classroom but still engrossed in learning while expanding their interests and sharing their talents with local agencies.

Purushottam "Puru" Shah stands on the roof
of the Marrs McLean Science Center.

Thanks to a $100,000 grant awarded to the University by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Trinity President Dennis A. Ahlburg sponsored six paid internships with various urban studies organizations in San Antonio. They were Friedrich Wilderness Park, Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA), the Office of Environmental Policy, Downtown Alliance, San Antonio Museum of Art, and the San Antonio's United Arts Fund.  The program, which spanned late May to late July, was overseen by Christine Drennon, director of urban studies and associate professor of sociology and anthropology. 

Sixty students applied for the coveted positions, designed to create additional synergy between Trinity University and the surrounding community.  Two of those selected were rising senior Purushottam "Puru" Shah, majoring in engineering science and international studies, and Jenna Cantwell '11, who graduated in May with a major in political science with an international concentration and minor in German, and who was the commencement speaker for her senior class.

Shah worked on green energy initiatives with the San Antonio Office of Environmental Policy and Cantwell explored funding mchanisms for the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program's Habitat Conservation Program (HCP), a process in which the GEAA is a stakeholder.

"This internship, which afforded me the opportunity to provide input on green initiatives, also got me out of the 'Trinity bubble' so that now I see and understand what the City of San Antonio is doing in the continuing push toward clean energy," stated Shah. "Now I feel a part of it."

In a happy coincidence, both Shah and Cantwell were supervised by Trinity alumni. Shah's supervisor in municipal environmental policy was Philip Gates '08, who provided guidance in designing solutions for the energy sector, while Cantwell's supervisor was Annalisa Peace '97, who is executive director of the GEAA and earned a master's degree in urban studies at Trinity.

Jenna Cantwell speaks at the 2011 Spring Commencement ceremonies.

Cantwell, who jumped in with both feet a mere nine days post-graduation, agreed that the synergy between the University and city provides a conduit for new solutions relating to the preservation and protection of San Antonio's primary source of water-the Edwards Underground Aquifer.

"I am involved in research for the program that GEAA has been engaged in for four years. It's known as the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) and it is a consensus based process that will ultimately result in a long-term plan for the protection of the endangered species found in the Comal and San Marcos springs. The Alliance and the EARIP lacked the resources to fully explore all options for funding the HCP, so these research projects were very useful in providing information for the process and have allowed me to run free with my own ideas," explained Cantwell.

The EARIP habitat conservation plan will require about $10 million for implementation and $20 million each year thereafter.

"It's funny how things end up," Cantwell recalled. "The whole reason I came to Trinity was because of a random meeting with Mary Ann Tetreault (the Cox Distinguished Professor of Political Science) in the Detroit Airport when I was only 16 and headed for my junior year abroad in Germany.  Both of our flights were delayed, and by the end of our conversation, she had convinced me to attend Trinity.  Before graduating, Dr. Tetreault forwarded me information about The Mellon Foundation's grant, and through that, she found a way for Trinity to connect me with the opportunity for a full-time position in my dream field."

Shah, who was valedictorian of his high school in Nepal, says Trinity has been instrumental in furthering his interest in clean energy and he hopes to parlay that knowledge to work with his own government in furthering the cause.    

"My favorite part of the internship has been helping the city become greener and as part of that, I've examined how city-owned facilities such as libraries and police and fire stations utilize water, natural gas, and other resources; then we compare that usage to other Texas cities, such as Houston and Austin.  What I've discovered is that San Antonio is doing a far better job at being green than those two cities.  We produce more renewable energy than Austin, and our CPS Energy is now poised to build a production facilities, which will become the biggest in the world.  We're moving very aggressively toward electric car chargers, additional bike lanes and rebates for home energy audits," explained Shah.

"Dr. Drennon, who coordinated these internships, has been very supportive throughout this process, and the Mellon grant has created the financial freedom for me to fulfill the internship because all expenses such as food and travel are covered with our $3,500 from Trinity."

"This synergy between the city and university will enable me to continue my studies, eventually returning to Nepal with the intent of setting up power plants and renewable energy," said Shah.

"And, I do have a message to President Ahlburg:  I'd like to thank him for staying true to his word on reaching out to the local community.  I see now what the city is doing and now I feel very much a part of it."

Text provided by Donna Parker, a San Antonio-based freelance writer.