Student Courtney Pelissero, standing next to the following text

Research Spotlight
Courtney Pelissero
Majors: Environmental Science - Biology Concentration; Psychology
Future plans: Environmental Science PH.D

Courtney Pelissero

Major: Environmental Science: Biology Concentration, Psychology

Research Mentors: Dr. Adam Kay, Biology; Dr. Elise Amel, Psychology

Future Plans: After graduation, I plan on conducting research for a year before entering into a Ph.D. program in environmental science. 

Fun Facts

What’s your go-to drink from the Loft? My favorite drink from the Loft is regular, medium roast coffee.

What is your favorite time of the year on campus? Fall, because of all the gorgeous colors!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a teacher. I had great teachers and role models as a child, and I just loved school!


Career Aspirations

Courtney is certain her future will include conducting exciting research with potential for great scientific discoveries in environmental science. She will graduate in the spring of 2018 with a degree in both Environmental Science and Psychology. Courtney’s childhood dream of being a teacher has come into focus as she aspires to be a professor of environmental science at a university where she can both share and create knowledge. She says that her academic experience at St. Thomas shaped her career aspirations by satisfying her natural curiosity with interdisciplinary courses, amazing professors, and great research opportunities for undergraduates.

Research Experience

Early on in her academic career, Courtney knew she wanted to conduct research as an undergraduate student. In late fall of 2016, she met with her future research mentors, Dr. Kay and Dr. Amel,  to talk about the opportunities St. Thomas has to offer. She got in touch with the Office of Sustainability Initiatives and eventually applied for the Sustainability Scholars research grant from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program at St. Thomas. Partnering with a local business, Tiny Footprint Coffee, Courtney researched the effectiveness of coffee chaff, as opposed to woodchips, as a mulch for urban agriculture. She is interested in how we can use a local waste product and increase local food production, creating a circular economy of sorts. Courtney’s day to day research activities included tending to the 64 research garden plots. Weekly, she’d water and weed the plots and make observations on plant growth. Once the plants started yielding, she’d harvest the produce and either donate or sell it at a local farm stand. Courtney is still calculating all of the results from the study, but for the most part, her analysis shows that there aren’t any huge differences between the effectiveness of coffee chaff and woodchips as a mulch for urban agriculture. If her results conclude that coffee chaff is an effective mulch, it will be a low cost, sustainable source of mulch for many urban gardeners. Once the results have been finalized, she plans on presenting her findings to Tiny Footprint Coffee and publishing a report with Dr. Adam Kay if results are significant.

Research at St. Thomas

The research experience at St. Thomas is very advantageous, Courtney says. She believes St. Thomas is able to offer more personal research opportunities where student researchers are able to form close relationships with invested professors. St. Thomas happens to be one of the leading schools looking at urban agriculture biology, a topic Courtney has lots of interest in, due to Dr. Adam Kay and Dr. Chip Small’s work in this field. Courtney has truly enjoyed and benefitted from her research experience at St. Thomas. From this experience, she is on her way a fitting future career.

            Courtney’s interest in sustainable food systems and urban agriculture also reaches outside of academia. She is involved with Brightside Produce, an organization started as a collaboration between St. Thomas and Community Table Co-op to provide produce to low-income neighborhoods where access to fresh produce is very limited. Courtney’s involvement with this organization makes her think about the connections between urban agriculture and food insecurity and leads her to even more research questions regarding the cost and benefits of urban agriculture.