"Everyone here is working on something they feel matters."
When she started college as an undergraduate at Villanova University, Erica Forgione was undecided as to her major. But taking an introductory engineering class set her on her long-term path by spurring her interest in Civil and Environmental Engineering. She became especially interested in issues of sustainability. Erica obtained her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova. While getting her M.S., she also worked for five years as a lab manager. As she honed in on stormwater management as her chief area of interest, she decided to continue her academic career at UMD. She is now in her third year in the CEE Department at UMD, pursuing her PhD in Environmental Engineering.
One of the main reasons UMD was at the top of Erica’s list was Dr. Davis’s work on stormwater management. Now he is one of three advisors with whom she is working on an interdisciplinary project funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. It is a large-scale endeavor: there are six people on Erica’s dissertation committee, and the project involves twelve reviewers from several states’ Departments of Transportation.
Erica’s research involves managing stormwater coming off highways; it looks at ways to both prevent flooding and remove pollutants. The goal is to do so affordably, efficiently, and sustainably. She is looking at whether layering compost (a renewable resource) on highway medians as a vegetated compost blanket (VCB) could do this. Each of her three advisors contributes their particular expertise: Dr. Davis on water quality, Dr. Aydilek on erosion control, and Dr. Felton of the Environmental Science and Technology Department on compost.
Erica’s research has helped her make an impact in the department and beyond. She helps with a mentoring project for ENCE411 (Environmental Engineering Science), which involves teaching students how to do research. To do so, she uses a photography project of her own, which documents the fluctuations in water level of Paint Branch Creek over time, giving students a sense of their work as a piece of a bigger picture. She also recently joined the Graduate Student Council in our department. This past May, Erica went to the international Environmental Water Resources Institute conference in Pittsburgh, which she says expanded her perspective on her subject area.
Of the UMD CEE Department, Erica appreciates how “motivated” students here are around environmental issues and on finding environmentally sustainable solutions to problems. “Everyone’s working on something they feel matters,” she says. She also likes the diversity provided by the strong representation of women in the environmental side of the department in particular, and by our international students, who she says provide important different viewpoints.
Next month, Erica is marrying her fiancé, whom she met when they were freshmen at Villanova. He is a supercomputing system administrator who works for NIH. They share a passion for the environment. Between her research and wedding planning Erica does not have much free time, but she enjoys art and music, and would like to continue studying martial arts.
Erica is hoping to finish up her degree in about two more years. After graduation, she is considering getting some hands-on experience in the working world before returning to academia to teach. Her experiences here at UMD have helped her develop the expertise that, combined with her natural dedication and enthusiasm, ensure she will make a difference for the environment and for her future students.