As a student of the Chesapeake Semester and an intern for the Center for Environment & Society’s ShorePower Project, Tori Alpaugh ’16 has gained unique insight into the complexities of environmental stewardship.
When Tori Alpaugh ’16 started working as an intern with the Center for Environment & Society’s ShorePower Project two years ago, she figured it would be an interesting job. Turns out, it has become the impetus for her Senior Capstone thesis, as well as a foundation for future study.
Alpaugh, an environmental science major with a double minor in biology and anthropology, says she learned about ShorePower after seeing an internship offer on the CES website.
“I had just come off the Chesapeake Semester, and I really wanted to stay involved with the CES. It’s a great group of people, and I was looking for another internship to add to my résumé,” she says. She started as a 10-hour-a-week intern; now she works fulltime. Municipalities sign up to participate in the project, which helps them quantify their energy use and identify renewable alternatives that they can afford.
“A lot of my job is creating the baseline for the last three years of their energy use,” Alpaugh says. “So I go through all of their power bills, vehicle gas usage bills, and make a humongous Excel spreadsheet. We compile all that into a greenhouse gas inventory tool that spits out for us all the different types of energy—whether it’s propane, natural gas, electricity—and produces a number of how much their emissions are every year.”
The project also helps towns identify grant programs to fund more renewable energy sources, as well as find ways they can reduce emissions based on the budgets they have, even if that’s just replacing all of their streetlights with LEDs. Alpaugh says the work has produced some interesting results that she’s applying to her senior thesis. Specifically, the ShorePower numbers have shown that often when municipalities upgrade to new wastewater treatment plants to reduce water pollution, their energy bills spike—which means they are using more energy, and contributing to more greenhouse gas emissions—while improving water quality.
“I’m interested in the trade-offs of things,” Alpaugh says. “When we clean up one thing, what do we make worse in another area? Even different types of renewables have these issues.” She is focusing her thesis on the question of how much communities need to offset their emissions while upgrading in other areas, such as wastewater treatment. “I’m really excited about it. It pulls in so many classes I’ve had—environmental economics, environmental chemistry—and I’m going to be able to use the data I gathered in ShorePower.”
Alpaugh has spent all four years of her Washington College career on the Equestrian Club’s Western team, this year serving as captain. A former secretary of the environment for the SGA, she’s also been treasurer of the Student Environmental Alliance and a tour guide for admissions.
Chesapeake Semester was a major factor in her decision to attend WAC, and the experience continues to inform how she approaches the intersection between environment and culture.
“It’s like your in a lab for an entire semester, and it’s just the most interdisciplinary approach to the environment that I think you could ever get. You have the history side of it, the natural science, the social science, you’re meeting with the fisherman and the farmers,” she says. “From the classroom, you always get one piece of the Bay, whether you’re in geology class or history class. But it’s hard to fit it all together. I feel like Chesapeake Semester pulled all of that together into understanding what’s happening with the Bay and what’s happening with the world. And you can use that in comparing to other estuaries and other places in the world.”