For most NYUAD students, winter break was a time to relax, visit with friends and family, and prepare for J-Term courses. For sophomore Songyishu Yang, however, it also included a trip to Tunisia. The first NYUAD student to have a peer-reviewed paper accepted for presentation, Yang traveled to Hammamet in late-December to take part in the third International Renewable Energy Congress (IREC). During the three-day event, which provides a forum for researchers and practitioners around the world to discuss recent developments in the fields of renewable energy, 115 participants from 32 countries gathered to attend a variety of sessions with scopes ranging from sustainability and energy sources (wind, photovoltaic, solar thermal, hybrid, biomass, hydraulic, and nuclear) to environmental forecasting, policies, and regulation.
Yang's paper, co-authored by NYU-Poly's Industry Professor of Philosophy Harold P Sjursen — and one of 112 accepted presentations from 188 submissions — discusses water management in Chinese cities and puts forth the argument that energy conservation, factors of climate change, and water management should not be considered mutually exclusive. As Sjursen explained, "The argument tries to establish that energy conservation cannot be in actuality separated from factors of climate change and these, in turn, cannot be dealt with apart from approaches to water management. Further, it is asserted that the interconnectedness of all of these concerns is best addressed from the perspective of a naturalistic ecology."
Having done preliminary research during her freshman year on water management problems in China — completed in anticipation of participating in the AECOM Student Design Competition on water in urban areas — Yang developed her proposal with Sjursen's help during her time in New York City last summer, when she attended the Polytechnic Institute of New York University's summer program. There, she worked with Sjursen and a group of graduate students on Sjursen's research project, "China's energy future."
It was a wonderful experience on so many levels. Academic-wise, Professor Sjursen taught me quite a lot about conducting research, and more importantly I think, of how to be a scholar.
Quick to perceive a connection between water management and the issues of energy use and climate degradation, Yang focused on two urban areas in China "deeply affected by the problems of climate change (flood-drought cycle) whose remediation would involve non-standard and ecologically sensitive engineering solutions," Sjursen explained. "The thesis for the paper emerged from the research which indicated potentially significant correlations between ecological urban water management strategies and energy choices."
Attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of Yang's proposal, Sjursen enjoyed working with the "brilliant, hard-working, and committed student." "From the standpoint of a teacher, the experience epitomized the best kind of teaching-learning experience," he said. And according to Yang, the feeling was mutual. "It was a wonderful experience on so many levels," she said. "Academic-wise, Professor Sjursen taught me quite a lot about conducting research, and more importantly I think, of how to be a scholar. As a mentor, he also creates amazing opportunities and guides me to develop my interest and life goals."
As a Civil Engineering major with a concentration in Urbanization, Yang is poised to become an urban planner, and the IREC provided her with the opportunity to "discuss topics that I am fascinated by and receive critiques on my research," she said. During the conference, the organizers of which assumed Yang was a PhD student and, said Sjursen, "were rather surprised to learn of her undergraduate status," Yang also learned from other attendees' presentations. But it wasn't all work and no play. The IREC organized a tour of Hammamet, during which Yang took in the city's architecture, coastline, and even some local dancing before heading back to China to ring in the new year and ready herself for the journey back to Abu Dhabi.