Undergrad Sustainability Research Award-winner Asks, “Water We Doing?”

Justin Risley
Justin Risley

Justin Risley '20 took first place at UMass Libraries Undergraduate Sustainability Research Awards event with a humorous documentary film that sends a serious message about our global water supply. He won a $1,500 scholarship.

“Water We Doing?” was shown at last week’s special sustainability event, “Design for Change: An Exploration of Social, Built and Natural Systems,” at the Science and Engineering Library in the Lederle Lowrise. Risley, who is studying abroad this semester in Japan, joined the event via the video-conferencing platform, Zoom. His mother attended in person.

“My biggest hope for this film was to influence anyone to think twice about their water usage,” Risley said in an interview before the event.

 A journalism major and sustainable community development minor from Cromwell, Conn., Risley grew more interested in sustainability when Western Massachusetts experienced a drought during his freshman year. He created the 15-minute film, which he narrates, for his short form documentary class taught by broadcast lecturer Greeley Kyle. 

The film features two university faculty members who focus on sustainability and water conservation in their respective fields: Robert Ryan, professor and chair of landscape architecture and regional planning, and Masoud Hashemi, extension professor at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

“Water We Doing?” won best film from UMass Amherst in the recent 25th Annual Five College Student Film and Video Festival.

Two second-place sustainability research award winners – Nicole Comeau ’19 and Halley Steinmetz ’19 – received $750 scholarships. Comeau proposed a paper-saving universal electronic time reporting system for the university’s employees. Steinmetz’s research focused on ocean water clarity and phytoplankton, a topic of high conservation concern regarding large-scale oceanographic processes. She is preparing to submit her paper to a scientific journal.

An honorable mention award with a $300 scholarship went to Skylar Roach ’21 for her paper, “Opened Doors: The Women’s Land Army, the Northeast, and Farm Sustainability.” Roach made extensive use of records in the Du Bois Library’s Special Collections and University Archives documenting the activities of Stockbridge School of Agriculture faculty and women students during World War II.

A highlight of the event was keynote speaker Abrah Dresdale’s presentation about the transformative social aspects of permaculture design principles. The author of “Regenerative Design for Change Makers: A Social Permaculture Guidebook,” Dresdale guided attendees through several exercise in pairs, “which was very meaningful and dynamic,” said Madeleine Charney, research services librarian for sustainability. “Her talk tied us all together as change makers.”