PhD student Héctor Esparra-Escalera champions sustainability research

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PhD student Héctor Esparra-Escalera first heard about Wayne State at an invasive species workshop in Puerto Rico.  The workshop was organized by graduate students from Donna Kashian’s laboratory in partnership with the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez (UPRM) and supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. At the time Hector was an undergraduate at UPRM, where he went on to do an MS studying the ecological relationships between invasive snails on the island.  When Donna Kashian’s students returned to Puerto Rico for a 2nd workshop, Héctor helped out with stream sampling and preparing the labs. Then hurricane Maria devastated much of Puerto Rico, including UPRM. Facing an uncertain future, Hector applied to our PhD program and is now a National Science Foundation fellow working to evaluate the effectiveness of Green Infrastructure on water sustainability in the T-RUST program (Transformative Research in Urban Sustainability Training).

Last winter Hector joined a group of Civil Engineering and Communications students to enter the Wayne State 2020 STEAM Challenge, a competition that inspires interdisciplinary groups to tackle social problems in the city of Detroit.  Together they developed Detroit AirNet, a proposal to install low cost sensors to monitor volatile organic compounds (VOCs) throughout greater Detroit. These compounds are linked to preterm births and other health problems. Hector focused on the role of plants in VOCs emissions.  He also established connections with other researchers that can use the data produced by this project.  And they won!  This year $25,000 was split between the top three finalists. 

Hector has a deep interest in education, natural resources and conservation.  “I feel the need to work through education on behalf of a more inclusive environment and promote respect and care for natural resources.”   He looks forward to a career as an ecologist and educator that trains scientists and promotes sustainability research.  

You can watch the winning Detroit AirNet pitch video.

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