by Michael Shute ’93
Over the years Rowan University graduates have left the campus for greener pastures in life, some even taking jobs with a true green slant—working in various environmental areas.
But even if you don’t make environmentalism a career, one alum tells us, you can still make an impact and learn to appreciate the natural resources the earth provides.
In fact, the “green grads” featured here represent a broad sample of careers and educational backgrounds. They prove that it doesn’t matter if you majored in biology, communication, engineering or history, there’s still environmental work everyone can do.
Ask Patti Perrini ’03 what she does as a naturalist for the Ocean County Parks and Recreation Department and she chuckles.
“The joke among us is that we’re a jack of all trades and a master of none,” says the resident of Forked River. “It’s not a negative thing, though. If you ask anyone in my field, you’re going to get that answer.”
The reason: Perrini’s job requires her to be an educator, a performer, a tour guide, a scientist, a history buff and even a boat captain.
“To be in this field, you have to know a little bit about everything from ornithology, biology and dendrology (the study of trees and plants) to basic social skills. We handle a lot of school groups that either come to our parks or we go to the schools. Plus, other community groups also come out to our parks for various tours. I am also writing and developing curriculum for our new facility, Cloverdale Farms County Park.
“Sometimes we have night programs; sometimes there are early morning programs, so it can be a little chaotic. We also do van tours to different parts of the state. It’s a diverse field and I never get bored. I’m always hands-on, always doing something.”
Perrini started working for Ocean County while she was at Rowan. In her junior year, she began part-time work at Waretown’s Wells Mills Park in fall 2001.
“My sister and I used to go on a lot of the park hikes and from doing that and being so involved, they offered me a position,” says Perrini. “Once I got that, I started commuting to school and working part-time.
“I already had a natural love of the environment and that came through my parents who took us on lots of trips to parks and historical sites like Washington Crossing or Batsto. My mom, if she found a new leaf, she’d get out a field guide and look it up.
“I had a good basis for this career and I really took to going on hikes, so at first they used me a lot for doing hikes and nature walks and we’d also do canoeing trips.”
Some may wonder, though, is this the right job for a history major?
“A lot of people might think you need to be a biology major to be in my position, but in New Jersey, you’re talking about Barnegat Bay with its maritime industries, the ship-building industry and the lumber industry. There is a lot of history related to the natural resources in New Jersey and that’s the big tie-in for me.
“Any time I get a chance to integrate the Lenni-Lenape into my talks, I do. I also talk about the pirates that were in the state. There were a lot of Pine Barrens pirates and a lot of robbers along the shore. There’s a lot of cool stuff about New Jersey.
“For the most part, the people we deal with our naturally into it and are inquisitive so it helps your teaching component. You have a ready audience. They want to learn and that’s why they’re there.”
Perrini says she’s always learning, too.
“To get paid to do something you enjoy is great. Plus, we go to workshops and things that are science-related and the internet and field guides are great resources. I can tell you that there’s not a day that I work where I don’t learn something new and that’s why I enjoy it.”
Although Tom Lowe ’81 doesn’t have a science degree, he’s become somewhat of an amateur environmentalist.
Lowe, who teaches history at Overbrook High School in Pine Hill and lives in Gloucester Township, has spent lots of time over the past several years canoeing along Big Timber Creek. The 21-mile-long creek flows through 28 communities, and drains a 63-square-mile area, beginning in Washington and Winslow townships and ending in West Deptford and Gloucester City.
During his canoe trips, he has seen wildlife—such as deer, turtles, red-tailed hawks, herons, egrets, beaver and even eagles. Unfortunately, he’s also seen oil slicks and tons of trash.
A member of American Legion Post 281 in Gloucester Township, he and other members are part of a clean-up crew that helps spruce up the creek area near their post. Lowe said the Chews Landing Road and Black Horse Pike intersection is a big cause of litter that gets into the creek.
“People have their cars stopped and just chuck trash right out of their windows,” said Lowe, who has pulled a box spring, milk jugs full of automotive oil and tires out of the creek.
The good news, he said, is that water pollution in the creek has started to decrease—thanks to a new wastewater treatment system built by the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority. Before the system went on line, many area communities pumped their treated wastewater directly into several streams, including Big Timber Creek.
But the even better news is that wildlife is making a comeback. Lowe said that seeing beaver in the creek is very significant, something that’s been 200 years in the making.
“Surely there are beaver in other places in New Jersey, but the fur traders back in the late 1700s and early 1800s kind of drove them out of the area, and just in the past two to five years, as far as Big Timber Creek is concerned, they’ve finally made a comeback.”
Lowe, a history major who minored in secondary education, says he tries to mix environmental issues into his teaching but says that education is the key to helping preserve the valuable resources around us.
“I always try to get the kids to think how, say 300-400 years ago, Indians were walking around the area and the trails they created back then have become the major roads and highways of today. But people need to be better educated in what’s out there.
“I know that science teachers cover things in environmental science but I think there should be more field trips to get kids out there and see it firsthand. Kids are busy playing games on their computers and on the internet. They should get out and explore. They tell me they don’t go out, they just go home and stay there.”
Lowe’s love of the environment comes from several sources, including his family history.
“My grandfather owned a farm in lower Delaware and at least once a year my dad would drive us down there and we’d feed the chickens and hogs. And my mom’s sister lived near the Mohawk River in New York, and right behind her house was a creek and we used to walk out there all day and see all sorts of animals. As a city kid, I thought it was the greatest thing in the world since I didn’t see much nature at home.”
Plus, Lowe is part Seneca Indian so he also feels a special kinship with nature. “When I’m out there, I can’t help but think that some of my distant relatives may have been in the same place. Let’s just say I am an environmentalist in the intense interest that I have in it and the love and respect I have for mother earth. I truly feel that I have made my Seneca ancestors proud of me.”
Soaking up sunshine
When Stephen Masapollo ’73 is asked what he’s most proud of about his business, his answer puts a gleam in his eye.
“The fact that I can leave a positive legacy for my 5-year-old daughter, Stephanie,” said the CEO of SolarWorks NJ, a solar energy company he started in April 2003. “I feel like I contribute when I put up solar panels. It’s something that’s tangible. She’ll be able, in 20 years, to look around and say, ‘My father did that building and that building and he did that.’”
When he was a communications major in the early 1970s, “There were no environmental concerns,” he said. “And that’s the way we grew up. I graduated in 1973. There were no concerns back then.”
However it’s a big concern in today’s world and Masapollo has succeeded in an industry that he admittedly knew nothing about before he started. After graduating from Glassboro State, he got a job with PMA Inc., an advertising/PR/marketing company that he eventually went on to own. He spent 15 years with PMA before taking over as the CEO of American Day Treatment Centers, a psychiatric care company with 10 locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“I was really getting burnt over managed care and in the meantime a friend was talking to me about solar energy and what was going on in California and how there were rebates for using alternate energy and I said, ‘You know what, I’ve had it with this. I’ll take a shot.’ I started from absolutely zero knowledge and I said, you know, I think I can do this. I just learned.
“It was a total departure from anything I had ever done,” said Masapollo, who resides in Washington Township with his daughter and wife, Jean. “For the first two years, I didn’t make a penny. I made like $13,000 or something. And then, as I learned more, I finally got my first job and then after that I just started getting more jobs and bigger jobs.
“I went for the commercial market which some people told me, ‘You’re not going to get any commercial clients.’ So as soon as they told me that, I said, ‘I’m going to go get one,’” he said with a defiant laugh. “And I’m still trying to go get them.”
Masapollo has succeeded tremendously in just a short time. In November 2007, his Washington Township-based company was named the fastest-growing, privately held company in the 10-county Philadelphia region in the Philadelphia 100 competition. The competition is run by the Wharton Small Business Development Center, the Entrepreneurs’ Forum of Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Business Journal.
And before that honor, SolarWorks was ranked No. 1 in the Top 25 Fastest Growing Companies in South Jersey, a competition conducted by the Philadelphia Business Journal. The nominee list is compiled for the magazine by Rowan’s Rohrer College of Business. Masapollo’s firm was also recognized by NJ Biz Magazine as a “Top Emerging Technical Company.”
Masapollo, who has satellite offices in Marlton and Denville and in Wilmington, Del., says that he’s hoping to continue the strides his company has made as more people look for renewable energy sources and ways to save money.
In terms of government rebates offered for the purchase and use of solar energy, New Jersey is in a state of flux, but Pennsylvania is close to initiating legislation that will make it easier and more cost-effective for consumers to install and use solar energy. Delaware already has a program.
“New Jersey will eventually come to its senses and come up with something that’s concrete,” Masapollo said, “so when I go talk to potential clients, I can actually give them solid answers, but more importantly for me, Delaware has a program and Pennsylvania will have a program probably within the next six months, if not sooner. We’ve already presold in Pennsylvania and we’ve had appointments in Delaware. I’m pretty optimistic.”
Plus, he’s shooting for bigger goals.
“One of the things I want to accomplish is, when I’m flying in or out of Philadelphia International Airport, I want to be able to see a whole huge array of my panels because that will tell me that I’ve gotten really successful. That’s a goal. It’s a good one and I will get it.”
Don’t bet against him.
Protecting our resources
One of the many questions Stephan Szardenings ’89 was asked during the interview process with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was “Would you have any trouble issuing a summons?”
Szardenings’ reply was quick and assertive.
“No problem,” he said. It came easy because he had so much experience when as student worker for campus security, he patrolled the campus parking lots and wrote tickets.
Szardenings got that DEP job in September 1989 and is still there, working as a principal environmental specialist for the DEP’s Bureau of Hazardous Waste Compliance and Enforcement in the northern regional office in Cedar Knolls. He has also earned accreditation as a certified hazardous materials manager.
“Basically they call me a hazardous waste inspector,” said Szardenings, who is married and has one daughter. “The rules we enforce come through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.”
Congress enacted that legislation in 1976 and it is still America’s primary law governing the disposal of solid and hazardous waste.
“New Jersey is what the Environmental Protection Agency considers an authorized state, which means the DEP in New Jersey meets or exceeds the federal requirements for all hazardous waste regulations,” explained Szardenings. “We do the inspections and any enforcement and notice of violations internally and the EPA audits our records and goes through our inspections to make sure that we’re actually, if we issued violations, issuing the proper violations.”
In his job, the Roxbury Township resident goes to facilities that have notified the federal government that they generate hazardous waste and inspects their disposal and removal processes. “We also do incident investigations if there’s a spill or release at a commercial facility. We get the info through our hotline and we’ll go out and investigate it. In New Jersey there are several commercial treatment storage and disposal facilities.”
Szardenings, who majored in biological science and was an EMT squad member during his college days, also has taught advanced courses to his colleagues and volunteers with the DEP’s Transportation Oversight Unit. The unit oversees all hazardous waste coming in and out of the state. “We work with the New Jersey State Police which may pull over various transporters. They have the authority to pull them over and we do roadside inspections to make sure the paperwork matches what is being carried in the truck.
“I like my job,” said Szardenings. “It’s good. It’s a nice combination of doing office work and being out in the field. You’re seeing all different types of manufacturing processes and all of the ways things are being made. That’s interesting. And doing the other side jobs, the training and passing on wisdom to other inspectors—and hopefully helping them—is rewarding.
“Before I joined DEP, I knew I wanted to do something in an environmental area. That was my first career goal.”
When I was a kid I always liked to be outside,” said Crystal Mattson Leavey ’04, M’07.
And outside she is in her position as a staff environmental engineer for Haddon Heights-based Pennoni Associates Inc.
“I definitely enjoy that [being outside] and it’s kind of why I gravitated toward the remediation and environmental side of things,” she said.
The Pine Hill resident started working at Pennoni just two weeks after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering specializing in environmental studies. Leavey also minored in mathematics.
“My father is an ironworker and he was hoping that I’d become a structural engineer,” she said of her choice of major upon entering Rowan. “I started out that way but I was more interested in the environmental side of things. I’m really happy with the choice I made. I just like trying to go out and fix things.”
Leavey handles diverse tasks, mainly dealing with soil and groundwater remediation, but she often finds herself immersed in a range of projects.
“I do a little bit of everything,” said Leavey, who married her husband, Vince ’04, last July. “I work with soil and ground water remediation, gas station cleanup, soil sampling, ground water monitoring, underground storage tank removal and landfill investigations.”
Leavey noted that most of her work comes after pollutants or contaminants have been discovered, often dealing with what are known as “brownfields.”
The Environmental Protection Agency defines brownfields as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.”
According to Leavey, “Brownfields locations usually are former industrial and commercial properties that the owner or operator has walked away from and that contain some level of contamination that needs to be taken care of before a developer or municipality can come in and revitalize the area.
“The former RCA facility in Camden is an example. They sold the buildings in Camden, the owner walked away, they were cleaned up and now they’ve got luxury apartments. Our company actually did the remediation and cleanup at the Victor Lofts. And I’m working on the Radio Lofts project which is the building next door.”
When she discusses the environmental mistakes of past generations and what needs to be done to clean up these sites, Leavey harbors no resentment. “Years ago, gas stations for example, they just put some tanks in the ground. There weren’t any regulations. They weren’t told to do anything differently and there wasn’t any guidance. It wasn’t until the EPA was established when people started to take a look and say, ‘We really need to do something about this.’”
Leavey is one person who is doing something.
Michael Shute ’93 graduated with a BA in communications liberal arts. He lives in Gloucester Township with his wife, Colleen ’93, M’96 and their three-year-old son, Ryan and newborn daughter, Keira. Mike can be reached at mshute [at] snip.net.