Civil Engineering Major Travels to Peru, Does Research
On the last day of May, when many college students are revelling in the freedom and unaccountability of summer, Liliana Calix was boarding a plane to Peru.
The senior at Manhattan College travelled to the South American country to volunteer with two environmental non-profit organizations. She was the only student from Manhattan College to attend the trip, along with about 30 students from different colleges and universities across the US.
“I was nervous because it was the first time I really studied abroad alone,” she said. While she’s travelled quite a bit, it has always been with family or other students from the college.
As a civil engineering student, Calix had extremely limited options in terms of traditional study abroad trips offered by the college, but the study abroad office introduced her to an organization that creates customizable trips for students based on majors and interests.
Calix, who is half-Honduran, knew she wanted to travel to a Spanish-speaking country. At home, her father often speaks to her in Spanish and she replies in English. She is currently minoring in the language at MC, hoping it will lead her to more international environmental engineering opportunities.
“It makes you more well-rounded. My mom always pushed us to learn new cultures, which influenced my decision on why I wanted to study abroad and why I minored in Spanish,” she said. “You stand out more, that’s something you can say to employers. It’s different.”
In Peru, Calix was stationed in the country’s capital city – Lima – where she did research for the non-profits Be Green and Life Out of Plastic. The two organizations, according to Calix, focus on greening local businesses, recycling, and limiting plastic pollution.
Calix’s responsibility was to work with cosmetic products, specifically looking at the amount of microplastics in different items.
“Three days a week I went to different parts of Lima, and in each district I would hit three of the major supermarket chains looking at what products they were trying to get people to buy,” she said. “It was more of a public education research project, which I really liked because I had never done anything like that before.”
Calix was in Peru for the entire month of June, returning stateside just before the Fourth of July holiday. The long weekend was her only summer respite, as she returned to campus shortly thereafter to conduct a research study on the Saw Mill River in Yonkers.
Working with Kevin Farley, professor in the civil engineering department, Calix continued a research project conducted by another MC professor about a decade ago. Her study noted differences in water quality and possible reasons for such changes.
“It’s always a pleasure to have Liliana in class and to work with her on research,” Farley said. “She has a deep concern for environmental issues, is always willing to work hard on whatever problem is presented to her, and has a never-ending enthusiasm for her work.”
Calix attributes her deep interest in environmental engineering to classes she took in high school. One involved the creation of a rainwater harvesting system. She is currently a member of hte New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA), which falls under the big umbrella of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
During her research project, which focused on a short strip of the Saw Mill River just before it enters the Hudson, Calix discovered a significant decrease in bacteria due to daylighting – an engineering project where parts of the river that were previously underground are brought back to the water surface.
Calix worked with graduate assistant Kyle Quinn, who completed his undergraduate degree at SUNY Oneonta before attending MC and doing research with Farley.
“I typically focus on a different research project … but I was eager to help Liliana with her sampling and her research,” he said. “We would go out to the Saw Mill River about every other week and take water samples.”
Calix presented the data for the first time at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in early September and will present it at the college’s annual research scholars symposium on campus this week.
While Calix recognizes that research might not be the path for every undergraduate student, she highly suggests it.
“If you know exactly what you want to study or you have an area of interest and you see things in the newspaper that spark your interest I highly suggest you do research because I think it’s a great way to explore,” she said. “I learned from this summer that maybe I don’t want to work in a lab but I loved the project I did anyway and that was something important that I learned about myself.”
Calix will graduate this upcoming May, and has decided to pursue a master’s degree in environmental engineering.