Matt Sweeney Shares Passion of Community Service and Environmental Initiatives

by Alexa Schmidt, Features & Managing Editor

Matt Sweeney is the friendliest face around Manhattan College’s campus, known for striking up a conversation with just about everyone. A civil engineer, with a particular passion for the environment, Sweeney lives a life dedicated to community service, and encourages you to do the same.

Sweeney is the vice president of the New York Water Environment Association chapter at MC. More often known as NYWEA, the organization pushes for sustainable initiatives on campus, sponsors environmental cleanups around the local neighborhood and promotes proposals such as the “green fee” and an organic waste drop-off site for the New York City Sanitation Department, or DSNY composting Program. Under the guidance of civil engineering professor, Walter P. Saukin, Ph.D., NYWEA partners with other student organizations on campus in order to provide lectures, networking and community service events.

Just a couple of weeks ago, 22 MC students came out on a Saturday morning to participate in the leaf crunch at Brust Park, contributing 188 bags of leaves to the DSNY. Since joining the NYWEA, Sweeney has been working on expanding the amount of members and outreach.

“We’ve really been pushing our volunteering events, because … we want to make sure that service is part of our mission. We have lectures on the technical aspects, environmental engineering, specifically. But I saw that there was a need for expanding into just generally environmental issues, because there needs to be a voice for that. And my club could be more useful in a general scope. So move that up, just talking about wastewater treatment, environmental restoration, we’re talking about climate change, and we’re talking about all these different issues,” Sweeney said.

In addition to expanding the club’s mission to broader topics, Sweeney also wants to open the club to people of all majors. He recognizes that a majority of the members are civil engineers, who also partake in the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, chapter at Manhattan.

“I’ve been trying to grow the relationship with them [ASCE] as well, because they have a greater reach than we do. I kind of want to make sure I get to the civil engineers and I also want to get beyond civil engineers to the science majors, environmental studies majors, to sociology, whatever. I want to get to everybody,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney also serves as the chairman for the Neighborhood Relations Committee through student government.

“The largest, the most frequent complaints I get from people in the neighborhood is trash and noise, which is very hard to temper. It’s not really an easy problem to solve. Trash is easier to solve. Clearly, you could go out and pick it up. So that’s what we did. So we went around for like an hour, and we picked up like five bags of garbage, like two bags recyclables, and it was just an hour with a crew of like, 15 people. So that was really cool,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney has three passions: his work with community, research and environmental issues. He came in his freshman year thinking he was going to do one thing, but discovered it wasn’t exactly what he wanted. He then immersed himself in research with Jessica Wilson, Ph.D., and graduate students. They studied water quality in Van Cortlandt Park, and Sweeney eventually got to present his research and advocate to the public on his findings.

“That got me interested in community and seeing, you know, we do have a difference here, even as college students we’re part of the community as well. To really just care about your parks, care about what’s around you, because once you care about what’s around, you start to care about the people around you. You just throw yourself in and just continually it’s a snowball effect. I’ve just gotten more and more into it,” Sweeney said.

“Getting to know more and more people involved in these types of things, you get to meet local leaders, local politicians, and you meet people that are doers. And that’s really kind of an inspiring thing to see. And I’ve definitely discovered that no matter what goes on at the national level, politically, locally, you can affect change. We can definitely affect change in our local level. Because it’s you and the constituents. In the end it’s the leaders you know, you can definitely talk to them directly and make something happen. So it’s kind of been something inspiring to see in my work. All my work kind of ties into each other I guess. The theme being community,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney wants to expand the amount of research done in Van Cortlandt Park, and he wants to make the connection tighter. His undergraduate research is something that has helped his career trajectory tremendously, and he wants others to have the same experience.

When asked how he got involved in these passions projects, Sweeney had a simple answer.

“I know that for sure, I always cared very much about service. I’ve always done it through middle school high school, just because I wanted to know for after service hours, I just like even when I was small, I always liked to help,” he said.

Attending college has provided Sweeney with more tools to dive into service and to spend his time doing the things that he cares about. A family friend offered Sweeney a mantra that he’s taken with him his whole life: helping someone is the best feeling you can get. Something as easy as raking leaves is therapeutic to Sweeney, and he wants others to try their hand at something they care about.

Sweeney sees himself working in a city agency, or urban planning with the city government. He realizes that his purpose is to “put people together.” He helps to “connect the dots,” and put engineers and politicians together to overcome their differences and ultimately, solve the complex problem.

“I would just ask that, as Manhattan College students, we get involved in whatever you care about, find something you care about, just work at it. Sacrifice some of your time to give because it has benefits. You’re helping another, you’re helping the environment, the social cause, whatever it may be.”

“I’m trying to increase the environmental awareness on the campus and trying to show that there’s a lot to be done here. Doesn’t have to all be done overnight. It’s very possible, but I just want people to start thinking that way.”