New Paltz High student Hope Nitza wins first place in a competition for the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in New York State Life and Entertainment

New Paltz High School student Hope Nitza was one of five winners in the poster presentation department at the 36th Annual Upstate New York Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

The symposium, hosted by the University of Albany, practically took place on March 10th and 11th this year.

The City of New Paltz was the first winner in the Environmental Science subcategory of the poster competition. Their winning poster, titled “The Impact of Land Development on Electricity Ecosystem Health at Mill Brook Preserve in New Paltz, NY,” was one of 43 posters submitted by students nationwide. Participants submitted an electronic version of their posters along with one of the judges viewing the presentations via Zoom.

According to Justin Seweryn, New Paltz High Teacher and Instructor for the Science Research Program, Nitza’s work was the culmination of years of effort. From her sophomore year, Nitza, now a senior, worked with her mentor, Neil Bettez, a professor and researcher at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies who also serves as New Paltz Town Supervisor.

Nitza’s work with Bettez, Seweryn said, enabled her to come up with a unique hypothesis and use a local land reserve to answer a question about the impact of land use on the health of the river. “Her project has been an incredible success because of her courage to make complex efforts, her ability to work with local stakeholders, her diligence not to give up when faced with logistical hurdles, and her old-fashioned hard work,” Seweryn told a press release. “We are very proud of them.”

Nitza, who is pursuing a career in conservation biology, initially considered focusing her project on wildlife or animals. “But I realized that I wanted to do something local because I wanted my research and findings to actually be relevant to my life and the city of New Paltz,” she said in the press release. “I wanted the people of New Paltz, including myself, to learn about our impact on the environment around us.”

She said she chose the Mill Brook Preserve because she experienced it in her backyard. “I have a particular admiration for it,” she said. “I couldn’t miss the chance to potentially help with my insights.”

After reading numerous peer-reviewed articles, she decided to focus her studies on current ecology. Nitza credited a number of people for helping her over the years, including Bettez, whom she acknowledges as her mentor. Martha Cheo, a local macroinvertebrate expert who shared her expertise; and Seweryn, who helped her access resources she needed, such as geographic information systems mapping software, and took hours in the evenings to work with her.

Nitza also thanked her parents, Ted Nitza and Dr. Amy Nitza, for her late night help proofreading and editing her work while she hit the deadlines. “What inspires me most about New Paltz ecology is how tangible it is,” said Hope. “I can step into streams just a short walk from my house and scoop out jars of creek debris that are secretly filled with lots of little bugs, and those bugs can tell me a whole story about the health of their entire creek.

“I’m really glad I chose the New Paltz area because it’s so cool to see how my home, my school building, and the city I am in every day affects the ecology around us impact. “

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