SHU students learn in‘tree’guing lesson about environment

Environmental studies students are working with Facilities Engineering to identify and create an inventory of more than 900 trees on campus. In addition, the students are learning about new technology for tree identification.

Photo courtesy of Wanda Knapik

John Signorello, the associate vice president of Facilities Engineering and Business Affairs, said he funded the project, which began on Sept. 12. He explained that his department paid for the annual software license for Tree Plotter, a cloud-based software system.

Signorello said he has a long history of funding campus sustainability initiatives for the campus garden, which was established in 2011, especially with hosting annual celebrations of Earth Day on the Green in April.

Jeff Truskowski, the director of grounds, said, “It is a great team project and will be very useful going forward,” He added, “We are excited to see how far we can take it.”

Wanda Knapik, an assistant professor of environmental studies, is another partner of the project. She said that 850 out of 900 trees on campus are in the Tree Plotter software. Knapik said that students are connecting with nature and outdoors and are appreciating the natural beauty and diversity on campus.

She added that in addition, they are also learning about trees and their benefits, the careers of arborists, data collection and how to use the data.

Connor Paradis, a sophomore business major, discussed his experience with the project. “So far in our project, we have learned the importance of tree inventories and the immense (positive) effects that trees have on the community,” Paradis said.

Paradis explained that there are many different reasons to keep track of tree inventory. For example, he said a golf course may keep an inventory of their trees to budget maintenance costs for the year. “The reason we are taking inventory of trees on campus is to assist the grounds crew in knowing which trees need maintenance now, which trees may need maintenance soon, and which trees seem to be o.k.” he said.

“What many people don’t realize is that we have nearly 1,000 trees on campus, and a huge diversity of tree species,” Paradis said. “Some species of trees are more susceptible to be infested by various insects, and with a tree inventory, the grounds crew can keep track of which trees are in need of treatment.”

Helan Thomas, a junior biology and environmental studies major, shared her thoughts on the project.

“I’ve never realized just how many trees and the vast number of species we have on this campus,” Thomas said. “Trees provide more than just pretty scenery and shade. They filter water, absorb carbon, provide ground support, and provide an ecosystem for insects and animals.”

Thomas said that one of the board members mentioned how South Orange knows where all of the fire hydrants and sewage drains are, but have no clue how many trees there are in town. She said an inventory of the trees would provide South Orange with an idea of how much money to budget for trees to gain maximum capacity of them.

“As an aspiring environmentalist/marine biologist, learning more about the role of trees, management needs, and potential would enrich my knowledge of the ecosystem and their impact on both marine and land ecosystems,” she said.

Knapik said the next step is to help the township of South Orange Village with its tree inventory project by counting and mapping the 10,000 to 12,000 public and street trees. She said the town’s manual inventory on paper was lost in a flood and that the Village is starting from scratch.

Alexa Coughlin can be reached at

Author: Alexa Coughlin

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