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    Thursday, February 02, 2023

    SAVING OUR PLANET FROM OURSELVES

    Aykurt Kalican and Rye Walencewicz talk about their work with Audubon Connecticut and the DEEP on Barn Island in Stonington for their environmental engineering tech co-op. Photo submitted
    Three Rivers Community College students work with first graders from Salem School, who are seen inspecting a river simulator last year. Photo by Diba Khan-Bureau
    Diba Khan-Bureau

    Professor Diba Khan-Bureau of Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, a renowned environmental engineer, has spent her professional years both in the classroom and in the field, striving to preserve the health and dignity of the natural world, which our own species has so earnestly been despoiling at an alarming rate. And though our species has labored at the deplorable practice of self-serving gains – at the price of other lifeforms on Planet Earth – dedicated activists like this tireless professional stay the course for a better world.

    A onetime environmental engineer for Electric Boat in Groton (mid 1990s), Dr. Khan-Bureau sought to make more of a significant impact in the critical areas of hazardous waste removal, air compliance and, above all, the ever-looming menace of climate change, which she feels must be taken far more seriously.

    “While at EB and managing hazardous waste, I dealt with harmful constituents that are commonly found in industrial manufacturing,” she explained. “Certain states, including Connecticut, have strict regulations for this process.”

    Professor Khan-Bureau makes it clear that many of us are unaware of harmful products we are exposed to daily, such as plastics, which she states are, “showing up everywhere.” And as necessary and important the work this energetic and still young professional was doing for Electric Boat, Diba Khan-Bureau felt she could make more of an impact as a scientist functioning out in the actual field.

    “I fear we are systematically impacting our environment negatively and we need to do something about that now. Herbicides and pesticides are destroying insect species. This sort of behavior must be addressed if we are to keep our world healthy. But it’s extremely difficult to change people’s thinking when you consider there are many countries (80%) that actually include insects as a part of their daily diets.”

    The gravity of the rising crisis of our kind’s habitually destructive activities impelled the young professor into becoming a more practicing activist in the field of environmental engineering—leading not only into groundbreaking scientific discoveries of her own, but also into the ultra-important area of education and enlisting eager students into the field as well.

    “I was credited with the discovery of a new species of diatoms: the Didymosphenia Hullii.” (For those of us not entirely tuned into scientific jargon, a diatom is a photosynthetic single cell organism … of which there are millions!) And Khan-Bureau is among those knowledgeable enough, active enough, and keen enough in her profession to have made such a discovery.

    She not only continues with her invaluable contributions in studying and helping protect the natural world — to which she has devoted a lifetime — she has now also encouraged and mobilized a corps of climate and field warriors, forming a veritable student army of environmental science majors at Three Rivers Community College.

    “I’m teaching them about the science involved and the regulations that are crucial both nationwide and worldwide regarding the concerns of today,” Khan-Bureau said. “That includes biodiversity decline, water and air pollution, and the peril of invasive species to name only some of the studies involved. My students and I also vibracore (technique for collecting core samples from riverbeds) into the earth to determine how long these species of nuisance diatoms have been in the Farmington River in Connecticut.”

    In essence, this particular professor has transcended the classroom by mustering together and leading a team of budding young students that now share her longtime commitments and convictions.

    “Everyone needs to take more seriously our responsibilities to this planet,” she explained with an iron passion that runs deep and sincere. “I don’t think everyday people are deliberately trying to ruin the environment, but the public needs to be better educated about our ecosystem and the services it provides for us, while large corporations must be more mindful of consequences.”

    Undeterred by the vitriol spewing out from crass radio and television talk show hosts — and from shortsighted legislators who treat the climate change crisis like the punchline of a crude joke, Khan-Bureau forges ahead with her rapidly rising army of staunch science activists committed to the rescue of our natural world . . . and our future.

    “I believe in humanity and in the people who are truly concerned. The beautiful thing about education is that it opens the door to knowledge and opportunity. We’ll find a way,” she added with a smile of quiet confidence.

    Our planet has a potent player in this woman—and those who are now following the path that led her to a life of purposeful passion. Doctor Diba Khan-Bureau is training them to care enough about what’s happening to our planet and encouraging them to enter an arena where they might assist in turning it around on behalf of a world in dire need of help.

    “Well find a way,” this sincere crusader for our environment assures us.

    Sidebar to Diba – “BEYOND THE CLASSROOM”

    By Nicholas Checker

    Students of Three Rivers Community College professor, Diba Khan-Bureau, go well beyond the classroom in their pursuit of Environmental Engineering Technology degrees. These aspiring young academics are all devotees to the science of preserving the health of the natural world and are honing their craft through internships awarded them by such time-honored organizations as Audubon Connecticut, Eightmile River, and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, DEEP, and the US Geological Survey.

    It is all “literal hands-on learning and training,” as Professor Khan-Bureau puts it, made possible via generous internship grants that send these young environmentalists out into the field like true professionals.

    Two such promising young proteges of Doctor Khan-Bureau’s science program are Aykurt Kalicon and Rye Walencewicz who recently completed an intensive field study of conditions in the marshlands of Barn Island, Stonington. Their growing level of expertise was displayed impressively on the final day of the 2022 fall semester, this past Dec. 16.

    The two young men not only detailed their studies and findings as though speaking from the standpoint of accomplished field technicians, but they also conveyed the same air of conviction that has been an integral aspect of their curriculum. Both spoke glowingly of all they had learned under the tutelage of their beloved professor … and of their own aspirations.

    “I came into this program with only an inkling of what environmental engineering technology was all about,” said Kalicon. “It has now all been solidified for me, and I completely understand my direction in life.”

    Walencewicz expressed sentiments much the same, adding, “Ultimately it was Diba’s passion for what this work actually means that sealed it for me.”

    The vivacious professor’s other students concurred, and for reasons of their own.

    “I didn’t know what I really wanted for a major,” said Hannah Chapman, “until entering this program and realizing I want to work with wildlife and with nature.”

    Randy Chartieer recalls a longer journey to his decision, stating, “I started at Three Rivers six years ago and with absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life. I did have an interest in marine biology, and then Diba wound up intriguing me with this field. I’m hoping to either work in conservation or for OCHA. Most of all, I now have a definite direction in life.”

    Giselle expressed not only a field of interest, but the added air of hope for herself … and others. “I came to Three Rivers because I wanted to help heal my community—a low-income area,” she expressed with a soft strength born of newly found convictions. “I was interested in social work, due to close ties with my own culture. And just putting my feet in the grass itself, I felt a real connection with the natural world. I’d never realized I could actually make a living doing this kind of work.” (Or how she might inspire others of her culture to discover such hope.)

    It has long been said that teaching is all about shaping young minds for the purpose of developing productive citizens. Spending time with the students of Doctor Diba Khan-Bureau makes it clear that is precisely what’s happening in her classroom … and beyond.

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