Environmental Engineering Students Collaborate with Town of Lexington

Civil Engineering students outside learning how to record outfall data from a Town of Lexington engineer
UMass Lowell students practice recording outfall data with Town of Lexington engineer and UML alumnus David Pavlik, left.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

For the past nine years, undergraduate students from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have been working with the Town of Lexington on stormwater monitoring as part of their engineering service project.

Called the “Stream Team,” the project is a collaboration between UML’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the department’s Environmental Engineering class.

“The students assist Lexington public works engineers with the monitoring responsibilities required for the town’s permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection,” says Assoc. Teaching Prof. Edward Hajduk, the associate chair for undergraduate studies. This permit fulfills the EPA’s mandate for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Storm Water Management Program.

Incorporated in 1713, Lexington is located 10 miles northwest of downtown Boston and just over 17 miles south of UML’s campus and has a population of about 35,000.

The Stream Team was launched in the fall of 2013 when a student, Hannah Butera ’14, was looking to get involved in an environmentally oriented project. Hajduk introduced Butera to John Livsey, Lexington’s town engineer, and one of his staff engineers, David Pavlik ’95. Livsey is a double River Hawk (B.S. 1993 and M.S. 1995) and a member of the UML department’s Industrial Advisory Board. Soon, the idea for the Stream Team was born.

During the project’s first year, Butera and two dozen other students collected water samples from the Shawsheen River watershed outfalls for field and laboratory testing. The tests were used to screen for E. coli bacteria, detergents, motor oil, ammonia and other contaminants, and to determine their source to mitigate it.

“The goal is for the program to serve as a model for other municipalities seeking to meet the EPA’s stormwater mandate,” says Hajduk.

Since its inception, more than 100 students have volunteered in the Stream Team project. It has fostered a teamwork-based learning environment, in which students get trained in water sampling procedures by professional engineers and in the use of GPS and surveying software as well as data analysis.

For a couple of years, the Stream Team branched out to work with city officials in Woburn, Massachusetts. In 2015, a dozen students collaborated with John Corey, Woburn’s city engineer, to help the city satisfy the EPA’s storm sewer permit requirement. In the process, they contributed to Woburn’s pollution reduction program and ensured the quality and safety of its water supply by uncovering illicit connections and discharges.

“This unique partnership has led to some great successes, such as the hiring of several former student participants by the Town of Lexington as well as the STORMY Award presented by the New England Stormwater Collaborative in 2015,” says Hajduk, explaining that the awards honor the most innovative ideas in stormwater management. “Numerous Stream Team members have also pre­sented at various regional conferences hosted by professional organizations such as the New England Water Environment Association.”

UML Students Are ‘Work Ready’

For Joshua Walsh ’22, an environmental engineering graduate from Merrimac, Massachusetts, and a co-leader of last year’s Stream Team, the project helps build trust between the town government and residents. “The team is actively ensuring that the water around Lexington is as clean as possible, and the community knows this,” he says.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the Stream Team experience. Additionally, it gave me a great résumé booster. Having that extracurricular field experience gives you an edge over your peers. The Town of Lexington also has a lot of connections with companies in New England, which is the easiest way to get your foot in the door,” says Walsh, who started work in the spring as an industrial wastewater/stormwater consultant at Ramboll, a Danish international company with offices in Boston.

“The students have been truly amazing to work with,” says Livsey. “I have been impressed with their passion for the environment, the dedication to show up under any and all weather conditions to collect samples and the willingness to take on this task. They are quick learners and excited to be involved. We have also been asked by consultants for references for both interns and full-time employees that have ‘Stream Team’ experience. UML students are indeed work ready.”

Michael Sprague ’13, ’14, one of the first Stream Team students, was initially hired by Lexington and is now the town engineer for the Department of Public Works in Bedford, Massachusetts. He says the program has grown tremendously since he joined the team in 2014.

“Being able to go from a student participant to working for the Town of Bedford was a rewarding experience for me,” he says. “Many of the engineering firms that work with the town are aware of the Stream Team and its hard-working students, and they frequently reach out to see if there are any upcoming graduates looking for their first job. It’s a truly wonderful collaboration that I couldn’t be more proud to have been able to participate in on both sides.” 

Sprague says the education and training he received at UMass Lowell were exactly what he needed to succeed. “The classes I took and the professors in the program helped me to accelerate my career by teaching me the hard work, dedication and knowledge essential for success in the workforce,” he says.

“Not only does Stream Team give students real work experience, it also gives them a sense of pride that they are helping not just the Town of Lexington’s waterbodies, but also the other communities in each watershed that they sample from,” says Marissa Liggiero ’17, Lexington’s senior civil engineer and former Stream Team member.

“The collaboration between the Town of Lexington and UMass Lowell is what got my career started,” she says. “I used the knowledge and skills I gained from school and the sampling experience with the Stream Team to get this position. I would not be where I am today without the partnership between UML and Lexington, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.”