Angela Perantoni: Super Student

This model student is preparing herself for the work force through every available channel.

Perantoni planted salt grass and then ran analytical tests to determine how much erosion the grass can prevent.

August 15, 2014

For Angela Perantoni, the pursuit of a career in environmental science is a philanthropic effort. “Environmentalism, to me, is not a movement to protect the Earth, it’s a movement to protect ourselves,“ said the senior ENST major. “It’s the largest form of social altruism.”

In order to prepare herself, this highly motivated student has taken on three minors including sustainability, soil science and Spanish. She also studied abroad in Costa Rica last summer and participated in a prestigious, competitive internship program in the New Mexican desert this summer. It was her Costa Rican experience that defined the environmental issue she would like to work to resolve.

While in San Ramón, a small town in the north of the country, she noticed a large amount of greywater in the streets. Greywater is soapy water, often from laundry, dishwashers, and kitchen sinks. While in the United States the greywater is treated in plants, developing countries such as Costa Rica don’t have the infrastructure to make that a reality. “Seeing that transitioning country with the greywater in the street was jarring,” explained the eco-technology design student. “This new, firsthand knowledge of this issue inspired me to look into greywater.

In addition to this inspiration, studying in Costa Rica allowed Perantoni to experience a different culture, see a beautiful diversity of life, and finish her Spanish minor. She was able to take a class in tropical marine biology that included snorkeling trips to both sides of the country in order to examine the biodiversity and types of organisms that live on each side. She found that the Pacific side had a large intertidal zone that lead to some interesting adaptations in the organisms while in the Caribbean side had more sedentary organisms due to a small intertidal zone.  “I unknowingly touched an octopus!” She laughed. “It was marvelous to see that diversity of life, but it also helped me to notice that I take for granted the beauty in the world.”

While in San Ramón, she was also able to, in Spanish, work with a professor who studied plant taxonomy at the local university. Perantoni’s job was to go to lake restoration sites and describe the levels of disturbance based on the plant species present. She also had to mount barium samples and describe them in Spanish. This required an extremely high level of Spanish due to the fact that the university was going to use these samples for its research. That Spanish came in handy this summer as most of her colleagues in New Mexico were bilingual.

Southern New Mexico is an arid, unforgiving place to be in the summer, but it was the perfect destination for Perantoni. She traveled south to work with the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center (NSC ERC) on a project called Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNEWIt). A collaborative lab between Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and Colorado School of Mines, the project hopes to improve water quality in the region by removing invasive plant species and reintroducing natural species to curb erosion. Perantoni planted salt grass and then ran analytical tests to determine how much erosion the grass can prevent.

Perantoni took advantage of a program through the NSF called Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). The REU program allowed her to gain hands on experience assisting in laboratory tasks, assisting in field tasks, forming research questions, interpreting data, producing reports as well as other research related tasks.  The huge amounts of responsibility suited Perantoni. “My favorite part was being able to articulate my own research ideas and work in a research environment in which I was more than just a lab assistant,” said the rising senior. “The fact that I was constantly learning something new was invigorating and intellectually stimulating.”

While most people would shy away from the harsh conditions, once she adjusted, Perantoni thrived in them. “Conducting research in the arid Southwestern United States while I had little firsthand knowledge as to the ecology of the region, allowed me to be completely immersed in a learning, research environment,” she recalled. By getting out of her comfort zone, Perantoni was also able to network, a key component of the internship experience. Because the lab is a collaboration between several universities, Perantoni was able to cast a wide net in terms of relationship building.

Perantoni did not come to the University of Maryland knowing that she wanted to study soil sciences. After listening to a sustainability lecture her freshman year, she realized she needed to help fix society’s environmental issues. Now, “ENST has provided me with the necessary academic background to be successful in this position,” she confirmed. She credits everyone from Dr. Ray Weil for providing the framework to better understand soil to Dr. David Tilley for introducing her to the essential hydrology and water budget concepts.

With the experience from the REU, combined with classwork and other internships, Perantoni will pursue a master’s degree, and possibly a doctorate, in environmental science. She wants to make a difference in how society views and handles the environment. “Our current approach to managing water and other natural systems is largely unsustainable,” she grieved. “I hope to be at the forefront in combining a systems-ecology approach and knowledge of natural processes in order to devise new, cutting-edge, approaches designed to sustain human societies into the future.”

As her career draws closer, Perantoni is excited to be on the cutting edge of eco-technology design. Through her work as an outstanding student, she’s already  spent time with University President Dr. Wallace Loh and discussed the university’s plan to become carbon neutral by 2050! That’s just one of the projects that this  inspiring young lady hopes to tackle. “My heart is tied to the people, not the plants,” she said. “I want to leave the earth better for my kids and grandkids. It’s a real concern.”