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EPMA cluster students present service learning project results

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Posted on Tuesday, May 12, 2020

STEM and business students enrolled in Westminster College’s Environmental Project Management Academy (EPMA) cluster course wrapped up a service learning project researching the science and marketability of industrial hemp and presented their findings to key stakeholders during a Zoom teleconference on Friday, May 1.

The EPMA program—funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)— gives Westminster students the opportunity to collaborate with community stakeholders on projects with environmental issues relevant to the region. This year students worked with DON Services Inc., a New Castle-based organization exploring industrial hemp—a legal crop used for fiber and building materials and not for CBD or medical marijuana—as a possible source of economic development for the region.

The 20 EPMA students involved—all sophomores and juniors in business or STEM-related majors—used their knowledge of environmental science and project management to develop web site and video content related to industrial hemp and also completed market analyses for 10 potential industrial hemp markets.

The original service learning project included the testing of agricultural soils for regional farmers who are growing pilot test plots of industrial hemp with DON Services. Due to the state’s stay-at-home orders associated with the coronavirus pandemic, the soil testing was eliminated from the project.

Lori Daytner, DON’s vice president of program development, said DON was impressed with the depth and quality of the students’ work, especially considering they had to divert from project’s initial plan.

“They managed a difficult pivot from our original work plan and produced a terrific amount of research on industrial hemp fiber and hurd applications,” Daytner said. “Learning to pivot as circumstances change is important in any business and the current situation certainly provided a great chance to practice that skill.”

Daytner said the students’ research will help DON Services better understand which end-user demands might develop most quickly as they proceed with plans for investing in a fiber processing facility.

“This EPMA cluster course opened my eyes to new environmental science career options and provided me with an appreciation for business majors and the business world,” said Sammantha Parsons, a junior environmental science major from Pittsburgh. 

Adam Saunders, a junior financial economics major from Ellwood City, said he appreciated the experiential learning aspect of the EPMA course.

“The hands-on application of the material we learned was a great way to make the content stick. I wish more classes were taught like this one” Saunders said.

Stakeholders in attendance at the Zoom project presentation included three DON employees and three external advisers who help assess the NSF-funded program.

The EPMA program has been funded by the NSF for three years (grant #171202). Project in year one focused on solar energy for the New Wilmington Borough and year two focused on mineral recovery from abandoned mine drainage with the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition. The program is a collaborative effort among Dr. Helen Boylan, professor of chemistry; Dr. Alison DuBois, associate professor of education; and Brian Petrus, assistant professor of business.

To learn more about the EPMA Program, please contact Dr. Helen Boylan at or 724-946-6293.