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Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing

  • Graduate student Neve Steger

Civil engineering graduate student earns prestigious scholarship

Neve Steger studied marine science and water chemistry in her undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina. But it was a research project with Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Nicole Berge where she discovered a passion for solid waste engineering and management. To help support her future research activities, Steger was recently awarded the Robert P. Stearns/SCS Engineers Scholarship from the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF). 

The scholarship is awarded to graduate students pursuing a degree in environmental science, engineering or other discipline related to the field of solid waste management. It is named for Robert P. Stearns, co-founder of SCS Engineers, who was nationally recognized for his significant contributions to the environmental engineering profession and advancement of solid waste management practices.

“I learned about the scholarship from Dr. Berge. She said it was a great opportunity and would support me if I applied,” Steger says. “The research I did for her last year in undergrad was with landfills and solid waste management, so I think one of the reasons she recommended that I apply was because my experience was uniquely aligned with the goals of EREF, which are all founded sustainable solid waste management research.”

Steger, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, and first-year master’s student in civil engineering with a specialization in environmental engineering, will be sponsored by EREF until her graduation in 2025 and receive $7,500 annually to support her research. She has been working with Berge on her research with hydrothermal carbonization, a more sustainable and potentially economically viable waste conversion method. Most of Berge’s research is focused on solid waste management and hydrothermal carbonization. 

“I am thrilled about the financial, professional and academic opportunities that this award will provide,” Steger says. “The scholarship will allow me to continue to focus on my studies and my research. It will provide greater opportunities in the field and ultimately aid in the continued development of hydrothermal carbonization, a promising technique for food waste management with important economically and environmentally beneficial applications in solid waste management and agriculture.” 

One aspect of Berge’s research has been taking organic solid waste, such as food, and putting it through the hydrothermal carbonization process. The result is a hydrochar, an environmentally friendly carbon and energy-rich material.

“My research focuses on using hydrochar as an alternative treatment method for solid waste, which has applications as a coal substitute for energy production and as a soil amendment for nutrient retention,” Steger says. “My thesis will also focus on exploring treatment options with the hydrochar and applying it to seeds to maximize their growth.”

Berge is most impressed with Steger's work ethic and desire to learn.

"Neve is very deserving of this scholarship," Berge says. "Her deep-rooted passion for the environment and for sustainable solid waste management motivates the work she will conduct as part of this scholarship. It will be instrumental in identifying and evaluating sustainable solutions for managing food wastes."

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