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Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering


Meet Sam Francis: Pursuing Environmental Justice Through Ecological Engineering

March 7, 2022
Sam Francis, FABE Graduate Student

Sam Francis is a graduate student in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering (FABE) pursuing their PhD in Ecological Engineering. They grew up in Crofton, Maryland and completed their B.S. in Natural Resource Management at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2018. 

Sam fell in love with ecological engineering after taking an Ecosystems Ecology class in their junior year of undergrad. During this class they focused on the field of ecological engineering and its applications. They cite their professor, Dr. Peter May, as winning them over due to his “enthusiastic [nature] about this field and its impact on the environment and society.” Sam had always desired to work in environmental science and felt they could combine their “passion for environmental justice and [their] backgrounds in natural resource management and computer science.” 

Sam’s Ecosystems Ecology professor also worked at reducing nutrients in Chesapeake Bay using an algal turf scrubber TM. This ecologically inspired technology stimulates algae growth, using nutrients from polluted water to grow algae. When the algae is removed from the algal turf scrubber, so are nutrients and sediment. However, their professor and his colleague did not know what to do with the copious amounts of dried algae byproduct. Sam presented the idea of using it as a substrate in artificial reefs. They thought mixing algae and concrete might be able to augment habitat for barnacles and oysters could sequester the carbon and nutrients in the algae. Their professor encouraged and supported them in pursuing this research.

While this idea proved to be incorrect, it still provided valuable research information and they chose to present it at the American Ecological Engineering Society. At this conference, Sam met The Ohio State University professor of FABE, Jay Martin. He asked if they would be interested in attending graduate school. Jay had studied closely with the founder of the field of ecological engineering and Sam thought the opportunity to come study with him “was too good to pass up!”

Sam (left) with fellow FABE graduate students all dressed as Guy Fieri for HalloweenAt Ohio State, Sam is involved in the FABE Graduate Student Organization where they serve as the Seminar Liaison. For their work transforming the graduate seminar series, they received the 2021 FABE Graduate Leadership and Service Award. They have also served as the Student Representative for the American Ecological Engineering Society (AEES) and helped planned the 2021 conference. Sam enjoys their time with AEES because the organization initially connected them with their advisor, Dr. Martin. 

Beyond Ohio State, Sam also enjoys spending their time volunteering at the Sunrise Movement and the Black, Queer, & Intersectional Collective (BQIC) when they have in person events.

Sam looks fondly on their time at Ohio State, with one favorite memory being their initial tour of the university. While visiting, Sam first met their cohort.  Sam cites the group’s support as having been invaluable during their challenges with mental health and for helping keep them in the program. Since then, they have “become the closest friends [they have] ever had.”

After graduation, Sam aspires to take on a majority-teaching appointment at a college or university and hopes to inspire other individuals to pursue the fields of ecological engineering and environmental justice.



by Katelyn Moreno