Sara Perl Egendorf (who also goes by Perl) is a second year PhD student in Earth and Environmental Sciences. She was born and raised in NYC, and her research and work revolve around human and non-human systems interactions towards environmental justice and sustainability.
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Perl has three main interests as a scientist: 1) to conduct research through community partnerships, generating questions and using methodologies that stem from local needs and interests, 2) to utilize a multi-scalar framework that identifies biogeochemical and social system interactions, and 3) to conduct applied experiments on interventions at different scales aimed at aligning human agency with more just and sustainable fluxes of matter and energy.
For the past four years, these interests have focused on urban soil contamination and remediation. As an MS student at Brooklyn College under the guidance of Dr. Zhongqi (Joshua) Cheng, and now as a PhD student working with Dr. Cheng and Dr. Peter Groffman, Perl has been involved in a number of research projects aimed at supporting the work of urban growers, composters, and soil stewards.
For her MS thesis, Perl conducted the pilot study for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation’s (OER’s) Clean Soil Bank. She worked in collaboration with the NYC Parks Department, gardeners, and composters to create clean soil from excavated glacial sediments and locally produced compost for urban gardening.
As an MS student, Perl also became involved with numerous city agencies and organizations and co-founded the Legacy Lead (Pb) Consortium with Paula Segal, a lawyer with the Urban Justice Center and founder of 596 Acres, and Jan Mun, a social practice artist with the Greenpoint Bioremediation Project.
For her dissertation, Perl is working on three projects that promote urban growing and Pb exposure mitigation at various scales. On the microscale, Perl is researching phytoremediation, which is the ability for plants to break down or remove contaminants from soil. On the mesoscale, Perl has been working with the NYS Department of Health and Cornell University on various ways to prevent Pb-contaminated soil from affecting urban-grown vegetables.
On the macroscale, Perl is conducting a second study for OER’s Clean Soil Bank, this time fully developing the research questions, methods, lab analyses, data analyses, and dissemination in collaboration with gardeners and youth from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Ravenswood and composters from the NYC Department of Sanitation’s NYC Compost Project hosted by BIG Reuse. While all of her projects are collaborative, this one seeks to explicitly contribute to movements aimed at transforming the social relations of knowledge production.
Before becoming a CUNY graduate student, Perl was a public school teacher in NYC and Seattle. She has a BA in Education from Brown University and an MA in Teaching from the University of Washington. She finds teaching CUNY undergrads to be an honor, a privilege, and a joy.
After graduation, Perl hopes to continue working with the many individuals and organizations involved with soil stewardship, some our city’s most active frontline environmental justice practitioners. She would love to continue teaching and conducting research in urban public institutions, working to support movements for just and sustainable human and non-human system alignment.