RVCC Center for Environmental Studies

RVCC Center for Environmental Studies

Enviromental Science examples

The RVCC Center for Environmental Studies engages approximately 100 students each year in real-world learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. These experiences empower students to transform their academic knowledge into real-world research and problem solving skills that prepare them to pursue successful careers in environmental science, sustainability, ecology, natural resources management, and related fields.

Members of the Center, including faculty, staff, interns, and students, work together with the college and community organizations to address environmental concerns through research, monitoring, stewardship, restoration, public outreach, and educational programs. These activities benefit the community by raising public awareness and understanding about environmental issues and by helping community members implement evidence-based practices to address those issues while working towards a more sustainable future.

CES Co-Director’s Contact Information:
Dr. Jay Kelly – Jay.Kelly@raritanval.edu | 908-526-1200 x8531
Dr. Emilie Stander – Emilie.Stander@raritanval.edu | 908-526-1200 x8344

About Us

Our Mission
The RVCC Center for Environmental Studies engages students and campus and community members in research, education, and stewardship activities that inspire effective and sustainable environmental practices in our home counties, across New Jersey, and beyond.

Focus Areas: Teaching, Research, and Service

  • Students: The Center for Environmental Studies provides educational opportunities and professional training for current students and alumni pursuing degrees in Biology, Environmental Science/Studies, and related STEM programs through student-centered curricula, paid internships, independent research projects, service learning opportunities, and study abroad experiences.
  • Research: The Center for Environmental Studies provides technical assistance to the college, community organizations, and local municipalities in addressing environmental concerns through environmental research, monitoring, stewardship, restoration, and other management practices.
  • Community: The Center for Environmental Studies provides public outreach and educational programs for the community to increase public awareness and understanding about environmental issues.

Center Co-Directors and Staff


Professor, Biology
Academic Degrees: Ph.D. & B.A. Rutgers University

Dr. Jay Kelly is an Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Raritan Valley Community College, where he teaches a wide variety of classes including Ecology, Botany, Zoology, Plants Humans and the Environment, and Ecology Experience Abroad in Bahia, Brazil. His research interests are the biology and conservation of rare plant and animal species, coastal and forest ecology, and the design and implementation of ecological land management practices that balance the needs of humans with other species in the landscape. At RVCC Jay involves his students in authentic, hands-on experiences with field trips and research projects. He also serves as a mentor for a variety of internship opportunities including coastal conservation, forest ecology, rare plant, and wildlife research which allow students and alumni to further develop their skills as scientists and as conservationists.

Area of Expertise
Ecology & Conservation

Associate Professor, Environmental Science
Academic Degrees: Ph.D. Rutgers University,  Sc.B., Brown University

Dr. Emilie Stander is an Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Raritan Valley Community College, where she teaches courses such as Ecology, Environmental Science and Sustainability, General Biology, Ecology Experience Abroad, and Environmental Science Applications. Her research interests include nutrient retention and loss in urban and wetland ecosystems, analysis of green stormwater management approaches, and water quality at the stream and watershed scales. At RVCC Emilie integrates service learning into her environmental science programs, works with student interns on campus sustainability and water quality projects, and directs a Water Quality Laboratory as a research, community service, and undergraduate training platform.

Area of Expertise
Urban Ecology & Water Quality

Academic Degrees: B.S. Rutgers University,  A.S. RVCC

Ms. Jessica Ray is a Staff Scientist with the Center for Environmental Studies at RVCC, where she manages a variety of projects involving ecological research and restoration. She holds a  B.S. in Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources from  Rutgers University and, since 2015 Jess has been gaining experience with the forest ecology project at RVCC and rare plant species research in New Jersey with the New Jersey Department of  Environmental Protection, Office of Natural Lands Management. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys hiking, camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, and, of course, botanizing in New Jersey's beautiful natural areas.

Area of Expertise
Ecology & Conservation

Degree Programs, Academic Courses, & Study Abroad

Study Abroad examples


Degree Programs
Environmental Science – Associate of Science (A.S.)
The Environmental Science program teaches students to examine the impact of humans on the environment from an interdisciplinary approach by incorporating scientific, sociological, political and economic viewpoints. Students consider scientific evidence demonstrating how human activities affect local and global ecosystems and they critically study alternative practices. This option prepares students for transfer into Bachelor of Science degree programs in Environmental Science, Ecology, Natural Resources, Sustainability, and related programs.

Environmental Studies – Associate of Arts (A.A.)
Environmental Studies is an interdisciplinary major designed to teach students to examine environmental issues from a broad range of perspectives and analytical methods. This option prepares students for transfer into either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree program in Environmental Studies and related fields, which leads to a wide range of career opportunities in Environmental Policy and Law, Journalism, Advocacy, Business, and Education.

Student Voices: …the environmental program at RVCC truly changed my life and the lens through which I see the world. It follows me everywhere I go and is infused in every decision I make.” – Alejandra Murillo, Class of 2016

Academic Courses
The Biology and Environmental Science courses offered at RVCC provide an even blend of rigorous academic learning within the classroom and the laboratory courses that place an emphasis on field work and real-world research experience, utilizing the campus as a living laboratory for studying ecology, sustainability, and more!

BIOL101 – General Biology I
BIOL102 – General Biology II
BIOL150 – Plants, Humans, and the Environment
BIOL231 – Ecology
BIOL232 – Field Botany
BIOL247 – Vertebrate Zoology

Geology and Geography:
GEOL157 – Intro to Geology
GEOG101 – Intro to Physical Geography

Environmental Science:
ENVI101 – Environmental Studies
ENVI102 – Environmental Science and Sustainability
ENVI103 – Energy and the Environment
ENVI105 - Foundations for Environmental Success
ENVI201 – Environmental Capstone
ENVI299 – Ecology Experience Abroad (Brazil)

Other Science Courses:
SCIE210H – Independent Science and Research

Course Descriptions

Click here to view the course catalog.

Field Trips & Study Abroad
Field trips and hands-on learning experiences are a central component of Biology and Environmental Science classes offered at RVCC. Students taking Ecology conduct research in a variety of NJ ecosystems, ranging from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens. Students taking Environmental Science study a range of topics, from waste and recycling to stream health, learning stewardship practices from local environmental professionals and participating in community projects. These field experiences in combination with coursework prepare our students to enter the workforce with marketable skills on par with early-career scientists.

Ecology Experience Abroad: The Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil
The Ecology Experience Abroad course is an immersive experience that involves an in-class component and a study-abroad component. First, students learn about Brazil’s local culture, language, geography, ecology, and natural history in the classroom at RVCC. Then, the entire class and the professors travel to the Atlantic Rainforest of Bahia, Brazil. There students experience life at a biological research station, learn basic field research skills, participate in rainforest restoration and conservation efforts, explore the diversity of tropical flora and fauna, and experience the food, language, and culture of Bahia.

Student Voices: “The Brazil trip was an amazing experience for me academically. I learned some of the different techniques used in forest restoration. The Brazil trip will be very beneficial for my future. This trip showed me first hand how much of an impact a small group of determined people can make on a big issue like deforestation.” – Noah Motz, Class of 2020

Student Internships, Clubs, Scholarships, & More

environmental club


Student Voices:  That I could simultaneously offset my financial burden with meaningful [internship] experiences has galvanized my appreciation for schooling.” – James Lemieux, Class of 2020

The Center for Environmental Studies offers paid internships to RVCC students and alumni. Interns work closely with a faculty advisor to conduct research in a variety of environmental fields: Sustainability & Outreach, Coastal Conservation, Forest Ecology, Water Quality, Wildlife and Rare Plant Research. In addition to working on the internship projects, interns also have opportunities to attend and present at local and regional conferences. For further details about our internships check out our newsletters and press releases.

For a complete listing of open internship opportunities visit the RVCC Employment Webpage.

Student Voices:  “This [Coastal Conservation] internship provided me with validation that I am on the right career path The amount of joy I felt while I was working hard to help protect the environment was immeasurable. I believe it is immensely important that students are provided with real hands-on experience in their respective fields of study.” – Angelina Arcure, Class of 2016

Environmental Club

The RVCC Environmental Club seeks to positively affect the community and create environmental awareness and eco-friendly living by making the campus more “green” through education and community projects. Club meetings are all about taking action and club members maintain organic vegetable gardens, make maple syrup, restore local habitats, sell organic fair-trade coffee and chocolate, participate in litter cleanups, create stations for Little Scientists Night, and go on hikes and camping trips. The club also organizes trips to places like the New York Botanical Garden, the Lakota Wolf Preserve, and more!

Service Learning
Service learning is an integral part of many courses offered by the RVCC Environmental Science and Studies programs. Students who participate in service learning have an opportunity to engage in hands-on learning experiences that benefit the college and the local community. Together students apply their academic knowledge and practice their skills while solving real-world environmental problems. For example, students in the Environmental Science and Sustainability course design a “green” parking lot for RVCC, maintain rain gardens in the local community, and conduct biological assessments of local streams.

Student Voices:  "It's very beneficial as a student to see your work taken seriously. It gives you a reason to push yourself and learn more, an opportunity to develop valuable skills, and concrete experience to draw from after graduation.”   – Deidre Supple, Class of 2011 & 2016

Scholarship Opportunities
Galileo Scholarship
The Galileo Scholarship is offered to RVCC students majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). In addition to financial support, Galileo Scholars also benefit from being a part of a close-knit community with career counseling, professional development workshops, and special events. For more information visit the RVCC Scholarship Page.

Alumni Stories
The success of our alumni speaks to the value and impact of the Center for Environmental Studies’ programs. See the stories below and in our newsletters to learn more about how our alumni are progressing in their environmental careers.

Alejandra Murillo
Alejandra Murillo 
     RVCC: A.S. Environmental Science, 2016
     Rutgers: B.S. Public Health, 2018   &   M.P.H. Environmental Health, expected in 2022

Exciting life update … I will be the Program Coordinator at Rutgers University for a new joint initiative called the Health Outcome, Policy, and Economics (HOPE). The role entails organizing educational campaigns for the department, advising 20 graduate students & fellows, being a TA for several graduate courses, among other very exciting things!
Cory Snyder
Cory Snyder
     RVCC: A.S. Environmental Science, 2015 
     Cornell University: B.S Environmental and Sustainability Science, 2017

I currently split my working time between the United States and Costa Rica. In Costa Rica I work for the Leatherback Trust as a project manager on a sea turtle conservation project. While in the States, I work for a small land trust called Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space along with the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team doing land stewardship and invasive species management.
Adam Kohler
Adam Kohler
     RVCC: A.S. Environmental Science, 2015
I am currently a wildlife biologist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in Oklahoma. The agency's objective is to address human wildlife conflicts and the resulting damage. My primary role is reducing aircraft strikes with wildlife, but I also have worked on feral hog eradication, white-tailed deer population reduction, rabies reduction efforts, invasive species control, as well as other projects. Prior to my work with the USDA I worked for a US Fish & Wildlife Service contractor on endangered species conservation in the Marianas Islands. All of the opportunities I have received have stemmed from my time at the RVCC Center for Environmental Studies. The staff are incredibly talented and giving with their time and knowledge. The program left me with a great base in ecological understanding, as well as future friends/colleagues. Not only did I receive an excellent education, but the work experience I gained through the internships the program offered proved invaluable in establishing my career.
Jason Hafstead
Jason Hafstad
     RVCC: A.S. Environmental Science, 2014
     Rutgers University, B.S., Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, 2016
     Stockton University, P.S.M. Environmental Studies, 2019
In May of 2019, I began working as the botanist for the Endangered and Threatened Species Unit at the Division of Land Resource Protection, NJ Department of Environmental Protection. My studies and internships at RVCC introduced me to rare plant and forest ecology research, which has become the foundation of my career. Today, I review wetland permit applications for impacts to New Jersey's 836 rare and endangered plant species.


Staying in Touch
To stay in touch with us or to share personal and professional news please feel free to reach out to Dr. Jay Kelly Jay.Kelly@raritanval.edu or Dr. Emilie Stander Emilie.Stander@raritanval.edu.

Community Based Research & Service Projects

Environmental Community programs


Community Based Partnerships
The RVCC Center for Environmental Studies works closely with local municipalities and environmental non-profit organizations such as The Raritan Headwaters Association and Duke Farms to offer services including, but not limited to, deer population density surveys, rare and endangered plant surveys, forest health monitoring, rain garden planting and maintenance, stream monitoring, and water quality testing.
A complete list of services can be found here

Research & Service Projects
The RVCC Center for Environmental Studies attempts to address a variety of pressing needs for research and restoration in local communities and ecosystems in New Jersey and beyond. Our work includes some of the most comprehensive studies yet conducted of forests, beach ecosystems, deer populations, and rare plant species in New Jersey. These studies help provide valuable information for government, non-profit and private citizens to more effectively protect, maintain or restore the natural areas in the state, while at the same time providing opportunities for students to participate in real-world ecological research and contribute to solving important problems affecting local communities.

Sustainability & Outreach
Since 2016, RVCC has hired two interns each year to propose, design, and implement sustainability projects on campus. Interns take full responsibility for their projects; they communicate with stakeholders on campus to build consensus for their ideas, coordinate volunteer efforts, and source funding to purchase supplies necessary to implement their projects. Interns also participate in outreach efforts to publicize CES work and attract new students and partners. Ongoing projects include: 
•    Designing a bi-annual newsletter sharing CES news and stories
•    Instituting a recycling program in faculty and staff offices

Coastal Conservation
Beginning in 2008, RVCC initiated a pilot project protecting a mile-long section of beach habitat annually at Island Beach State Park to demonstrate the potential for supporting rare beach species, dune development, and recreational use of NJ beaches. Building on these successes, we partnered with Pinelands Preservation Alliance and other groups in 2016 to expand these efforts to additional parks and public beaches throughout the state. Approximately 30% of the NJ coastline is now receiving some level of protection through our program; endangered species and dunes are making a remarkable comeback all without negatively impacting recreational use. The endangered Seabeach Amaranth, for example, attained its highest population levels ever recorded in 20 years of monitoring because of these efforts, and other species such as Seabeach Sandwort, 
Piping Plover, and American Oystercatchers have returned to beaches where they haven’t been seen in decades. To learn more, view our conference poster.

Forest Ecology
Since 2013, RVCC has studied more than 300 forest sites in northern and central NJ, amounting to one of the most comprehensive studies of forest conditions ever conducted in the state. By comparing our results to historical studies of the same forests we were able to document major changes in forest structure that have occurred since the mid-Twentieth Century as a result of the increased densities of white-tailed deer. These changes include: average declines of 70-80% in tree regeneration and native shrub and herb cover; major shifts in plant community composition; major increases in exotic invasive plant species, especially in younger forests on post-agricultural soils; and increases in deer-resistant native species. Our ongoing studies have helped to inform forest management at the local, state, and regional level. RVCC is currently providing technical assistance of this kind to a variety of local partners. To learn more, view our forest ecology flier.

Rare Plants
RVCC conducts extensive research on the biology and conservation of endangered plant species in New Jersey and the region. These projects are primarily focused on the eight federally-listed plant species in the state, but have also involved surveys and research for many of the other 800+ plant species currently listed by the NJDEP as rare or endangered. These projects primarily take place in the strongholds of rare plant diversity in NJ, including the pine barrens and broader coastal plain, and the mountain and wetland habitats of northern NJ, but are not limited to these regions. Typical activities include rare plant population inventories and monitoring, research on ecological relationships to habitat, and design and implementation of recovery initiatives based on this science.

Water Quality
The Water Quality Laboratory at RVCC was established in 2016 and it serves as a platform for student research and technical training. In collaboration with local environmental organizations, students and interns conduct several water quality related research projects in the local community. Examples of ongoing projects include biweekly monitoring of nutrient and bacteria concentrations in local streams to measure pollutant levels and investigate potential pollutant sources (partnered with Raritan Headwaters Association) and measuring nutrient levels and presence of algal toxins in the South Branch of the Raritan River to assess the potential for downstream transport of toxins produced by harmful algal blooms in the watershed, most notably at Spruce Run Reservoir and Budd Lake (partnered with the NJ Water Supply Authority). 

RVCC has been conducting wildlife research since 2007, including studies of birds, deer, small mammals, amphibians, ticks and lepidopterans. The majority of our recent research has focused on conducting surveys of white-tailed deer in NJ and the region to help local communities and park systems accurately assess deer populations and their impacts. By ascertaining the number and density of deer, local officials are better able to determine to what extent deer populations may be elevated above ecologically or socially acceptable levels, develop plans or goals for deer management, and/or assess the effectiveness of existing programs. Depending upon the needs of the project partner, we offer infrared surveys by drone, road-based spotlight surveys, and fecal pellet counts as measures of deer population sizes and/or site use. We also offer forest monitoring plots, deer exclosures and analyses of deer-vehicle collisions to assess deer impacts.

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