Serving the Borough of Queens and Beyond: Tarry Hum Finding Flushing’s Places in the Sun

America’s finest colleges and universities all have one thing in common: Besides providing an excellent education to their students, they are an invaluable resource to the families and businesses in their communities, offering many kinds of assistance and conducting research that benefits everyone.

At Queens College, service is in our DNA; our motto since we first opened our doors in October 1937 has been Discimus ut Serviamus (We learn so that we may serve). Gregory O’Mullan, Tarry Hum, and Yvette Caro  are just three examples of how our faculty are a strong force in the borough of Queens and beyond, from monitoring the health of the city’s waterways to counseling children and adults in psychological need.

FLUSHING, N.Y., June 21, 2013 — Students in Queens College’s environmental studies program are not only learning about ways to make urban communities more environmentally sustainable—they’re also helping to lead one Queens neighborhood to a sustainable future.

For example, the spring 2012 “Solar Flushing” class, led by Associate Professor Tarry Hum (Urban Studies), studied the environmental conditions of Flushing and then met with multiple stakeholders to explore the community’s understanding, interest, and concerns regarding solar energy strategies. After considering various options, the class produced a plan for a pilot project to install photovoltaic (PV) panels on roofs in this heavily immigrant neighborhood.

The class focused on Flushing’s existing city-owned buildings and the Mitchell-Linden neighborhood, whose residential housing stock is composed primarily of multi-family cooperative buildings. Based on studying the solar potential of these two building types and engaging with community stakeholders, the class proposed a plan to advance a pilot PV-implementation project.

The plan was no mere academic exercise. Three legislative officials—City Council Member Peter Koo, New York State Assemblywoman Grace Meng, and State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky—have endorsed the project and agreed to take the plan under consideration, according to Hum.

The class’s goals included reducing the burning of fossil fuels, which would lead to savings in spending on electricity in the coming years. In fact, the course reflects a new emphasis at Queens College to “combine service learning with sustainability,” says Hum.-

The course built on the work of  another class, “Solving Environmental Problems,” taught by Distinguished Professor George Hendrey (Earth and Environmental Sciences). Using the CUNY Solar Map, an online interactive tool, his class produced a study of  potential electricity generation and money savings from the widespread installation of  solar panels on the rooftops of  buildings in Flushing. Hendrey’s students had to organize their research, generate usable data, and write a meaningful report—all in one semester. “The class had to work as if  we were a small consulting firm,” he says. Hum’s class used that study to inform its discussions with stakeholders in Flushing.

Together, the two classes form a practical capstone year for environmental studies students. The courses also support the CUNY Sustainability Project, under which all of  the system’s 24 institutions are working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2017, while promoting environmental sustainability in their curricula.

To gauge community concerns regarding solar energy, Hum’s class held in-depth discussions with elected officials, Community Board 7, city and state agencies, civic associations, commercial property owners, advocacy organizations, and community or local development corporations.

Communities typically have many questions about solar panels, such as how long it takes to recoup investments and what government subsidies are available. They also have misconceptions, such as fears that solar panels will damage roofs, says Hum.

Last spring’s class faced the additional challenges of  “reaching out to property owners in a largely immigrant community,” explains Hum, who is herself  Chinese-American. The majority of  Flushing’s residents are of  Asian heritage.

This was the third year in which Hum led a class of upper-year students in attacking a particular urban issue facing Flushing. In spring 2010, her class interviewed stakeholders and produced a report on public space and the proposed Flushing Commons town plaza. The following year her students surveyed 250 residents and local businesses about renovating the Flushing waterfront.

Such class projects would make a healthy contribution to any community. But the work can have particular value in Flushing. “Typically, immigrant communities are not consulted for urban development,” says Hum. That is something she and the college are working to change.

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Contact: Phyllis Cohen Stevens
Deputy Director of News Services

Maria Matteo
Assistant Director of News Services