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Thanks to a generous gift to the Raritan Valley Community College Foundation, the College’s Center for Environmental Studies will have full-time leadership to implement its programs benefiting students and the larger community.

A five-year, $300,000 gift from an anonymous donor will fund the first Staff Scientist for Ecological Research and Restoration position for RVCC’s Center for Environmental Studies. The interdisciplinary Center offers opportunities to conduct research and engage in outreach efforts to address environmental concerns on campus and in the community.

“Philanthropic support has never been more important for community colleges, including RVCC,” noted Mike Marion, RVCC Foundation Executive Director. “This gift is not only a game-changer for the Center for Environmental Studies, it also lights the path for others in our community who may wish to create their own impact at this exceptional College.”

“The gift is utterly transformative for RVCC and the Center for Environmental Studies. It will dramatically increase our capacity to conduct research and restoration projects with students and better assist community partners. By securing support for this position for the next five years, we will be able to better plan and move forward strategically on our initiatives,” said Dr. Jay Kelly, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science.

Led by Dr. Kelly and Dr. Emilie Stander, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, the Center provides real-world opportunities for students to learn about protecting environmental and human health. Projects focus on such areas as water quality, forest health, sustainability, endangered species conservation and climate change.

The Center has hired RVCC graduate Jessica Ray as its first Staff Scientist. Ray received a degree from Rutgers University in Ecology, Evolution and National Resources and has been studying plant communities and habitat conservation through various internships in forest health, coastal conservation, deer surveys, and identification of unknown plant specimens.

“Jessica Ray possesses a rare combination of tech-savviness, intellectual acumen and problem-solving skills, field biology experience and intuition, scientific and personal integrity and a gritty work ethic—all of which are invaluable to the work we do at the Center for Environmental Studies,” said Dr. Kelly. “Through her part-time work at the Center over the past year, Jessica has made our data collection more efficient through the use of apps and cloud-based data platforms, and has become so proficient at operating our research drone that she is now beginning to set the industry standard in the state for biological surveys,” Dr. Kelly continued.

In her new position, which she began Feb. 3, Ray will be responsible for coordinating and completing the Center’s ecological research, restoration and stewardship projects. Current projects focus on such topics as forest ecology, wildlife ecology and management, coastal ecology and conservation, and endangered plant species research and recovery. She also will be involved with such areas as grant writing; training student interns; data collection, analysis and reporting; developing curriculum and outreach materials; managing vegetation and environmental stewardship; and working with community partners.

For additional information about the RVCC Foundation, contact Mike Marion, 908-648-8567 or michael.marion@raritanval.edu.

Ranked by WalletHub.com and Niche.com as the #1 community college in New Jersey, Raritan Valley Community College has been serving as an academic and cultural center for Somerset and Hunterdon County residents for over 50 years. The College has been nationally recognized for its service to the community, environmental stewardship, and commitment to diversity. It is home to  a Planetarium, Science Education Institute and 3M Observatory; a 1,000-seat Theatre offering professional performances for all ages; and an Honors College for high achieving students.

The College offers more than 90 associate degrees and certificates, as well as career training, small business assistance through the Small Business Development Center, and professional development courses. RVCC is located at 118 Lamington Road in Branchburg, NJ. For further information, visit www.raritanval.edu.