Evaluating Sustainable Farming Practices with the Help of Honors and Scholars

In April of 2018, I received an Honors and Scholars Enrichment Grant to help fund a research project meant to evaluate sustainable farming practices. This grant, along with funding from STEP, transformed my summer and my outlook on Sustainability. This project turned out to take longer than I thought, and is still ongoing. Hopefully this will be the first of a few updates showing how my research will impact OSU and the Columbus Community.

The main goal of this project was to evaluate the efficacy of two different farming practices meant to help local, sustainable farmers. Before I was able to begin research, I decided to spend some time learning about the Student Farm. Located on Waterman Farm, I had a great time getting to know the team of the Student farm this summer. With goals in enriching students educations and forging community connections, this was a great place to work. I helped to plant, take care of, and harvest several different varieties of vegetables throughout the summer. These vegetables were then used by farm workers and community members as part of the farm CSA (community supported agriculture). I feel like being able to connect with the local community and help out the student farm connected to the H&S goal of service engagement. The ultimate goal of my research is to help mitigate food deserts and bring nutrient rich food to communities, so this social issue was the guiding light for me while I learned more about sustainable farming.

To the left is picture of some of our vegetables that are getting just big enough to be harvested! To the right a picture of a what was included in a typical week’s bag for CSA (community supported agriculture) members.

One practice I wanted to evaluate was the efficacy of the use of a caterpillar tunnel. These are season-extension tunnels names because they are long arches that will resemble a caterpillar when finished and covered in plastic. I spend a lot of the summer working in the workshop on the pre-fab portion of the project. I had to purchase and work with more than forty steel pipes, which involved cutting them, drilling in holes, and bending some of the ends. After that, work on the farm involved laying down weed fabric, laying down track, and assembling the arches. As you can see, we have recently started assembly. It took awhile to get approval from Waterman Farm and OSU FOD, as they were hesitant that this structure might negatively impact the farm if abandoned. However, we finally got approval, and it is amazing to see how far we’ve come.

With my goal of sustainability, I did some research as to why these tunnels are sustainable. The idea is that these tunnels will help local farms extend their growing season into the winter. That way, farmers will be more successful and will be able to provide nutrient rich food to their local community. This will help the community and will reduce transportation waste and emissions. These tunnels cost about $2,500, and so I want to examine whether the effectiveness of extending the season makes them worth the cost.

To the left is the workshop  where I worked on the pre-fabrication of the parts before construction could even start. The picture to the left is our progress as of 9/23/2018. With construction recently started, we are excited to get this built!

The second project I wanted to investigate was use of tarps as weed suppressors. This one has a more direct environmental connection. Herbicides, pesticides, and even fertilizers used in ag will often run off into water streams. These chemicals can be harmful to water habitats, and even the nutrients from fertilizers can have negative effects. The harmful algal blooms we hear of from Lake Erie and the Red Tide are actually caused from nutrient overloading from agricultural runoff. Therefore, increasing the integrity of the soil and decreasing the need for these chemical additives directly benefits water ecosystems.

The idea for using tarps is that they can be put on areas with weeds for a few days, up to a week. These tarps will trap in heat, killing the weed seeds underneath. Then, when it is time to plant, we remove the tarps and prep the beds through broadforking. This will till the land without disturbing any weed seeds that may have survived. Then we can plant our desired crops. The hope is that the weeds will have either died or be too deeply buried to be harmful to the plants. This will reduce the need for herbicides, and this helps to maintain the integrity of the soil (which reduces soil erosion) by using a specific form of tilling. I investigated whether black tarps or clear tarps were more effective in this process. We quickly found that black tarps worked best, presumably because they are able to trap heat better. Clear tarps were sometimes effective, but only if very thoroughly sealed. We decided not to do a formal research study based off these results, as the difference in effectiveness was so apparent. Either way, it is useful to know what to recommend to local farmers who want advice on how to improve this practice.


This picture shows an area where clear and black tarps were used for weed suppression.

Thanks for reading! Those are the results we have from this summer, and I look forward to telling you what we are able to achieve in Autumn of 2018.

Strengths Quest

According to the Gallup Strengths Quest, my top five “strengths” are

  1. Learner
  2. Input
  3. Futuristic
  4. Individualization
  5. Arranger

Learner means that I am inquisitve and love exploring new information. The “strength” of input relates to strengths in simplifying complicated problems, having attention to detail, and working with others to problem-solve. The futuristic “strength” means that I like to think about how I can be a part of and effect the future by being aware of my current actions. I was also assigned the individualization “strength” because I have a focus on recognizing that every person has different strengths and needs, and I enjoy the challenge of accommodating and uplifting these differences. My final “strength” is arranger, which means I like to be organized.

Sustainability Project

hes-water-consumption-pictureAs part of the Humanitarian Engineering Scholars program, my project group was given the task of exploring the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and then finding a way to promote that goal in our daily lives. After some deliberation, the team noticed that because we live in a residence building with hundreds of other students, the goal of Sustainable Cities and Communities was especially relevant to us.

In order to promote sustainability within our building, Torres House, we discussed ways to encourage people to take shorter showers. The lighting in our community restrooms is based on motion sensors, so we explored how we could use lighting to provide visual cues for when a resident has been in the shower for 10 minutes. We hoped this simple switch would encourage the building’s average shower time to reduce by at least 1.5 minutes, which would save around $1,300 and over 800,000 gallons of water per year! We then met with our Hall Director, who is working on discussing the idea with the head of maintenance. In the meantime, the team designed the poster displayed above that we put up near every bathroom in order to promote sustainability through shorter shower times.

This project was important to me because I feel very dedicated to humanitarian engineering and sustainability. Organizing meetings, putting up flyers, and promoting awareness was meaningful to me because it helped to advance my own passions of teamwork, positivity, and conservation.

Year in Review

[ “Year in Review”  is where you should reflect on the past year and show how you have evolved as a person and as a student.  You may want to focus on your growth in a particular area (as a leader, scholar, researcher, etc.) or you may want to talk about your overall experience over the past year.  For more information, go to: http://honors-scholars.osu.edu/e-portfolio. Delete these instructions and add your own post.]


[ “G.O.A.L.S.” is a place where students write about how their planned, current, and future activities may fit into the Honors & Scholars G.O.A.L.S.: Global Awareness, Original Inquiry, Academic Enrichment, Leadership Development, and Service Engagement. For more information, go to: http://honors-scholars.osu.edu/e-portfolio. Delete these instructions and add your own post.

Global Awareness: Students cultivate and develop their appreciation for diversity and each individual’s unique differences. For example, consider course work, study abroad, involvement in cultural organizations or activities, etc .
Original Inquiry: Honors & Scholars students understand the research process by engaging in experiences ranging from in-class scholarly endeavors to creative inquiry projects to independent experiences with top researchers across campus and in the global community. For example, consider research, creative productions or performances, advanced course work, etc.
Academic Enrichment: Honors & Scholars students pursue academic excellence through rigorous curricular experiences beyond the university norm both in and out of the classroom.
Leadership Development: Honors & Scholars students develop leadership skills that can be demonstrated in the classroom, in the community, in their co-curricular activities, and in their future roles in society.
Service Engagement: Honors & Scholars students commit to service to the community.]


[“Career” is where you can collect information about your experiences and skills that will apply to your future career.  Like your resume, this is information that will evolve over time and should be continually updated.   For more information, go to: http://honors-scholars.osu.edu/e-portfolio. Delete these instructions and add your own post.]

CATIA V6 Project


Pictured above is the final rendering of a month-long “personal project” from my junior year in high school. In the beginning of my junior year, I started a CATIA V6 cadding course through my school. We began learning basics, like sketching, padding, intruding, and rotating. After some time of learning this by going through tutorials, we were given the opportunity to create whatever we wanted. I wanted to create something fun but also challenging for our skill level, so I decided to make a replica of a Lego mini-figure. Referencing several online schematics, the figure is very close to the exact dimensions of an an actual lego. Its hands, arms, and head were all created separately and then assembled in CATIA. This project is definitely one of my favorites even though looking up information about dimensions and assembly functions provided a large learning curve.

This project is significant to me because I believe it shows my willingness to work hard and learn new things for a project with high goals. Although the figure is simple is CAD terms, it was a meticulous (yet enjoyable) process for me. This project also represents me because I enjoy creating physical projects, and seeing the form of the figure coming to life before me was an exciting endevour. Being able to actually 3-D print the figure was also wonderful because I was able to teach my peers more about 3-D printing and how it works.


About Me

Hello! I’m Mary Boltri and am currently attending Ohio State University for Undeclared Engineering. I graduated from Notre Dame Preparatory Academy with Highest Honors in May of 2016. I decided to go to OSU because I loved the welcoming community, the numerous academic opportunities, and the university’s dedication to Humanitarian Engineering.

Grad Group Photo

In high school, I enjoyed participating in various clubs and activities. I was the trumpet section leader for marching band, the scouting captain for my school’s robotics team, and a peer leader coordinator for campus’s peer leader program. I also enjoyed finding unique ways to lead and become involved with my community. I tutored middle school students in science and math, I engaged in networking to encourage people to join our small Model UN club, and I organized and participated in service events through NHS and campus ministry. Along with my many interests, I also had a strong academic focus. Some of my favorite classes included physics, economics, statistics, and English. I loved the practicality of knowing how our world is influenced by physics and statistics, and I also loved the complexities of exploring more hidden parts of our world through economics and English. Both my interest in participating in my community and my focus on academics are very important to me and are passions I want to continue through college and throughout my life.

Throughout college so far, I have created an worked towards many goals. My primary goal was to discover what careers I am most interested in and begin developing a pathway to those careers. I identified that my interest in math and science, my passion for helping other on a large scale, and my dedication to teamwork could only lead me to engineering. I have supported this decision by going through Ohio State’s first year engineering program, where I have taken valuable classes in Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, and Engineering. Additionally, my love for sustainability has lead me to primarily focusing on Ecological or Environmental Engineering. I have supported this interest by joining the Engineers for a Sustainable World club, where I will be helping my sub-group in a water desalination project throughout the semester.

Another main goal of mine was to be involved on campus and in my community, so I’m also excited to be part of many other organizations that promote helping others and hard work. I am a member of the Humanitarian Engineering Scholars Program, which is a program that allows students to explore the different ways that engineering can help the needy and marginalized through design projects and outreach. I work as an Office Assistant in my residence hall for about 10-12 hours a week, promoting a friendly atmosphere and keeping track of different office-related tasks. Specifically to become more engaged with the Columbus community, I joined the Semester of Service Program, where I volunteer at Columbus’s largest food pantry for about 4 hours a week. These different organizations allow me to learn more about the world around me and to give back to my community, so these have truly been the defining parts of my college career.

Although I must still pick between Ecological Engineering and Environmental Engineering, I see a clear path in front of me. I am ultimately working towards a future career which will ideally have me working with people and developing innovations that will improve their lives. I know that sustainability is the future of our world, and through studying engineering and becoming involved with internships, co-ops, and jobs with dedicated companies, I will be part of defining our future.