ATAA Virtual Event: 2021 World Environment Day Celebration


Sunday, June  6, 2021
9:30am-11:30am PDT / 12:30pm-2:30pm EDT

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In support of United Nations (UN) World Environment Day, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) Committee on UN Relations is excited to announce its first-ever “The 2021 World Environment Day Science Project Competition” for the youth and students of Turkish American and Canadian American communities.

ATAA Committee on UN Relations is excited to announce:

Keynote Speaker
Mihri Ozkan, Ph.D.
Honorary Speaker
Erden Eruç
Guest Speaker
İsmail Sağlam, Ph.D


Keynote Speaker: Mihri Özkan, Ph.D.
The Climate Action Champion and Change Maker Professor
Recipient of Humanitarian Star
Fellow of National Academy of Inventors
Inventor with 27 granted Patents
Speech topic: Sustainable Li-ion Batteries from Sand, Mushrooms, and Waste Plastics and Glass

Honorary Speaker: Erden Eruç
15 Guinness World Records
First solo circumnavigation of the world by human power
First person to row three oceans – Atlantic, Pacific and Indian
Ocean Ambassador – Ocean Recovery Alliance
Speech topic: Activism in sport by Around-n-Over and environmental issues in Oceans

Guest Speaker: İsmail Sağlam, Ph.D.
Faculty member at Koç Universıty and researcher at UC Davis
Conservationist and ecologist for genomics
Speech topic: Evolutionary biology as an applied science for solving our global problems


The webinar will host 4 students from different backgrounds to present their research related to various environmental issues.

Ela Gökçiğdem Sai Samaran Damir Kaishentayev Deniz Dutton

Ela Gökçiğdem’s project goal is to inspire activism through environmental empathy, storytelling, and restoration projects based on the unique case of the largely undocumented flora and fauna of Avşa Island located at Marmara Sea in Turkey, and how the preservation of that biodiversity could lead to widespread socio-economic well-being.

Sai Samaran’s project objective is to address current disposable Covid-19 Masks problems as well as their environmental impact. Sai invented a Bluetooth ventilation system to eliminate fogging of the eyewear and ease the breathing of the person wearing the mask.

Damir Kaishentayev’s project proposes a cost-effective pre-treatment method to bring the concentration of the contaminants in produced water to reinjection water for hydraulic fracturing operations and describe its efficiency.

Deniz Dutton’s project focuses on sustainable relationships between people and the land that they occupy, the importance of the continued success of the loggerhead turtle conservation project, how to build a system of monitoring and accountability for environmental degradation.



World Environment Day is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment. Since the first celebration in 1974, World Environment Day has helped the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to raise awareness and generate political momentum around growing concerns, such as the depletion of the ozone layer, toxic chemicals, desertification and global warming [1]. Yet, we are still far from bringing a significant chance.



It is an undeniable fact that we are harming the natural world we live in. Pollution, toxic waste, commercial and agricultural chemicals impacting our atmosphere, water and land. Fires, floods, droughts, and superstorms are more frequent and causing irreparable damages. For example, Due to low rainfall in Anatolia, Turkey drinking water supplies reached critical levels in early 2021 [2]. Wildfires in Australia and Amazon are doubled last few years [3,4]. Mature tree cleans our air, absorbing 22 kilos of carbon dioxide, releasing oxygen in exchange [5]. Needless to say that unless we make serious collective effort to improve our behaviors right away we would damage our environment beyond repair.

Environment Day Project Judging by Assistant Professor Dr. Melike Onat is responsible to review project reports presented by the participating students, interview the teams, evaluate project details, and make recommendations on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winning teams. Collaborate with the other committee members in the selection of the winners. Key elements of judging criteria for the Science Projects are Ethics, Creativity, Project Details & Interview, and Project Report and Presentation.


Youth Panel Discussion led by Ali Gürer provides the opportunity for the participating students to engage in conversation with the subject matter experts, ask questions relating to environmental issues and related work, as well as obtain feedback on their projects.


Turkish American Cultural Association of Michigan (TACAM) lead by Nilufer Esen-Bilgin to recognize UN World Environment Day organized Ataturk Park Photo Contest. The theme of the contest is TACAM Atatürk Park; winners and their work will be featured.


Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA) was founded by Hayrettin Karaca and A. Nihat Gökyiğit  in 1992 to address erosion and drought problems in Turkey. ATAA understands the importance of trees in our environment and makes efforts to improve conditions by planting trees. In 2020, ATAA planted 100 trees in the Eskişehir Kayı-2 Memorial Forest. This year our goal is to plant 250 trees. Please join us in our effort to plant trees by donating online here.



Keynote Speaker Mihri Ozkan, Ph.D., is a professor of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at UCR. Mihri is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, Frontier National Academy of Engineering and Alumna of Keck National Academy of Science. She is the Climate Action Champion and Change Maker Professor of the University of California. She completed her graduate studies at Stanford University and at UC-San Diego. Her group’s research made breakthroughs in sustainable and unconventional battery electrode materials, advanced lithium-ion battery technologies, green chemistry for battery material processing and battery manufacturing with game changer ideas such as using waste glass and plastic bottles and natural or renewable sources such as sand, biomass and silly putty by converting them into battery electrodes to power smart cities, vehicles and portable electronics with zero carbon-emission. Ozkan holds 27 granted and 15 active patents and 86 filed invention disclosures that makes a faculty with nearly the highest number of inventions in UCR. She has been honored with nearly 55 scientific national and international awards including the Medal of Engineering Science, Humanitarian Star, Emerging Scholar, Inventor, Young Investigator, Achievement in Technical Ingenuity, the Top 100 Science Spinoffs award, and she has been named as John J. Guarrera Engineering Educator, Top 50 Creator, Climate Global Winner, Top 100 Author by Nature publisher. She has published 177 journal papers, 155 conference proceedings, 8 book chapters, 1 book and more than 262 scientific abstracts. She advised and graduated nearly 73 graduate students. Her Google scholar citations are nearly 10555, h-Index is 54 and i10-Index is 136.

Honorary Speaker Erden Eruç is an accomplished ocean rower, adventurer, USCG Master 50GRT and sailing instructor. He holds 15 Guinness World Records, is the recipient of the 2013 Citation of Merit from the prestigious Explorers Club and one of the 2013 Adventurers of the Year – “Nine individuals changing the face of global adventure” by the Outside Magazine. He is already listed in the2009, 2012, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2021 Guinness Books of World Records. Erden is currently planning a solo nonstop row across the North Pacific Ocean from Crescent City to Hong Kong, launching later in June. This historic crossing will be the first step in his quest to reach the summit of Everest by human power. As an ambassador for Ocean Recovery Alliance, he will raise awareness about plastics in our oceans. He will also carry beacons on behalf of Ocean Voyages Institute to tag for later recovery any ghost nets that he may encounter. Erden is one of the leading ocean rowers in the world today. He holds engineering degrees and an MBA. He is the founder of the Seattle based 501(c)(3) nonprofit Around-n-Over with a mission to educate and inspire children. Human powered journeys are the source of their dispatches from the field. To date, Around-n-Over has raised and applied over $100k toward educational projects.

IN MEMORIAM – Six Summits Project

In memory of Göran Kropp whom he lost while rock climbing together, Erden decided to reach the highest summit on six different continents respectively except Antarctica. He would do so by human power as had Göran in his 1996 bicycle trip to climb Everest. In 2003, Erden summited Mt. McKinley after bicycling to Alaska towing his climbing gear like Göran and walking the length of the Kahiltna Glacier. During his circumnavigation by human power, he summited Kosciuszko in 2010 and Kilimanjaro in 2011. Everest, Elbrus and Aconcagua remain on Erden’s list of priorities over the coming years.

Guest Speaker İsmail Sağlam, Ph.D., completed his Ph.D. on statistical phylogeography at Hacettepe University and studied quantitative genetics as a Fulbright scholar at the Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside. Later He joined the Department of Animal Science, the University of California Davis as a post-doctoral researcher where I studied bioinformatics and its applications to the fields of population and conservation genomics. As of 2018, He is a faculty member at Koç University Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics. Using evolutionary genomics and population genetic theory the main goal of our lab is to understand the genetic changes responsible for the divergence and adaptation of natural populations to changing environments. Work in his lab ranges from understanding the historical, ecological and evolutionary processes leading to the diversification of species to determining the genomic architecture of complex life histories leading to adaptive change. We utilize genomic data from both natural and experimental populations to answer our questions and concentrate on the utility of evolutionary genomics for decision-making in long-term biological conservation.



Damir Kaishentayev, is from Kazakhstan, studying in the master’s program at Texas A&M, MS in Petroleum Engineering. His master thesis is about “Reusing Produced water in the Permian Basin”. The sources of fresh water, especially in arid regions, are becoming scarce. As a result, in the near future, humanity can face greater challenges accessing drinking water. At the same time, due to rising energy demand, industries are consuming huge amount of clean water for their needs. One such case is Oil&gas industry’s usage of fresh water for hydraulic fracturing. If we can find more feasible ways to turn highly contaminated produced water into clean water, we can save billions of barrels of fresh water.

Ela Gokcigdem is from Arlington, VA, and is a rising sophomore at Babson College. After witnessing the environmental and economic collapse of her hometown in Turkey, she found a way to use business as a platform to advocate for sustainability. She is the founder of ePearl Technologies and won runner-up at the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in 2019. From there she channeled her profits into her non-profit “Youth Environmental Society” which provides high schoolers with a baseline environmental curriculum. These ventures have allowed her to be featured on NBC, ABC, The Washington Post, and internationally through the Voices of America Network. She is an advocate for climate change education and has pushed for the implementation of the said curriculum through her position on her counties’ sustainability advisory board. She also serves as a member of EarthEcho International’s Youth Leadership Council and on the finance teams of Zero Hour and Climate Cardinals.

Sai Samaran is from Karnataka, India, and a creative 10th grader in St Joseph’s Central School. He is interested in “Climate Change and its Impact on our Future“ as well as electronics. Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, he had to wear a mask to protect himself and others around him. Since he wears eyeglasses, he experienced fogging on his glasses each time he wore a mask making it difficult to see. With increased mask usage, he was also concerned with the environmental impact of disregarded masks. He decided to come up with a solution, invented a Bluetooth-controlled ventilation system for his mask, and built a prototype model in 2020.

Deniz Dutton is from Belmont, MA and is entering her Junior Year studying Environmental Science at the University of Vermont with a writing minor. She is passionate about environmental wellbeing and writes edits for her university’s environmental publication, Headwaters Magazine. Her goal is to increase awareness of environmental issues in the public and present action steps for addressing these issues. Her major’s focus is on forest science and specifically carbon dynamics in forests. Deniz has written articles on how climate change and forest use impact the ability of forests to sequester carbon long-term, focusing on both Vermont and Brazil. Currently working on the Vermont Climate Assessment project funded by Gund Institute for Environment, to conduct research into how climate change will affect Vermont’s forests. Deniz is interested in holistic ecosystem health and sees parallels between cultural values and the way natural resources are exploited and wildlife are marginalized. In her spare time, Deniz enjoys reading, writing, hiking and rock climbing



Subject matter mentors provided guidance to the students with their projects, assess risk, point out any ethical, safety concerns, ensured students are on the right targets for their projects and guided the students in managing research, timeline, and documentation of their projects.


Prof. Dr. Fatma Gül M.D. Alev Weiland EE, CEO Levent Onat Ph.D. Ali Gűrer Ph.D. Student Saime Atakan, Lawyer



Burak Besir is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning Flutist, Composer and Multi-instrumentalist. Burak Besir was born in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Received his early classical music education at the Ankara State Conservatory in Turkey and graduated with distinction. Following that he went to the UK to continue his music career. He received a master’s degree as a “Concert Soloist” at The Royal Scottish Academy in Scotland. He received the UK Young Concert Artist Award in 2003. Burak has held Principal and Second Chair Flute in the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet and at the Istanbul Borusan Philharmonic Orchestra from 2003 to 2008. He received Contemporary Writing and Production degree in US. Burak had the privilege of performing at the 86 th Oscar Concert with the Academy Orchestra at the UCLA Royce Hall. Here he had the opportunity to work with legendary composers John Williams, Alexandra Desplat, Thomas Newman and Steven Price of the Oscar-winning movie, “Gravity”. As a Composer and Recording Artist, his music can be heard on various featuring films and TV shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime and at major TV channels in America and Turkey. He is a collector of over 65 pieces of ethnic woodwind instruments that he uses in his soundtracks and recordings. His flute-piano album “Passion” received an Outstanding Achievement Award in the ‘best album’ and ‘best instrumental solo performance’ categories from the Global Music Awards in 2017. His Flute Choir Arrangement for Smetana’s Moldau is published in Italy in 2017. He is residing in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids.


Matt Tolentino is a musician and bandleader specializing in the live performance and preservation of pre-swing music, with a focus on American popular songs from 1895 to 1935. Originally from Dallas, Texas, he is the leader of a four-piece ensemble called The Matt Tolentino Band, leader of a seven-piece polka band called The Royal Klobasneks, and most notably leader of a full eighteen-piece orchestra called The Singapore Slingers, which has been named the “Best Pre-Swing Jazz Orchestra” and the “coolest, quirkiest, retro jazz group” in Dallas. Tolentino’s fascination with jazz-age music began at age 8 when a neighbor gave him a cassette tape recording of the Coffee Club Orchestra (as featured on radio’s A Prairie Home Companion). He began his musical venture at 11 when he picked up the clarinet to play in the band at Stonewall Jackson Elementary. He played clarinet exclusively until he entered his sophomore year of high school when he branched out and added saxophone, tuba, and accordion. By age 16, his devotion to music was such that he asked his parents to help him buy a used accordion instead of a used car. Much of high school was spent playing polka gigs in restaurants and playing with the school jazz band. He graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 2003. A musical autodidact, Tolentino sings lead vocals and plays many instruments, including accordion, clarinet, tuba, bass saxophone, ukulele, banjo, piano, and vibraphone.



The Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), representing over 50 local chapters and 500,000 Turkish Americans throughout the United States, serves locally and nationwide to develop an informed and empowered Turkish American community and to support strong U.S.-Turkish relations. The ATAA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed under the laws of the District of Columbia in 1979. ATAA associated with the United Nations Department of Global Communications in July 2020. The founding principle of ATAA was the need to create cohesion and cooperation among the large numbers of social/cultural Turkish American organizations around the US. The Assembly’s main goal is to be a link between all communities, large or small, and pursue their interests in Washington and beyond. The main objectives of ATAA are two-fold. One is to create an informed national Turkish American community that can help foster US-Turkey relations and take an active part in promoting a balanced and truthful picture of Turkey in the US. The other is to educate Americans in government, the media, and the public at large about Turkey and issues that concern us as Turkish Americans. (



The Committee was formed by the Board of Directors of ATAA in November 2019 towards the starting association process with the United Nations Department of Global Communication (UNDGC). Official application towards the association was submitted to the UNDGC on March 30, 2020. It was granted and announced through the UN News Center on July 14, 2020. Instantly, and since then the Committee has been developing programs that are within the core Mission of ATAA along with those supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and/or UN Days. In this line, this program is developed to observe the International Day of Women (March 8), along with, to contribute in the Sustainable Development Goals 5 (SDG5), which is “Gender Equality”. Since July 14, 2020, the Committee has undertaken and presented four UN related webinars including this one. The Committee selected 6 UN Days for 2021, and it meets on a monthly basis. (

ATAA’s Head Representative to the United Nations is, President Mazlum Koşma. Chair of the Committee is Bircan Ünver; Co-Chair is Gökhan Özalp (ATAA Past-President); and secretaries are: Yücel Tavolara (ATAA Mid-West V.P.) and Selim Erhan (ATAA Mid-West Past V.P.). Members are: Sevgin Oktay (ATAA New York Region  Past V.P.) and Burcu Tansu (ATAA First V.P. and Western Region V.P.), Alev Wieland (ATAA Southwest Region V.P), Levent Onat Ph.D. (Turkish American Association of Alabama – TAAA President). Youth members are: Alev Erhan, Saime Atakan and Ali Alp Gürer. The Committee operates underneath of the Board of Directors of ATAA.

#EnvironmentDay #WorldEnvironmentDay #June5 #A_T_A_A #ATAAUNCommittee

#UNWithCivilSociety #UNDGC_CSO


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  1. Background
  2. Turkey drought: Istanbul could run out of water in 45 days | Turkey | The Guardian
  3. Australia fires: A by-the-numbers look at the disaster – CNN
  4. This is how big Australia’s wildfires actually are (
  5. World Environment Day | United Nations