Discover how Wake Forest alumni impacted sustainability on campus, in the community, or what they are currently doing to make a difference in the field.
After nearly three years, the events that followed the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan are still impacting the lives of 83,000 nuclear refugees. The effects of the tsunami that followed the earthquake, and the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, linger in the form of radiation and now increased atmospheric pollution from a return to fossil fuel-based energy sources. For Jeannie McKinney (‘10), the disaster rekindled her passion for clean energy sources that don’t carry the same risks as nuclear power generation.
McKinney, who graduated from Wake Forest University with a BA in East Asian Studies, left the states to teach English in Hokkaido, Japan. Although always interested in learning about and experiencing other countries and cultures, she also held an underlying passion for the environment. She could not have predicted just how quickly her passion would translate to environmental conservation work until the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The small farming community of Kuriyama, in which McKinney was teaching, felt the reverberation from the earthquake that occurred roughly 300 miles away, and in more than just the literal sense. “I watched as locally grown produce proudly displayed in the grocery stores was slowly replaced with foreign imports, as more and more Japanese food products were found contaminated with radiation. I, myself, promised my family that I’d switch to Australian beef and chicken, just so they would worry less,” she said.
McKinney was troubled that she may visit the town years later to find it damaged with dirty energy projects and overdevelopment. To try to prevent this, when she returned to the states, she volunteered with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) in her hometown of Knoxville, TN. Now, as the Communications Coordinator and Webmaster for SACE, McKinney handles all electronic communications for the non-profit, which advocates for clean energy programs and policies and opposes nuclear and coal-generated power.
“Our entire culture of development and technological growth is built on the fact that we think we have endless amounts of energy to sustain it all, but fossil fuels and high risk energy sources have limits. We’re poisoning our atmosphere by burning them, and I know firsthand just how disastrous ‘clean’ nuclear energy can be,” stated McKinney.
Determined to continue to fight for what she believes is the right path for America’s energy future, McKinney plans to attend graduate school for environmental public policy in a few years. “Wake Forest gave me the opportunity to have a broad and diverse education, allowing me to test the waters with many different areas of study and helping me to learn about the world from various perspectives.” In her past position as English teacher abroad and her current one as a clean energy advocate, McKinney both exemplifies the local and global opportunities that stem from a Wake Forest education and personifies our motto Pro Humanitate.
By Hannah Slodounik, Program Coordinator
Emily Bachman (’13) was a prominent contributor to Wake Forest’s sustainability efforts throughout her four years as a student. She served as the president of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), a shift leader and summer intern for Campus Kitchen, a regular volunteer in the Campus Garden, an intern with ARAMARK, where she worked to support sustainability in dining, and a semester-long intern with the Winston-Salem Sustainability Resource Center. In addition to her ambitious extracurricular activities, she completed a major in history with a double minor in environmental studies and anthropology.
After graduating last spring, Bachman took some time to travel. She spent two weeks in Israel with Birthright (accompanied by former fellow sustainability intern Sanders McNair) and six weeks driving across the country exploring several cities and national parks along the way.
Post-excursion, Bachman landed in Brooklyn where she is serving as the AmeriCorps Volunteer & Special Projects Coordinator for Rebuilding Together NYC. Rebuilding Together NYC is the New York City affiliate of a national nonprofit that is located in over 200 cities across the country. They are a “safe and healthy housing” organization, serving low income, elderly, handicapped, and veteran homeowners. They focus on critical home repairs including accessibility modifications for the physically disabled, and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, Rebuilding Together NYC focuses on energy efficiency upgrades and weatherization to lower energy consumption in homes. She is also working on an independent project incorporating sustainable landscape design, including rain barrels and native plantings, into the organization’s future projects to support stormwater retention.
In the coming years Bachman plans to attend graduate school for a degree in Sustainable Urban Design and Policy and to find a career that allows her to pursue “city planning through a sustainable lens.” She says that being able to see different cities and compare the strengths and weaknesses of their designs while traveling has helped further develop and affirm her aspirations.
She says that her liberal arts education fostered her passion for sustainability and prepared her for post-collegiate life. “It taught me to think critically and holistically. My liberal arts education allowed me to explore my interests from a variety of perspectives and to understand the many different causes and potential solutions to the social and environmental issues we face today.”
What inspires you to be sustainable?
For as long as I can remember, sustainability has mattered to me. I value human life and I do not like the idea of people suffering, now or in the future. I understand that the way human beings, especially in the western world, are living today will cause suffering in the future. Rather than wait for the consequences and begin to react when it is too late, we should work immediately and proactively to develop sustainable lifestyles.
What is the biggest issue facing our generation?
Apathy. It is so obvious that we are doing things so wrong and that we need to change, but because most people are not confronted with the impacts of their unsustainable lifestyles directly on a daily basis, they are apathetic. They don’t care and they continue with the status quo. Not enough people are passionate enough.
What is your number one tip for living sustainably?
Don’t buy what you don’t need – I try to remind myself of this constantly, especially now that I am on an AmeriCorps stipend.
By Andrea Becker (’16), Staff Writer
When WFU alumna Shelby Buso (’02) started her undergraduate career at Wake Forest University, she assumed she was embarking on a path to veterinary medicine. However, after earning a degree in anthropology, minors in environmental studies and Spanish, and a Juris Doctor and Masters of Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School, Buso found herself on an alternative professional path. Now, as the Assistant Director of Transportation & Sustainability at Midtown Alliance – a nonprofit membership organization that has been the driving force behind the revitalization of Midtown Atlanta since 1978 – Buso works to cultivate sustainability in an urban context, working more with policy than animals.
Buso’s initial pull towards veterinary medicine stemmed from her innate affinity with animals and nature, which her coursework in Environmental Studies at WFU allowed her to explore. “I find my solace in nature and cannot imagine doing anything with my life that doesn’t involve preserving it,” Buso said. Internship opportunities with The MacKenzie Law Firm and ReefTeach, Inc. while attending WFU guided her work and passion. After graduating, Buso realized she could combine her areas of interest by working in environmental law. To test whether or not it was a path to which she wanted to commit, she obtained a paralegal certificate and worked as a paralegal for three years before attending Vermont Law School. During her graduate work she was involved in numerous student law organizations, studied abroad in Spain and Italy, and completed a semester in practice at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“At the beginning of my legal career, I believed I could make the most difference by preserving wildlife and large public lands,” Buso reflected. Upon graduating with a JD and Masters of Environmental Law and Policy, she moved back to Puerto Rico and worked as a law clerk. When Buso decided to move back to Atlanta a couple of years later, she knew she wanted to focus more attention on environmental policy and started working at The Clean Air Campaign. Atlanta’s interconnected environmental network allowed her to smoothly transition into her role at Midtown Alliance where she is able to continue her life’s pledge to preserve nature.
In her time at Midtown Alliance, Buso developed and co-authored Greenprint Midtown, a local sustainability action plan. One outcome of the plan is the development of the Midtown EcoDistrict. Working to join the collective of current EcoDistricts, which includes sustainability hallmark cities Portland and Seattle, Midtown Atlanta is implementing initiatives of its own to create what the organization describes as “a neighborhood of the future.”
Although her professional path has taken some twists and turns, she still believes her work contributes to conserving the nature she values. “Creating a sustainable infrastructure for people to thrive in, both professionally and personally, has given me a sense of purpose beyond the one I felt in the wilderness,” she said.
To this end, Buso has already worked on many programs that advance the goals of Greenprint Midtown and Midtown EcoDistrict: engaging property managers and building owners in the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge, coordinating the installation of the first public space recycling program in the City of Atlanta, and creating a sustainability initiatives recognition program. Buso also manages Midtown Transportation Management Association, which works to increase the use of alternative transportation to and from Midtown.
Considering last April marked her one-year anniversary at Midtown Alliance, saying she has been productive would be putting it mildly. Still in the beginning stages of implementing Greenprint Midtown, Buso will have just as much to balance moving forward. She always finds the hard work worth it: “Being able to walk the streets and see work I influenced being done first hand is an experience that I feel lucky to enjoy.”
By Hannah Slodounik, Program Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability
Allie Gruber (’13) knew she had a vague interest in sustainability when she boarded a plane bound for Peru in early June, following her sophomore year at Wake Forest University. She had no idea, however, that upon her return she would dedicate the remainder of her undergraduate career to learning about and advocating for the natural world. Her impressive list of sustainability credentials includes undergraduate research, two internships, and, perhaps most impressively, a tireless, personal peer outreach campaign.
Allie made her pivotal trip to the Amazon through the Wake Forest Tropical Diversity Program, a month-long study abroad opportunity offered by the biology department. The field program offers an in-depth exploration of biodiversity, which introduces students to the complex ecosystems of the tropics through hands-on learning. Allie remembers her study abroad experience in vivid detail, from her flight into Lima where the class studied the coast’s unique desert ecosystem to her second flight across the mountain range into Cuzco where she and her peers fought altitude sickness before taking a nine hour hike into the amazon basin. She recalls the hundreds of native hummingbird species her professors asked her to look out for on bird watching expeditions and well recalls the Manu research station, where she and her research partners, Chris Bobbitt (’12) and Brad Shugoll (’13) conducted original research.
This program, which highlights both the beauty and the vulnerability of some of the world’s last undeveloped landscapes “really turned me towards sustainability,” explains Allie. However, she emphasizes that her transformation wasn’t merely about the setting. Being in Peru helped, she explains, but “it was really the professors.” In particular, Dr. Miles Silman, Director of the Center for Energy, Environment, Sustainability, inspired Allie’s budding environmental interests. She says “he is so charismatic, it is contagious. He really got me excited about the environment.”
Dr. Silman mentored Allie as she continued to explore sustainability through the lens of the life sciences. Under his direction, she and fellow students conducted a feasibility analysis for conch farming as a means of economic development and collected relevant research on coral reefs for one of his courses. Allie finished her studies a semester early, and upon graduating last fall, she spent what would have been the spring semester of her senior year assisting Dr. Silman with the early phases of a biochar research project. Biochar is an organic fertilizer that increases the productivity of the soil while sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The material, essentially charcoal, forms through pyrolysis, a high-heat anaerobic conversion process. As Allie explains, biochar offers the dual advantage of being both “an organic alternative [to conventional fertilizer] and helping with the fight against global climate change.”
Allie has used what she learned from Dr. Silman in the classroom and the laboratory to explain relevant issues to her friends and to convince them to adopt sustainable behaviors. Though she modestly deems herself “the token tree-hugger of the group,” she has seen results from her consistent, positive persuasion. “I get texts all the time, like ‘I refilled my reusable water bottle at the water bottle-refilling station, it’s so cool!’ I tell them, yeah it is cool! Do it every day.”
Allie’s informal peer outreach was usually one-on-one, but last fall Allie used her position as the membership development chair for her sorority Delta Delta Delta to arrange for her entire chapter to attend a screening of 11th Hour hosted by Greeks Go Green. Throughout the film she got texts from her sorority sisters, asking if the films messages about ecosystem collapse were true. One friend sent a text demanding that Allie switch seats mid-film so she could explain the Coriolis Effect (a phenomenon caused by the Earth’s rotation). Allie complied, whispering quietly to her friend and scribbling diagrams of the Earth on the back of scratch paper.
Allie also gained two professional experiences relating to sustainability, serving as an intern for both Environment America’s Research and Policy Center in Washington, DC and Wake Forest’s Office of Energy Management. Allie’s internship at Environment America, through the Wake Washington program, gave her valuable experience in communicating research results and in understanding how non-profit organizations operate. As the intern for the Office of Energy Management, Allie and her co-intern Joey Matt (’13) planned Energy Bowl 2012.
Through her work with the Office of Energy Management, Allie met Dedee DeLongpre-Johnston, a second figure who impacted her aspirations for the future. DeLongpre-Johnston, the Director of the Office of Sustainability, pointed out to Allie that every environmental problem is also a social problem. Allie reports that this insight is leading her to pursue an explicitly humanitarian path. In addition to helping Allie make the connection between the social and environmental, she says DeLongpre-Johnston also taught her the importance of professionalism and organization. Allie says “Dedee taught me that it is one thing to be passionate and excited, but without a plan you really don’t get much done.”
Allie’s plan is to pursue further education, but her next step won’t be a linear extension of her undergraduate academic career. With a strong foundation in the science behind sustainability already, Allie is planning to incorporate other influences into her education by pursuing an MA in Management at Wake Forest this fall. She says “being fluent in other areas, such as business, will help me bring the environmental aspect into those fields.” Wherever she goes, Allie knows she will carry the benefits of a balanced and engaged Wake Forest experience. She reaped the benefits of mentoring relationships with faculty and staff who invested in her development and, in turn, she is focusing on paying those benefits forward by serving as a positive influence for her peers.
Written by Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability
Nathan Bedsole (BA ’11) is an unusual addition to our series of alumni spotlights – for several reasons. First, as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, he had no official affiliation to the Office of Sustainability. Instead, he devoted his undergraduate career to Wake Radio and, starting in the fall of his senior year, a job at
Second, Nathan is our first featured alumnus to answer the question where are you now with here; emphatically, intentionally here. He explains: “I like the movement that is going on downtown. Things seem to be moving in a very creative and energetic way, [as a senior I decided] I would like to remain a part of that after four years…once I had time to be fully involved in it, I didn’t want to go ahead and skip town. I wanted to commit myself to being here.”
Nathan found his niche as a cycling advocate in Winston-Salem. His affinity for cycling began during his sophomore year at Wake Forest, when he found himself without a car and with a desire to explore. He says “[cycling] was how I saw most of the city for the first time; how I figured out how to get around. I realized it was a bikeable city and cycling was how I wanted to get around.” He also recalls using cycling to clear his head, easing the stress of academic pressures.
This cycling affinity led Nathan to his current position as a founder and principle figure in the Winston-Salem Bicycle Co-Operative (WSBC), a volunteer organization dedicated to providing space and resources for bicycle maintenance, cycling education, and outreach events. Though Winston-Salem’s efforts are more recent, the bicycle co-op model is well-established in communities around the country and elsewhere in North Carolina. As Nathan explains, “the central idea [behind a bicycle co-op] is taking unused or unwanted bicycle parts, tools, and completed bicycles, and providing the space and opportunity to get them back into the community.”
According to Nathan, the concept of a Winston-Salem cooperative re-emerged in 2011 (there was a previous effort around 2005). The concept evolved out of a community loosely centered around the Werehouse, where both Nathan and Davis Bourland, another central figure in WSBC and a fellow Wake alum (MA ’12), worked as baristas. Nathan credits local artist, Andrew Fansler with drumming up early enthusiasm for the project. Nathan and Andrew met at the Werehouse when Nathan learned that Andrew, then a stranger, needed a pair of handlebars. Just having replaced the handlebars on his own bicycle, Nathan still had his old pair in the backseat of his car. He ran outside and fetched the handlebars, giving them to Andrew. Remembering this incident, Nathan jokingly terms their meeting “an ominous start to a relationship,” adding “somehow we knew.”
Andrew and Nathan’s initial introduction not only foreshadowed their future collaboration on WSBC, but also typified the manner of exchange the cooperative would come to embody. After exploring the initial idea through community meetings and surveys conducted by a team of volunteers (including Elizabeth Perkins (BA ‘09), a donation of thirty bicycles from Wake Forest University’s Reynolda Campus kick-started the project. Needing an immediate space to store the newly acquired inventory, Nathan offered his garage, which immediately became WSBC’s first official location.
From there, the bicycle cooperative grew quickly. Nathan explains, “everything was a donation; we had everything donated from stands to tools, to bike shoes, to helmets, to helmet padding. It’s wild the things that people had sitting around that were very easily appropriated for good use.” He goes on: “People finally had a way to get rid of things that didn’t involve just abandoning things that meant a lot to them…we were keeping things within the community.”
While located in Nathan’s garage, the co-op held weekly meetings called Workshop Wednesdays — informal gatherings where affiliates shared knowledge, maintained their own bicycles and rehabilitated donated stock. Recently, WSBC donated four rehabilitated bicycles to refugees from Myanmar who needed a means of transportation to and from work. The Winston-Salem chapter of World Relief, a faith-based non-profit that provides services to refugees and victims of human trafficking, facilitated the donation of the four bicycles, a few of which went to employees of ARAMARK at Wake Forest University Dr. Catherine Ross, the director of the Wake Forest Teaching and Learning Center, connected WSBC to World Relief. Dr. Ross, who has contact with World Relief through English classes she teaches to refugees, heard about WSBC from her son, a former professional BMX cyclist.
WSBC is currently in transition, both geographically (WSBC will soon is move to a new space on Canal Street), and fundamentally. Nathan explains, “At this point there are so many avenues this could take. I don’t know what it is going to look like, but, like with everything, you have those people who are there all the time…volunteers who will move and shape what is going on.”
During this transitional period, the co-operative has become temporarily events-based, most recently collaborating with the Winston-Salem Sustainable Resource Center, Whole Foods, Krankies, and the City of Winston-Salem to host a community bike-ride. Nathan describes the event as “an amazing convergence of really good things.” Seventy cyclists followed a route from Krankies Werehouse to the Piedmont Triad Research Park, around Winston Lake, and back to the Werehouse. After taking advantage of the first pleasant weather in weeks, cyclists enjoyed vegetarian chili and cornbread donated by Whole Foods.
This fall Nathan will return to Wake Forest to pursue a master’s degree in communications. He is “ready to come back to Wake,” and, while he is nervous about writing papers again, he is looking forward to student teaching and remaining in the city he has made his home. Whether he is heading to campus for class, downtown to Werehouse, or over to the Co-Op’s new space to work on renovations, he most certainly be getting there by bike. As he says “In this city, biking is a viable transportation option. It’s not just leisure it’s not just exercise; it’s not just sport. It’s a way you can actually get around.”
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability
Students around campus are changing the way they think about hydration by choosing to fill up their reusable water bottles at refilling stations around campus. Little do they know, they have former sustainability intern Frannie Speer to thank for these.
When Frannie joined the Office of Sustainability in the 2010-2011 academic year as the Choose to Reuse intern, she saw a need for a change in the consumptive behavior of students. Frannie encouraged members of the Wake Forest community to trade disposable plastic bottles for reusable bottles to meet their hydration needs. Her hard work came to fruition the summer after she graduated when a grant for which she applied was awarded and the first hydration station was installed in Reynolda Hall.
Frannie’s entrepreneurial inspiration spurred her to develop the Choose to Reuse campaign at Wake Forest. While taking a class that encouraged students to look at consumption creatively, she and her classmates began a discussion about water usage. Frannie remembers noting, “People are making uniformed decisions without thinking twice about it. Looking back to our youth, during those soccer games, other sporting events or even at lunchtime, our parents filled our bags and lunch boxes with the small water bottles. We are conditioned to think that is the only way to drink water.”
With this in mind, Frannie became interested in the idea of bringing the hydration stations to campus. The stations are a convenient way for people to have access to chilled, filtered water for their refillable bottles. Although Frannie has no preference for how she likes her tap water, she learned through a poll that most students on campus prefer it chilled and filtered. Through an informative campaign, Frannie and the Office of Sustainability armed faculty, staff, and students with information about pricing, health, safety, and environmental impacts of bottled water. With this information, campus consumers can make more informed purchasing decisions.
Over the course of the campaign, Frannie also saw a change in her own behavior. She polled students and found that they reported drinking only two to four glasses of water a day; she found herself in that same group. With easier access to water, Frannie increased her consumption and now she cannot go a day without her essential eight glasses. Even today, her project continues to expand and to improve the wellness of the Wake Forest community.
Upon graduating from Wake Forest in 2011, Frannie joined Wells Fargo Securities as an investment banker in the Consumer & Retail group, where she focuses on companies within the beauty retail and luxury retail market. Although, she does not directly work on sustainability issues, she still influences the environmental conscience of her coworkers and firm. During an investment banking training last summer, she pitched the idea of handing out Wells Fargo-logoed reusable water bottles instead of the traditional disposable plastic bottles – an idea that was met with enthusiasm.
In the future, she hopes to continue to pursue more direct work on sustainability issues. For now, she remains passionate about supporting local food production and independent restaurateurs. Frannie believes that by supporting the local food trucks and restaurants that sell sustainably farmed foods, she can directly influence the local community, the local economy, and reduce the energy and environmental impacts of food production.
To current students, her advice is to find a sustainable cause that they care about. Keeping your eyes open to different issues and making a conscious effort to address them remains important because as Frannie says, “the little things make a big difference.”
During her time at Wake Forest, Katherine Sinacore (’11) worked in the Office of Sustainability as one of two Green Team program development interns. Katherine helped lay the groundwork for and pilot the program, which has now blossomed into a campus-wide initiative.
After graduating with a major in biology and a minor in environmental science, Katherine enrolled in the MA Forestry Program at the University of New Hampshire, a well-known leader in environmental and ecological education and research. Sinacore just returned from a field season in the White Mountains, where she collected data about the variations of species composition and timber quality, before beginning her second year in the program.
Part of Katherine’s inspiration for her work stems from an immense appreciation for the diversity on our planet. In her words, “we are stewards of this land and should recognize the value of protecting it.”
What’s your favorite part of your graduate work?
There are really two parts that I enjoy about my work. One is the research side – I enjoy that my research has practical implications for management of northeast hardwood forests. Second is the teaching side – I have had the opportunity to teach both natural resource economics and an ecology course. I find both research and teaching very rewarding.
What do you hope to do after graduating from UNH?
Right now I am looking to continue my education. I am currently applying to PhD programs. Hopefully I will hear some good news in the next couple of months.
How well do you feel your education, specifically the environmental science minor at Wake Forest, prepared you for your current work?
One of the best aspects of the environmental science minor at WFU is the transdisciplinary nature of the courses. I took classes ranging from economics to ecology to sociology. These classes and the accompanying discussions within the classroom really helped prepare me for work in forestry – which links together the economics, ecology, and social aspects of land management. All these perspectives are really necessary if we want to make changes and I feel I learned this through the environmental science minor.
What is the most important issue facing our generation?
The impact we have on the environment is a big issue facing our generation. Luckily, we now have the tools to hopefully fix what we have done and move forward, toward a more sustainable future. The challenge lies in motivating and convincing people they can really make a difference.
What is your number one tip for living sustainably?
Be conscious of your daily decisions – in all aspects of your life. There is not just one way to be sustainable. Evaluate your choices and see what changes you can make in your own life. You might just inspire others to do the same!
By Joey DeRosa, Communications and Outreach Intern
What inspires you to be sustainable?
An appreciation of the enormous amount of diversity present on our planet and an understanding of the value of conserving it. We depend on the natural world not only for our health and happiness, but for the cultural and economic value its services provide.
What is the biggest issue facing our generation?
The impacts humans have had on the environment in the last century have been intensely felt all across the planet. We now understand the economic and social costs of non-sustainable ecosystem use. If we continue to see ourselves as dominators of nature, we are further dissociating ourselves from it. Our generation has been given an opportunity to begin to reverse this trend of devaluing the world’s ecosystems. The biggest issue we face is enacting this change, which can only happen through recognition that we are inherently dependent on the services the natural world provides. With 10.5 billion people by 2050, we must fully embrace this new perspective and make smart decisions based upon it.
What is your number one tip for living sustainably?
Live in a city. If you’re in the United States, live in New York City. High-density city living is an environmentally responsible choice.
By Caitlin Edwards, Wake Forest Fellow
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