Hover over any image in our interactive gallery for the name and title of the subject, then click to learn more about the Faces 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 Krankies, a coffee shop and music venue located in the Werehouse, a social hub for downtown Winston-Salem.
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
As she began to examine questions about life-cycle analysis and resource efficiency, she says “I realized…to get a sense of what’s going on, you can use fairly simple math. I decided that would be a great place to bring in students, to give them the confidence to apply straightforward mathematics to analyze complex situations.”
This urge to combine a personal passion for sustainability with her career resulted in Dr. Mason’s first-year seminar, Counting on Sustainable Energy: Does it Add Up?, which she is currently teaching for a second time this spring. The simple addition, multiplication, and conversion involved in the course are far from her traditional research field of combinatorics, but Dr. Mason’s course demonstrates how “pretty basic mathematics can be used to do some powerful things.”
Counting on Sustainable Energy fosters a greater understanding of alternative energy and arms students with the ability to critically evaluate assertions about the relative environmental impacts of various fuel sources. “One of the biggest things that I want my students to get out of this class is getting comfortable taking claims and evaluating them for themselves. If someone says something is better for the environment, I want my students to be able to go home and verify that claim.”
Over the course of a semester, Dr. Mason’s students will investigate a wide array of alternative energy sources, including solar, hydro, wind, and geothermal. They will examine how much energy these sources could produce on Wake Forest’s campus and how much energy a Wake Forest student consumes each day. By the end of the semester, students will find an answer to the course’s central question: Could we, with our current consumption patterns, rely on sustainable energy at Wake Forest University? If the answer is yes, students will explain exactly how a switch to sustainable energy might be feasible in their final paper. If the answer is no, students will lay out a plan to reduce energy consumption.
Much of Dr. Mason’s FYS is hands-on. Her students began the course by measuring their own electricity consumption with a Kill-a-watt, an exercise designed to give them an idea of scale when they use the watt or kilowatt hour (kWh) as a unit of measure. Recently, her students completed the construction of miniature wind turbines, an exercise designed to familiarize them with the mechanics of wind energy. As part of their final project, students will develop and staff interactive educational booths at Food for Thought, this spring’s Earth Day celebration for the Wake Forest community.
In addition to readings and class projects, Counting on Sustainable Energy includes a line-up of guest speakers, including a representative from Volt energy (the company responsible for the solar panels on The Barn) and an environmental engineer working in wind turbine installation. Students will visit a land fill and a geothermal installation. So far, Dr. Mason’s students have matched an impressive syllabus with impressive work product. Dr. Mason reports her students are highly motivated by the subject matter, explaining “because they are passionate about [sustainability], they are willing to do the leg work.”
The latest version of Counting on Sustainability is a result of Dr. Mason’s participation in the Magnolias Project, a WFU faculty workshop on integrating sustainability across the curriculum. An assigned reading on the moral ecology of everyday life (from Higher Education for Sustainability) inspired Dr. Mason to take the focus of Counting on Sustainability from a national level down to a campus level; her students have benefited from an opportunity to relate to their course material directly.
Not only did the Magnolias Project allow Dr. Mason to refine her syllabus, she also made valuable connections to faculty from different disciplines. This network continues to be source of ideas and feedback, which Dr. Mason finds particularly valuable as a mathematician teaching a writing-intensive course. This spring, she will co-lead the second iteration of the Magnolias Project with Dr. Lucas Johnston, a faculty member in the Religion department and another member of the Magnolias Project’s first cohort.
Unsurprisingly, Dr. Mason also integrates sustainability into her life beyond the classroom. When moving to Winston-Salem, she intentionally purchased a home within walking distance from campus and often uses a bicycle for transportation. An avid hiker, she partially attributes her interest in sustainability to a love of the outdoors, saying “I love hiking and I really value being able to explore untouched places. I worry our society is moving towards less and less of these beautiful, spectacular places.”
A passion for sustainability runs in Dr. Mason’s family. The environmental engineer who spoke to her class about wind turbines was her father and her brother is an urban planner, currently tackling solutions for mass transit in developing countries. Her brother also helped her tackle a compost bin project in her backyard and Dr. Mason plans to put her compost to good use this year. She muses “I love being able to go out and make a salad with ingredients straight from my backyard, there is something really satisfying about that.”
Dr. Mason’s academic innovation is possible through the generous support of the university, for which she is continually grateful. Her students are equivalently grateful for Dr. Mason, especially those like sophomore Caroline Waco, whose experience in Dr. Mason’s FYS last year inspired her to do independent research on the factors impacting the payback period for solar photovoltaic panels. Dr. Mason explains that her promotion of sustainability at Wake Forest naturally flows from her interest in the topic. She says “I’ve always believed in following my passions, and hopefully that leads to a strong contribution to my community.”
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability
Campus sustainability efforts often begin with Environmental Health and Safety enforcement. Without first addressing the environmental and safety regulations that protect
our resources and our overall health and safety, we would not be able to create sustainability goals and programs that take us beyond compliance. The men and women of the Wake Forest Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) provide the foundation for our campus sustainability work.
The office navigates federal, state, and local regulatory compliance requirements by assessing possible hazards, risks, and unsafe working conditions; defining the applicable environmental health and safety programs; and implementing those programs, when necessary. These include hazardous waste management, the development of procedures to protect employees in hazardous or potentially hazardous work environments on campus, conducting training for employees and students on safe practices, and ensuring that mechanical devices are working properly for the protection of students and faculty while working with chemicals. In these operations, EH&S partners with departments such as chemistry, physics, biology, nanotechnology, health and exercise science, art, theater, athletics, and other departments within Facilities and Campus Services.
Through these programs, campus not only complies with the regulations, but also moves towards a more sustainable future. We e-interviewed Michelle Lennon, Director of EH&S to learn more about her office’s work on campus.
Of the things that you have accomplished as an office, of what are you most proud?
We conducted an environmental compliance audit with a third party auditor in 2008. There were findings such as how we collect our chemical waste in certain laboratories, labeling, training, etc. We disclosed our findings to the EPA and corrected the findings within an agreed period with the EPA. Since that audit, we have worked with our campus partners in ensuring that the programs developed for the university to maintain compliance are working and working well. We have developed an environmental management system (EMS) that keeps track of scheduled compliance requirements such as reports, training, reviews, etc.
Another proud accomplishment of EHS is our Space Hazard Assessment Program for the university. EHS works closely with space owners such as laboratory PIs (Principle Investigators) or maintenance workshops to identify hazards within that space. Based upon the existing hazards or potential hazards, EHS will work with the space owner to ensure that the occupants are safe when working in that space. Another great accomplishment for EHS is the online training program that is accessible on our web page. For example, the training requirements for laboratories can be completed by taking the “e-training and completing a short quiz.” This is far better than the traditional method of delivering training by calling everyone into a classroom for an hour. E-training is flexible to the person who completes the training. It allows flexibility for the people to take the training without ever leaving their desk.
Does your office have any input during the construction of new buildings, or upon their completion?
Yes. We work with the University Architect and project managers during the design phase of new construction.
What are some of the ways we can prevent the growth of mold inside our buildings?
As mold growth is identified, it is removed and the area of the growth is cleaned. What everyone needs to keep in mind, is that mold spores are all around us. We do not live in an environment where there are not mold spores present. The key is to understand what causes mold growth in buildings and what you can do to reduce the opportunity for growth. Please refer to the Mold Management Plan on our website for more information.
What are some of the greatest challenges that you all have faced as an office?
The change of mindset is at the top of the list. It is complicated at times to convince people to invest in their own safety. I had a great mentor tell me years ago, that the biggest challenge for EHS professionals is tell people and ensure them that “I am here to protect you from yourself.”
What are some the steps that people could take to be more responsible and even make your jobs a bit easier? We recommend that people buy products with long life cycles, encourage product replacement with less hazardous environmental and safety consequences, reduce usage of extremely hazardous substances, and be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention for your safety and the safety of others.
By Kiana Courtney, Communications and Outreach Intern
As a member of the graduating class of 1986, Wake Forest’s new Provost, Dr. Rogan Kersh, is no stranger to the university. Neither is he a stranger to sustainability, an interest he has explored for several decades, or as he quips “since before Al Gore made it cool.” Dr. Kersh has two motivations behind his long-term exploration of sustainability: family and politics. He explains “I am the son and husband of deeply committed environmentalists, [who share a] lifelong passion for environmental preservation, appreciating the bounty of nature, and helping to sustain what it means to be on this earth.” In addition, a general interest in politics also spurs Dr. Kersh’s exploration of the field. He adds, “as someone interested in political science and public policy, you find your way to an issue as a way to channel your energies; environment and environmental sustainability have been that for me.”
These twin inspirations keep sustainability a continual theme in Dr. Kersh’s professional and personal life. During his tenure as a professor and associate dean at NYU, he advocated for sustainability through seats on numerous committees and incorporated an environmental perspective into his classes. His apartment in New York, located within an NYU student residence hall, was also designed to model sustainable campus living. Dr. Kersh owes much to his former apartment, created by retrofitting a historic building with sustainable features like cork floors and countertops made of recycled medical glass. Not only did living in such a space illustrate his commitment to reducing his impact, he maintains that his wife, Sara Pesek, most recently the Director of an EPA sponsored Environmental Finance Center, agreed to marry him in part because of his “eco-forward apartment.”
Sustainability will play a role in a comprehensive wellbeing initiative led by Dr. Kersh and the Office of the Provost. Environmental wellness is one of eight dimensions of wellness the Office of the Provost will incorporate into the holistic examination of wellbeing for all university constituents. Specifically, Dr. Kersh identifies the built environment as one pertinent aspect of environmental wellness to be considered as part of the new wellbeing initiative. He is proud of Wake Forest’s existing leadership in environmentally responsible construction, particularly South Hall, a LEED Gold-certified first-year student residence hall that features low emission materials and a low-impact ventilation system.
According to Dr. Kersh, sustainability should also play a role in the Wake Forest classroom. His own initial academic exposure to sustainability traces back to his undergraduate career, when he studied the Green Party of West Germany in a course on western European politics. Dr. Kersh believes incorporating sustainability into the classroom can go well beyond explicit course content though, serving as an aspect of university-wide pedagogy. He explains “what is special about a Wake Forest education is that subject matter is communicated in the most advanced way possible and the professor also brings other kinds of life enhancing [perspectives] to the classroom…sustainability, which I define as being a responsible steward of the planet we inhabit, is a part of that.”
Dr. Kersh has both the heart of a Deacon and the experience and insight gained from a remarkable career. He has a vision for the university that both honors Wake Forest’s heritage and embraces necessary innovation. His lifelong commitment to sustainability bodes well for the continued forward momentum of social and environmental responsibility on campus; as he states “I stand ready and excited to implement new ideas.”
By Annabel Lang, Presidential Fellow for the Office of Sustainability
Nathan Peifer is a competent and capable person; that’s why it was extremely disconcerting when, one year ago, he realized, in the most basic way, he did not know how to feed himself. Thus began Nathan’s study of gardening, a journey of self-directed learning he describes as “chasing ignorance.” This summer his chase landed him in the Wake Forest Campus Garden, where he works for the Office of Sustainability as the Campus Garden intern. If you have been to the garden lately, you will find it difficult to believe that just one year ago Nathan’s entire gardening experience amounted to trying (unsuccessfully) to grow grass out of a Styrofoam cup for a grade school craft project. Over this past week alone, the garden produced 74.09 lbs of produce and the harvest has just begun; the fruits of Nathan’s labor will be ripe for picking all the way into the fall.
One of the secrets of Nathan’s success is extensive research. In order to best manage the campus garden, Nathan does a good bit of reading and seeks advice from his gardening mentors. He takes inspiration from other gardens as well. Through these visits he has he has learned that every community and campus garden has its own unique strengths and challenges, so “you should never try to become someone else’s garden.”
Nathan identifies a strong partnership with Facilities and Campus Services as one of our campus garden’s unique strengths. This summer Nathan worked out an arrangement with Megan Anderson, the campus recycling manager, to divert extra cardboard to the garden. Nathan uses the cardboard to keep weeds down between rows of plants and the cardboard improves the quality of the soil as it degrades.
To Nathan, who is entering his third year in the Wake Forest Divinity School this fall, gardening is an art not a science (although, he points out, there is plenty of science happening in our garden). He likes to garden because there are no right or wrong answers and you have to think creatively to solve problems that arise. After two rigorous academic years in the Divinity school, the hands-on, outdoor work of the garden is a welcome change and he finds his work in the garden and his education to be “mutually informative.”
One of Nathan’s favorite aspects of his internship is working with different groups who volunteer their service in the garden. So far this summer has hosted The Benjamin Franklin Scholars, the LENS program, StudentLife, and 4Good volunteers. Nathan sees the garden as an opportunity for service learning and hopes faculty will take advantage of the garden as an unconventional classroom with the potential to “bring cultural assumptions [about farming and growing food] into high relief.”
This summer in the garden has helped Nathan shape his plans for the future. He is seriously considering bivocational ministry, which combines traditional pastoral duties with other work, such as managing a community garden. To anyone who now stands where he stood one year ago, in a place of ignorance about the source of their food, he offers this advice: “Find someone who knows what they are doing, befriend them, and rely on them as a resource. And remember, there is no one right way to do anything. You just have to try.”
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow
This article is the first in a series about sustainability grads. We hope you enjoy it!
Andrew Collins (’10) joined the Office of Sustainability intern team during the spring semester of his senior year, after a study abroad internship with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Inspired by a course with Biology Professor Miles Silman, Collins worked alongside Landscaping Services Staff to kick-start the Campus Tree Care Plan, a key component of Tree Campus USA certification.
After graduation, he joined the New York City Teaching Fellows program and was hired as a middle school science teacher at a 6-12 public school while simultaneously pursuing a Masters in Science Education degree at Pace University. This fall, he will begin the MA in Conservation Biology program at Columbia University, to build on his undergraduate experiences at home and abroad.
“Conservation is not simply about saving obscure species and working in faraway places,” he said. “But rather is central to improving human wellbeing.” After he completes his degree, he plans to work for an organization that helps communities and governments better manage and restore their ecosystems in order to achieve sustainable development.
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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Dean Gail O’Day spends her days at the Divinity School helping her students help others. Whether they are growing food in the campus garden to distribute to those in need or volunteering with Kids Café (a program of Second Harvest Food Bank), O’Day’s job is to make sure students have the resources they need to be successful.
Student interest was the impetus for the school’s sustainability club, EcoTHEO. Students also are working in many hunger-focused ministries, either as service-learning or volunteer work. “It’s a great reflection of the importance of sustainability for this generation of ministerial students,” O’Day said. Seventy percent of the university’s divinity students are under the age of 30.
When she started at the university in August 2010, O’Day heard students express their commitment to and passion for sustainability as a major social justice issue. The School is developing a focus on food and faith communities, because “food issues struck us as the most accessible entry point into questions of sustainability,” she said. “It (food) has intergenerational appeal and need. The need for healthy food and food access also crosses ethnic lines. Many different faith communities can participate, so it crosses faith lines too.”
For O’Day, the importance of food ministries goes beyond feeding physical hunger. “Food is our closest link to the land,” she said. “When you know farmers, you know that food is not simply a commodity. It is the way some people make a living. My food decisions have justice implications for other people. We need to stop and think about the interconnectedness of everything and the impact we can have on the common good.”
It was this desire to work toward the common good that brought O’Day to the university. “Wake Forest values the education of the whole person. It is a place for engagement across disciplines and it is small enough for effective collaboration. You can actually get in touch with the person you need to make something happen” she said.
By Caitlin Edwards, Wake Forest Fellow
“I just try to leave a place better than I found it – I try to make a difference,” Athletics Turf Manager, Abby McNeal said. In McNeal’s case, that means making the world a little greener, in more ways than one.
McNeal manages all of the athletic fields on campus as well as BB&T field. She maintains the lush, green turf that stands up to a beating game day after game day from the scorching heat of August until the first freezes in November. She tends to the special needs of the artificial playing surfaces too in order to keep them safe, sanitary and professional looking.
When asked how the soft-spoken red-head became involved in turf management – she smiles. There is no good story here, she confesses. “I chose to study turf management more than 20 years ago. I found a passion and I stuck with it. That’s it.”
As if her official job – which often keeps her on campus from 7 a.m. until far into the evening (and on weekend game days too) – were not enough, when the opportunity to jumpstart the university’s Game Day Recycling program presented itself to McNeal, she jumped at it. “I preach a lot of customer service and this is just an extension of that service,” she said.
Not only do her customers – Demon Deacon and rival team fans alike – enjoy the opportunity to recycle, but her team has started to feel a sense of pride and ownership, she said.
When she’s not working on an athletics Green Team initiative, brainstorming ways to expand Game Day Recycling or caring for turf, McNeal carries her personal commitment to sustainability home to her 3-year-old twins. “If we can reuse something, we reuse it; if we can recycle something, we recycle it. It’s simple,” she said. “My twins fight over the chance to recycle at home, they love helping out with the recycling.”
To McNeal, excitement about recycling is a first step to incorporating sustainability more broadly into daily life. “Make sure that you understand that sustainability is more than just recycling. Then think simply about your life. There are always ways that you can do things even simpler than you are. The simpler something is, the more routine it will be. When something is routine, it becomes the norm. There are so many ways to make sustainability the norm.”
By Caitlin Brooks-Edwards, Wake Forest Fellow
Junior Amanda Gambill embodies the “think globally, act locally” sustainability mantra. Gambill, a chemistry major with a biochemistry focus, currently leads the Baptist Student Union’s campaign with Charity Water, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. Since its inception in 2007, Charity Water has raised more than $6 million and provided over 890 water projects to 13 developing countries. In her giving campaign, Gambill hopes to provide clean drinking water to over 250 people by raising $5,000 for the organization.
Gambill’s campaign with Charity Water is only the most recent way that she has worked to promote sustainability at an international level. Last summer, Gambill partnered with Taylor Hahn, a 2009 graduate of the university’s Masters in Communications program, to teach an environmental ethics class to a group of international students at the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute. This is the 6th year that the university has hosted the international summer institute. Gambill and Hahn lectured and held debates on topics related to sustainability in the civic sphere and encouraged students to think critically about the role of government in sustainability. Gambill said she was thrilled at the opportunity to discuss solutions to environmental issues with these young leaders.
Outside of the classroom, Gambill and Hahn provided opportunities for students to participate in sustainable community projects. Students helped clean up the creek near the local dog park in Washington Park and volunteered with local organizations such as the Campus Garden, Campus Kitchen, and the Forsyth Animal Shelter. The students also met with officers from the US Department of State on a trip to Washington, D.C. and discussed the role of government in addressing environmental issues
Gambill, who intends to practice medicine in developing nations, attributes her work in international sustainability to her desire to be part of a solution to global environmental problems. She said that she feels called to engage with sustainability under the motto of Pro Humanitate. “Our project is about helping a portion of humankind who needs the most basic necessity — water,” Gambill says. “And if I have helped humanity, I have fulfilled my duty as a Wake Forest student.”
Donate to Amanda Gambill’s Charity Water campaign at http://mycharitywater.org/wfubsuwomen.
By Jane Connors, Communications and Outreach Intern
As a conservation biologist researching biodiversity in the Amazon Rain Forest, Professor of Biology, Miles Silman, has been a de facto part of the sustainability movement since beginning work on his doctorate nearly two decades ago. Yet he admits that he “just didn’t get it” until a confluence of events made him see his research and human impact on the planet in a new light.
“When I came to the university in the fall of 1998, I was working on species distribution and biodiversity in the Amazon, but I never connected it with the wide-scale events that are happening in the world,” he said. “It’s hard for people to connect the things that they work on with these larger processes.”
In 2002, at a 50,000 year-old lake in the Peruvian Amazon, Silman and his colleagues constructed the past climate of the lake through examination of the changing biodiversity as seen in the fossil record. The biodiversity of the lake had changed in synchrony with the climate for millions of years. If species diversity changes were to keep up with projected climate change patterns, species would have to migrate 30 times faster than they had in the past. The results of this research were published in Science and were used to brief Senator John McCain in 2004 for the senate hearings on climate.
Around the same time, Silman and his wife, Alycia, moved to a small farm in Yadkin County, NC where they raised cows, chickens, pigs and goats. Here, they tried to live Silman’s personal take on sustainability: “living in the world, but not using it up.”
It was in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, far from the exotic Amazon rainforest he’d dreamed of exploring as a child, that Silman had the most profound and simple realization, “Animals eat, and that eating has consequences” he said. “And changing anything about an ecosystem – trees, plants, animals, temperature, water – the system changes.”
The realization brought his personal commitment to sustainable farming and his professional career as a leading conservation biologist together in a new way. His research focus shifted to species response to climate change. Together with a group of sustainability-minded faculty, he helped found the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES) last fall. The interdisciplinary center promotes critical thinking and effective action across the fields of renewable energy, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, environmental policy, human behavior, social influence, enterprise, and environmental markets.
His work as the center’s director has furthered his understanding of the systemic nature of the sustainability movement. “I now see the other facets,” he said. “I’m still dense about parts of it, but the CEES faculty members are all exploring different angles on the same problems. Coming from a science background, I have a natural interest in energy and technology, but we can have all the science and technological solutions possible and it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand people. Realizing that has been the most important thing for me.”
When not conducting research and working with CEES, Silman spends much of his time communicating the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability to his students in the classroom and on field studies to the Andes. Through his courses, he tries to convey a message: “What you do matters. Be engaged; there are many different ways to be engaged. There is not one way to be sustainable,” he said. “But whatever you do, wherever you do it, you have to be mindful.”
By Caitlin Brooks, Wake Forest Fellow