GW Celebrates the ‘Power of Partnerships’ on Earth Day

Eco-Equity Challenge winners join university in taking action to promote sustainability.

Earth Day
April 23, 2015

By Brittney Dunkins

Forty-six years ago, Earth Day had bite, GW Executive Director of the Sustainability Collaborative Kathleen Merrigan said Wednesday at the annual Earth Day fair hosted by the Office of Sustainability.

She quoted the words of environmental activist Jamie Henn as a reminder of Earth Day’s roots in social justice before issuing a call to action to GW students who gathered among the crowd of staff and faculty on Kogan Plaza

“Let’s get some action items on the agenda with bite,” Ms. Merrigan said. “Try to engage, try to use your studies to expand what you already know and then get out there and shake up the world.”

It was a fitting mandate for the event, which celebrated the “Power of Partnerships” in creating sustainable change at the university through efforts such as the Capital Partners Solar Project and the inaugural Eco-Equity Challenge.

The fair featured booths, games and giveaways from Sweetgreen, Campaign GW and Eco-Reps, the Food Justice Alliance, Whole Foods and others.

DC Water shared information about their sustainability efforts and gave away waterbottles, mugs and cups to people who stopped by their table at the fair. 

Lou Katz, GW executive vice president and treasurer, commended students on their contributions to the university’s sustainability efforts.

“I really want to acknowledge all of our students,” Mr. Katz said. “It is students, really, who have been driving the efforts of what the university has been doing around sustainability from operations to academics and programming. ”

In that spirit, the Eco-Equity Challenge—launched in January by the Office of Sustainability and Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service—took top billing at the Earth Day event.

The program—funded by the Siemens Industry, Inc., Building Technologies Division—provides up to $15,000 in grants for students to partner with community organizations and pursue original environmental and social justice projects during the 2015-16 academic year.

Director of the Office of Sustainability Meghan Chapple announced the winners: Marietta Gelfort, Eleanor Davis, Arzoo Malhorta, Max Grossman, Danielle Ciaurro, Morgan Tolles, Joe Hancuch, Paige Cooper and Elana Oser.

(l-r) Ms. Chapple with Sustainability Project Facilitator Ronda Chapman, Siemens Account Executive Alison Shea and the inaugural Eco-Equity Challenge winners. 

Ms. Gelfort, Ms. Davis and Ms. Malhorta will work with nonprofit Higher Achievement to develop a community-mapping program for students at the Washington Highland School in Ward 8.

Ms. Cooper will partner with D.C. Public Schools and the Living Classrooms Foundation for “Project Lily Pad.” Students will learn to build floating wetland islands that house native plants to help preserve the Anacostia River along Kingman Island.

Ms. Oser will collaborate with undergraduates in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and urban agriculture organization Rooftop Roots for “Urban Acres,” a food container project that will provide produce to underserved communities.

Mr. Grossman, a sophomore, said that he is looking forward to expanding the work that he and other GW volunteers began last year with Little Friends for Peace. Mr. Grossman, Ms. Ciaurro, Ms. Tolles and Mr. Hancuch will launch “The Peace Garden” at Sursum Corda, an affordable housing community in Ward 6.

GW Eco-Reps at the Campaign GW table donned sustainability themed T-shirts and provided maps to the university's sustainability efforts. Everyone who provided his email address for updates received a free shirt. 

“As a student volunteer who works on behalf of a community organization that needs all of the help that it can get, I wanted to support the passion they have for the people we serve,” Mr. Grossman said. “I heard about this from the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service and figured this was in my reach, so I thought why not go for it.”

Mr. Grossman said that his studies in the Geography Department also sparked his drive to serve the community. The department is one of the many GW programs that feature sustainability-focused “green-leaf” courses, according to Provost Steven Lerman.

There are currently 400 undergraduate and graduate “green-leaf” courses, Dr. Lerman said.

He said that the creative teaching and research of nearly 200 faculty members also have bolstered GW’s sustainability-focused academic programs—citing Assistant Professor of Economics Ram Fishman’s work with students to research residence hall waste.

Dr. Lerman added that university-wide programs such as the Urban Food Task Force, Planet Forward and the interdisciplinary sustainability minor—are examples of the future of teaching around these issues.

“We are now among the leading institutions that are focused on issues of sustainability,” he said.