VWU establishes sustainability leaders program

Virginia Wesleyan University has taken positive strides by emphasizing the importance of educating and involving our campus on environmental topics and initiatives. This can be seen by the “Generations Uniting to Address Climate Change” conference hosted by VWU and The Gunn Group in November, an increase in eco-friendly projects around campus and the RecycleMania competition. This trend is continuing with Dr. Elizabeth Malcolm, a professor of ocean & atmospheric sciences and the Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences who has established the Virginia Wesleyan University Sustainability Leaders Program. This is a university-wide program to green any bachelor’s degree at VWU. This program recognizes students who have completed volunteer service and coursework focused on real-world issues of sustainability and the environment.

The program was established to encourage students to deepen their understanding of environmental issues and engage the campus and local community in solutions through volunteering, research and internships. This is also a way for VWU to recognize the impressive achievements of our students. Students can list the recognition on their resumes in addition to getting a cord to wear at commencement.

Malcolm has had eleven seniors apply for the program, with several others still working on their applications. “It’s inspiring to read about their accomplishments and how they have been able to see themselves as agents of change. For example, the applicants have done research on sea turtles, daddy longlegs and composting,” Malcolm said. “They have organized campus clean-ups and conferences, and they have interned at organizations like the Virginia Aquarium and the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center.”

Students are still able to earn points for the program while social distancing due to the coronavirus. According to Malcolm, “Several organizations have webinars for Earth Day this month. These include Earthday.org and the Sustainable Solutions Development Network,” Malcolm said. “You can also volunteer with a citizen science initiative. For example, you can identify cells on images of ginkgo leaves for a research project by the Smithsonian on carbon dioxide. It only takes a few minutes to learn the technique, and then you can help with climate change research virtually.” When students are on campus, they are able to earn points by taking courses on the environment, volunteering with Marlins Go Green, attending seminars, or completing an internship with a sustainability focus. 

Regardless of an individual’s major, they are encouraged to take part in this program. Malcolm stated, “Climate change and environmental degradation are affecting the health of humans and the planet. We need people from all majors and in all careers working to solve these complex global problems in business, education, government and the arts to name a few.” She adds that there are many opportunities for co-benefits to sustainability solutions. “For example, reducing energy use for a business will also save money. Improving air quality improves peoples’ health and slows climate change,” Malcolm said. “Our students are so Conncreative and enthusiastic; I know they can help make a difference no matter what career path they choose.”

Freshman Divinity Richardson believes this is a terrific program. “I think this will be a great motivation for environmentally conscious students and students’ hard work in the environment will be represented by the green degree and they can take great pride in that,” Richardson said. The application includes submitting a google form listing all of the activities you have participated in and a short essay reflecting on your experiences in sustainability leadership. Please reach out to Dr. Malcolm via email at emalcolm@vwu.edu if you have any further questions. Here is a link to the Virginia Wesleyan University Sustainability Leaders Application.

Connor Merk