Students earn money for sustainability projects


By Maria Rachal and Sutton Travis 

Six groups of environmentally-minded students are embodying Washington and Lee’s motto, “Non incautus futuri,” or “not unmindful of the future,” as they bring to life sustainability projects funded by university grant money.

Project topics range from planting more trees on campus, to establishing a used clothing collection program, to making sustainable feminine hygiene products more available to students, to building a trail from campus to the Outing Club barn.

Director of Sustainability Initiatives and Education Kim Cowgill put out the initial call for sustainability “mini-grant” project proposals on Dec. 1, 2015. According to Cowgill, funding for the grants, which were worth up to $2,000 each, came from money set aside by W&L President Ken Ruscio for student sustainability initiatives on campus and in the community.

The project guidelines outlined that proposals were to address some part or combination of the three components of sustainability: environment, economics, and social equity. Students were encouraged to work jointly with community partners or student organizations. Six grant winners were notified in January and all projects are expected to be completed by May 20.

Sequoya Bua-lam, ‘17, Prakhar Naithani, ‘17, and Tessa Horan, ‘18, applied for a mini-grant to make sustainable phone and laptop chargers available around campus, as personal technological devices can sometimes use the most energy. The three students cited a statistic found by a tech investment advisory group stating that the average iPhone uses more energy annually than a mid-sized refrigerator.

The group used their grant money to purchase 14 new solar and kinetic chargers, which in total cost around $1,400. The chargers will be distributed to Leyburn Library, the Fitness Center and the Outing Club.

The students noted that the purchase of the chargers, which they hope will increase environmental consciousness and bring awareness to sustainable electronic charging methods, would not have been possible without the mini-grant program.

“With these chargers, students are no longer tethered to an outlet and can enjoy charging their phones outdoors, and they receive a glimpse of how renewable energy doesn’t solely involve solar panels and wind turbines, but can actually be a part of simple, everyday living,” the group wrote.

Oliver Nettere, ‘16, is a leader in the W&L Fly Fishers organization and was the recipient of a grant to restore part of Moore’s Creek, a small mountain stream which flows into the Lexington Reservoir and provides habitat for brook trout. On April 2, he used his grant money to lead a restoration work day with help from the VMI fishing club, the local chapter of fisheries conservation organization Trout Unlimited, and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Biologist Larry Mohn.

Nettere said that local researchers have found that trout in Upper Moore’s Creek have insufficient coldwater habitat during warmer months, so the group set out to build eight instream structures that would increase hold-over pool sizes to help trout survive during the summer. Over 40 volunteers ended up taking part in the day of labor and exceeded expectations by building 14 structures.

“As fly fishers, we all have a vested interest in protecting these areas that sustain trout populations,” Nettere said. “Performing restoration work like this project only further increases our connectedness to these areas that we enjoy recreating in, and as a club we believe strongly in conservation of these areas.”

Although the grant money was a one-time gift from Ruscio, Cowgill hopes that she can make room for them in her budget in future years, even if not at the same scale.

“If we can empower them to be leaders in what they’re passionate about and play an active role in their community, while working to better the environment, economy, and social structure of our community… that’s the sweet spot,” Cowgill said. “ And that’s what they all are doing.”