Adapting to the pandemic usually means going online and many, many Zoom meetings. And Christy Tweedy, University Housing sustainability coordinator, has definitely put in lots of Zoom time with her student EcoReps and sustainability ambassadors, discussing things like composting, reusable materials and supporting small local businesses.
But Tweedy’s job is about the environment – understanding it, protecting it and actually getting outside in it. So instead of sitting in front of a screen talking about reusable forks, she got students outside and engaged with the campus and community. “When the pandemic happened, we saw it as a great opportunity to educate our students that we can still be outdoors safely and in a way that is healing and promotes well-being,” said Tweedy.
She rallied her EcoReps to assist with the Eco Distancing Challenge to give students a fun reason to head outside. “We gave tasks every day. One was to go for a walk and safely collect a bag of trash in their neighborhood. Another one was identifying edible plants with an app,” she said. Other ideas included camping outside or making a fort.
As the pandemic progressed, she was able to take students on masked and socially distanced field trips to local spots like Athens Farmers Market.
“It was a great opportunity to highlight local food and see what kind of foods grow in this region and who it’s grown by,” she said. “We did a socially distanced scavenger hunt where they had to find a leafy green, something purple, something that was a fruit or a non-food item.” To promote communication skills, students had to talk to a farmer and learn their first name.
Tweedy also adapted the Green Cup Challenge, a friendly competition between five residences halls to see which building can conserve the most electricity and water and reduce their trash. The big challenge was how to safely host a celebration. “Instead of having the event in place where there were 200 people, we separated everything,” said Tweedy. The campus engagement intern with the Office of Sustainability spread the tables from various organizations and groups far apart and gave the residents passports so they could get a stamp from each table. A filled card earned a student a reusable utensil set to take to the dining hall.
Tweedy’s passion for sustainability came when she was working on an organic farm after college and contemplated the fate of her banana peel. “I learned what happened to my banana peel if I put in it the garbage – how it goes to the landfill and produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. However, if I composted it, that compost can produce nutrient rich soil which, in turn, can produce healthy nutrient-rich foods. That blew my mind.”
Tweedy has been similarly inspired by working with her students. “Even though things have changed due to the pandemic, they can still engage and feel empowered during this ambiguous time,” she said. “Just like with our changing climate, we really have to embrace and practice adaptability in ways that work for all.”