Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Planting Seeds for a Sustainable Future

What do students in psychology, biosystems engineering and graphic communications have in common? A passion for sustainability. Their interest in the environment brought them to LEAF (Leading for our Environment and Future), a community located in Calhoun Courts where residents learn about sustainable living and environmental issues.

LEAF resident Devon Cornelius says the subject of sustainability grew on him, and now he wants to spread the word and get others involved. "People take the world for granted," he said. "I want to motivate others to use resources in an environmentally conscious way."

Inspired by documentaries on subjects like polluted water in urban areas, the waste of electricity and apartment complexes built right next to factories, Cornelius jumped on the opportunity to join the LEAF community, where he learns to live sustainably, recycle properly and plant his own garden.

Together with seven other students, Cornelius, who is a sophomore psychology major, learns about principles of sustainability in weekly classes taught by faculty members who share their passion.

Victor Liao, who has lived in the LEAF community for three semesters, says he has learned to influence others to be more sustainable. In order to do that, "we must be willing to be more disciplined in our sustainability in public as well as in private," said Liao, a senior in biosystems engineering. "If an individual sees enough people do the right thing, like putting recyclables in the proper receptacle, he or she will be passively influenced to do the same."

Besides weekly classes, the LEAF community involves participants in discussion-based meetings on environmental issues, sustainable dinners, showings of relevant films and field trips to places like a water treatment facility or the Clemson Experimental Forest. Saahirah Goodwin's favorite experience, however, is taking care of the community garden at the LEAF residence. Goodwin, who is a junior in graphic communication, loves planting the garden and watching the crops grow every day.

"It makes us feel like a community, and it impresses people when I show it to them," she said. "I'm excited to see how well everything grows." With some help from the Botanical Garden staff, the students have planted vegetables such as chard, radish, carrots, bok choy, broccoli and spinach. The watering and weeding responsibilities rotate among the LEAF residents.

The LEAF Creative Inquiry project is directed by Jennifer Goree, the director of Healthy Campus. She and a steering committee of faculty members founded the program in the fall of 2011. Goree says the team behind LEAF employs the community "to study how we can use students to change campus culture."

Students who participate in LEAF conduct their own research and decide on group projects. Last year, the group aimed to increase knowledge and awareness through social media and the production of videos. "This way, students get hands-on experiences with actually trying to see a project to fruition," Goree said. "Some of the projects will bring much greater, lasting and systemic changes to the University."

Such initiatives energize the participants and faculty members. Goree thoroughly enjoys working with the faculty. "They all are incredibly passionate about sustainability and bringing about change, which is truly the goal of the whole community," she said. "It's about innovation and it's about change."

"The environmental challenges that we face necessitate an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving," said Dr. Catherine Mobley, professor of sociology. Professors in civil and environmental engineering educate the team about topics like life cycle assessment and quantifiable issues regarding energy and water use, whereas Mobley reminds students that the environment is also very much a social issue. She addresses themes such as advocating environmental action and social justice, pointing out that the negative results of climate change often first hit the more vulnerable populations in the world.

Cornelius understands that not everyone necessarily gravitates toward the subject of sustainability. Because of his background in psychology, he feels certain empathy for people with different views. "That is why I don't want to impose on people, but I hope that my method of doing things will rub off on others," he said. "Don't be afraid to try something new. It is a challenge to live sustainably, but it is an improvement to you and the environment around you."

Students from all majors are welcome to join the community. The only requirement is an interest in sustainability.