Environmental sustainability and community engagement are some of the main reasons that I came to UCI. The beautiful campus, commitment to the environment, and dorm compost bins only added to that. Yet, I was not fully aware of how committed UCI is to sustainability, at least not until Earth Week 2021. Events surrounding Earth Day made it clear that UCI is a leader in sustainability and invested in student wellness. Clearly, there is a passion for these issues on campus. For that, I cannot thank UCI enough.
Naturescape & Wellbeing at UCI: An Exploration of Open Spaces and their Influence on Health & Wellbeing, held 12-1pm, April 21, 2021
This event described UCI’s environmental vision and plans for a greener campus. A “Planet, Place, Person” stance emphasized wellness and the importance of taking care of the Earth first, so that it takes care of us. This echoes UCI BioSci’s Mind, Body, World theme–the context in which the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology does research.
Dr. Kailen Mooney, director of UCI Nature and an EEB Professor, began the event. He outlined the vision for UCI as a “naturescape” that facilitates interdisciplinary research, teaching, and learning, while also serving to create a healthy and connected community. This goal is why we have Aldrich park! The park actually came before any of the buildings because the intention was to use it as natural inspiration and aid collaboration. Dr. Mooney also emphasized our connection with place, given that our particular region is unique and home to many endemic species. The campus plays a big role in preserving and protecting these areas exemplified by the Ecological Preserve and the San Joaquin Marsh.
This event also relayed plans to make the campus even greener. Outdoor classrooms, restoring the creek that used to run through the park, and open trail systems that build connections through campus were all plans described by Matt Deines, senior planner at UCI. Doug Everhart, director at the UCI Center for Student Wellness & Health Promotion connected these plans to a stronger campus culture centered on health, illness prevention, and leadership in sustainable action. Daniel Aldrich III even joined to back the notion that UCI’s goal is to create a community and foster healthy growth so that we may build a better, greener future.
Confronting Eco-Grief and Climate-Anxiety in the Undergraduate Classroom, held 1-2pm, April 22, 2021
Another amazing event I had the good fortune to attend was Dr. Jessica Pratt’s discussion on mental health and how the doom and gloom of climate change can affect us. As an EEB professor, Dr. Pratt has seen the negative impact on students as they learn more about the planet’s condition. She introduced the terms eco-grief and climate-anxiety, terms that I have never heard as a UCI student, but they instantly resonated with me. The goal of Dr. Pratt’s empathetic approach is to help others develop psychological resilience and turn knowledge into action by bridging the gaps between emotions, attitudes toward the environment, and our own identities.
Much of this work spoke to me on a personal level and echoed the notion of wellness and health. Dr. Pratt noted that while our emotions and the toll that climate change takes on our mental health may not be erased, it is only through action that we can begin to reduce this suffering. Action will lead to internal and external change, so it is important that we emphasize our mental health as a key part of making a positive difference for the planet.
Attending these events opened my eyes to the big changes happening at the place I call home. I am hopeful for the future, and these events illustrate the profound work taking place throughout the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCI BioSci, and the university. I am grateful for the dedication and devotion put into making UCI a sustainable community, and I can’t wait for Earth Week 2022!