As we observe Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the UConn Office of Sustainability would like to recognize and celebrate the important contributions of the AAPI community in advancing sustainability and environmental justice.
The AAPI community is a rich tapestry of cultures, languages, and traditions, many of which have a deep connection to the natural world and a respect for the environment. From the indigenous communities of the Pacific Islands to ancient practices of sustainable agriculture in China, AAPI cultures have long recognized the interdependence of human health and well-being with the health of our planet.
Currently, AAPI activists and leaders are at the forefront of the fight for environmental justice, advocating for policies that prioritize the health and safety of marginalized communities and working to build a more just and sustainable world for all. Examples of these efforts include the work of organizations like the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, which has been fighting for environmental justice in AAPI communities for over two decades, and the Youth Climate Strike movement, which was founded by AAPI youth activists and has played a key role in raising awareness about the urgent need for climate action.
At UConn, we are committed to supporting and uplifting the voices of all communities in our efforts to build a more sustainable and just future. As we reflect on the significant contributions of the Asian and Pacific Islander community during this heritage month, we recommit ourselves to advancing sustainability and environmental justice for all.
Here we are – four years after starting school and two years after starting the Office of Sustainability. My name is Rachael Ruggiero and I am a graduating intern at the OS. There’s been so much that has happened in my time here and I don’t know if I can fit it onto one post, however, I’m going to give it a try.
I started at the Office of Sustainability not knowing much about what the office does on campus. I think some of my connections across campus helped me get the job. I was about to become president of the Residence Hall Association on campus, and I had a leadership position in my sorority, Delta Zeta. These other clubs that I am involved in helped shape the programs and events I worked on in the office.
Starting from day one I was nervous to see what the work environment would be. I also ended up being one of the new hires who couldn’t login and get started right away, you know, because there is always one. However, despite this, I feel like I was really able to hit the ground running, especially in the EcoCaptain Intern program. At the time of my hire, it was a new paid program, a collaboration between ResLife and our office. From my work with RHA, it was easy to understand how the EcoCaptain Interns could work with other ResLife officials and clubs in their area to make a difference. In the two years I worked with the program, it has grown so much. We are able to better understand what we want from our EcoCaptain Interns and vice versa. This means that when they start in the fall their transition is much quicker and we’ve been able to get to know the EcoCaptain Interns on a different level and better integrate them into the office.
Another project which has taken up a significant time at the office is working on communications. I worked a lot with the communications team thinking of new ways to give the office a brand that could continue even after I graduate. I think working on the communication team has been one of my biggest accomplishments at the office. Working with the other awesome team members, we now have a “brand” we can be confident in. It was important to me that the office create promotional material that I think I would want to see if I were scrolling on Instagram, and now in the future I’ll be excited to see what office is bringing to campus from a promotional standpoint. The office also brought in our staff Communication, Outreach, and Education Coordinator, Betsy Mortensen, in Spring 2022. She has been instrumental in getting new projects and ideas started.
My other jobs at the office surround helping with events such as the Haunted HEEP, Green Game Days, Earth Day Spring Fling, and more. I love working with all of the interns, past and present. The office has afforded me insight in how the University manages sustainability and has created connections for me that I’ll never take for granted. I was particularly lucky to sit on the search committee for the Director of the OS. That opportunity gave me some of the most valuable information for my own job searches in the future, even though I was sitting in the interviews instead of being interviewed. I would have never had that opportunity without working at the OS and now I feel like I’ve helped make a long lasting change here. I am also very excited to see the work Joe Fullerton will be doing in the future!
Lastly I just wanted to thank everyone I’ve worked with in the office these past two years, my boss, Patrick McKee, the amazing interns who graduated last year, Hope, Maizey, and Lauren, had taught me so much before they left and I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. The interns hired this year Amogh, Lilly, Sydney, Amanda, Allie and Leo have shown me that the office really can do anything, with all of their amazing ideas. I am also grateful for them because while there were so many projects our office is still working on, and I know we’re leaving everything in their very capable hands. I also want to thank the seniors graduating with me, Maggie, Erin, Chase, and Sam. I would be nowhere without them and they have become some of my greatest friends. I’ll never forget the impact that the Office of Sustainability had on my undergraduate career and hope to carry those lessons going forward.
Starting my internship in the Fall of 2021, I remember feeling so isolated. After a year online in which no friends were present and no clubs were active, I came back to a community that I felt estranged from. I walked to the Office of Sustainability on a sweltering summer day and the sweat on my palms wasn’t from the heat (if you catch my drift). I entered feeling so unsure and nervous if I belonged and Cherie Taylor, our Administrative Coordinator, turned to me from her window and said “Sam! I’m so glad you’re here with us!” No words ever impacted me like those. My trepidation evaporated with my sweat.
My time at the OS showed me what a sustainable and kind world looks like. Sustainability can be a difficult community to enter. If statistics and research has taught Gen-Z anything it’s that the climate crisis is immense and action needs to occur immediately and effectively. And I think we tend to act with righteousness with our actions. How can anyone speak up and feel welcome under such conditions? I have felt unwelcome and isolated personally in rooms with other environmental students (and I consider myself someone who knows a thing or two about sustainability at UConn).
But as I write this, I encourage you to beware of this single story. While there are certainly people here who will make you feel small and gaslight you into thinking you’re not sufficient, the staff and students at the Office of Sustainability are anything but. We have a small staff, three full-time staff members (one of which was only hired a month ago) and 1 part-time employee. Betsy, Patrick, and Cherie have kept the OS running without a director for the last two years. They are overwhelmingly kind, supportive and knowledgeable. Beyond being supportive of the interns and EcoCaptains, I have seen them aid other staff and faculty across the university in addition to the large numbers of students that approach the office. Never once have they made me feel like I was not enough. They are role models that I hope to emulate when I enter the “real world.”
Working on a team of likewise amazing interns has also been life changing. During my time at the Office of Sustainability, I have collaborated with the other interns on a number of projects including the submission of UConn’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, UConn’s 6th & 7th Bee Campus USA Certification, UConn’s 9th & 10th Tree Campus USA Certification, Haunted HEEP & EDSF, AASHE STARS, EcoMadness, RecycleThon, etc. The other interns provide fresh perspectives and are always immensely passionate and helpful. It’s these people that make me feel hopeful for the future.
Beyond the OS, I have found other sustainability-oriented professionals across the university to be immensely passionate and helpful. Through my variety of projects, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of professionals ranging from Katie Milardo in Facilities Operations to Eileen McHugh in Planning & Design. I think this was the real driver of my change and growth in undergraduate. You learn many important skills such as professional communication and while these are important, I think what most influenced me was the second-hand passion that I received from these people. There are a number of people across UConn that work on the sustainability of our school and they go above and beyond for student interns at the OS – that’s why I named Eileen and Katie particularly.
Leaving UConn won’t be easy. I have roots here and to a degree graduation feels like someone is pulling me out like a weed. But my experience at the OS has prepared me to be transplanted at the University of Michigan and succeed. I think in grad school I want to be more intentional and appreciative of where I am – I have deep gratitude for my time at UConn and the OS and I hope to cultivate a community like the one I have interacted with here. As Mariah Carey once said, “Why ruin the journey by watching the clock and the ticking away of years?”
For the past two years, sustainability at UConn has taken the backseat. But it’s not for a lack of trying on behalf of the Office of Sustainability (OS). Fall 2021-Spring 2022 was the school year of remembering –, remembering how to take in-person tests, remembering how to act in a crowd, remembering how to order at the One Plate, Two Plate register, and for the OS, remembering how to persuade UConn administration to endorse sustainable policies. The last being the most difficult in a post-pandemic world. This past school year, Fall 2022-Spring 2023, was a year of progress. Next year, I hope campus continues off that forward momentum, furthering UConn’s sustainable agenda and reducing our footprint. For these last two years, as a Student Intern at UConn’s Office of Sustainability I have had the incredible opportunity to work with many UConn Departments and sit in on countless meetings being able to see how far the school has come, and how far we will continue to go.
If my time at the OS has taught me one thing, it’s that sustainability is everywhere. Before working at the OS, my knowledge of sustainability transitioned from just knowing the definition of the word from a textbook, to seeing it implemented at the municipal level from my time at SustainableCT. Now, I can say that the OS has successfully shaped my understanding of sustainability showing me how it is centered in collaboration, equity, education, and passion. Through my time at the OS I honed my professional skills, learned new competencies, and gained experience I wouldn’t have anywhere else on campus. I worked on surveys such as Greenhouse Gas Inventory, Greenmetric UI, and AASHE STARS, helped lead events such as Green Game Days, Haunted HEEP, and Earth Day Spring Fling. The most important piece of advice I can give to new OS interns and the greater community is that enthusiasm and dedication to a cause goes a long way. Like any job in communications, you are going to be faced with rejection. Sometimes people won’t answer, sometimes people will shoot down your ideas; however, it is important to remember to treat these only as obstacles and not as dead ends. If you are passionate about something, you will find a way to get it done (and sidenote, it doesn’t hurt to ask for help.) I am grateful that not only was my internship a great work experience, but it also helped me find life-long friends that share similar interests. I can confidently say that my fellow interns will make a lasting impact on the world.
Next year, I will be a graduate student at Boston University pursuing a Master’s in Public Health in the field of Environmental Health. This program tackles issues focused on the relationships between people and their environmental including reducing environmental hazards, understanding environmental impacts on health, and critically analyzing increased environmental risk in areas burdened by social inequalities. My internship at the OS helped me narrow down my focus to environmental health and it taught me that the impacts of how we treat the environment are all around us. I am extremely grateful for the hands-on experience I was able to gain through my internship with the OS. I was able to work on a variety of projects spanning creative design, data analysis, environmental policy, and campus-wide events. Exposure to a wide variety of subjects helped me understand focus areas I excel in and ones I want to improve in.
If you are considering applying to the OS, whether for an intern position or as eco-captain, my suggestion would be to absolutely send in an application. The OS shaped my time at UConn and helped me find the path I want to embark on. The future of UConn’s sustainability is bright, especially in the hands of the OS. Thank you to the entire OS team including current and past interns, administrators, and all of the people I met along the way.
You can be part of UConn’s flagship experiential learning program, UConn@COP! Attend the United Nations’ global climate negotiations – the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Dubai this November 30 – December 7. The event brings together diplomats, business executives, heads of government, university leaders, environmental activists, NGO’s and other delegates to discuss progress in dealing with climate change. Through this program, UConn students have participated on panels at international press conferences, networked with global NGO’s, environmentally-minded businesses & renewable energy companies, engaged in immersive art exhibitions, attended film screenings put on by the directors themselves, interacted with international delegates & core members of environmental justice movements, and connected with like-minded, passionate students at other colleges & universities in the U.S. and around the world.
The UConn@COP program funds nearly all travel and registration costs thanks to generous donors. Fellows are responsible for $250, but can request a waiver in the event of hardship.
If you have an interest in climate action, apply! Details on the program and application information can be found HERE.
Applications and references are due by May 7, 2023.
The Institute of the Environment (IoE) at the University of Connecticut is pleased to announce that Joe Fullerton will serve as the new Director of the UConn Office of Sustainability. Following a thorough national search, UConn is excited to welcome Fullerton to a university known for exceptional progress on sustainability from multiple perspectives.
As director, Joe Fullerton will work with senior UConn administrators, students, faculty members and staff members to set and achieve sustainability goals for the university in areas like; climate action and resilience, energy and buildings, waste reduction and diversion, water resources, food and dining, grounds, purchasing, transportation, open space and natural resource stewardship and the intersection of these issues with environmental and social justice. The Office of Sustainability (OS) develops outreach and engagement programs that feature experiential learning to raise awareness and improve performance around sustainable practices and behaviors related to campus life and beyond.
Fullerton has over 15 years of experience as a sustainability leader and change maker. In his most recent role, he was the Director of Energy and Sustainability programs at Prospect Silicon Valley, a San Jose, California based non-profit dedicated to accelerating the adoption of equitable cleantech solutions. For nearly a decade prior, he served as the Energy and Sustainability Manager at San Mateo County Community College District. Here, he led local and statewide efforts to advance sustainability internships and career development pathways for students as well as charting a path for decarbonization for the entire 115 California community college system by 2035.
One of the reasons Joe enjoys working in higher education is because he’s a life-long learner. He is currently an Executive MBA candidate at the Quantic School of Business and Technology. He holds a master’s degree in Sustainability Leadership from Arizona State University (ASU) and a bachelor’s in Sustainable Enterprise Management from the University of Phoenix. Additionally, Fullerton is a LEED Accredited Professional, Certified Educational Facilities Professional, and a Climate Reality Leader. His love of learning translates to teaching others. He has been a faculty associate at ASU’s School of Sustainability, and a professional sea kayaking instructor, climbing guide and mountain biking coach.
According to Mike Willig, Executive Director of the IoE, “Joe will be an exceptional leader and administrator in the OS. He strongly reflects the core values of UConn, including “students first”, “sustainability”, “innovation” and “diversity, equity, and inclusion”. His experiences working for government, corporate, and education sectors will provide broad perspectives and insights to enrich programming and inform decision making. As a collaborator and mentor, he will be engaging and caring. I am confident that he will accelerate our progress, diversify our successes, and enhance our national and international reputation in sustainability.”
“I’m thrilled to be working with faculty, staff, students and the expansive UConn campus community as Director of the Office of Sustainability. I’m committed to leading sustainability efforts with a laser focus on inclusive engagement, equitable empowerment and meaningful enrichment,” shares Joe Fullerton.
Fullerton will begin as the Director of the UConn Office of Sustainability on April 7th, 2023.
The Environmental Leadership Award (ELA) winners and finalists were recognized at an award ceremony on March 22, 2023. ELAs are a means of recognizing individuals or groups who have worked alone or as part of organizations to support sustainability efforts at UConn and beyond. Nominations were submitted by faculty members, staff members, and students last fall. Nominees were evaluated by a committee appointed by the Office of Sustainability and Institute of the Environment.
The Awardees of the 2019-2022 Environmental Leadership Awards are:
Hudson is said to “exemplify sustainability through her consistent, dedicated and persistent leadership as the president of the UConn Horticulture Club and as a student worker in the UConn Floriculture Greenhouses. As greenhouse worker, she strongly advocated for reducing pesticides and actively worked to use natural biocontrol to handle pest issues. As Horticulture Club president, she pushes for more greenery on campus. The recent Crossroads Café was decorated in plants grown in the UConn Floriculture Greenhouses – which improves mood and air quality for students.” Our winner also educates others. “She educates upwards of 40 student club members on environmental issues and actions they can take to make change. She even quells students’ fear of bees and bugs through her passion for conservation and the role they play in creating a healthy environment.” Isabelle Hudson “fosters curiosity and a love for nature in everyone she comes in contact with.”
Graduate Student:Dr. Ben North (MBA ’23)
Dr. Ben North has been a graduate student multiple times! He recently completed a PhD in Natural Resource Economics from the University of Florida focused on the sustainable development of bioenergy markets in the southeast. He is currently an MBA student at UConn, combining his environmental science background with enhanced business skills to push for better climate action. His nominator says, “He was an Innovation Fellow with UConn’s Technology Incubation Program, and worked with US energy generation and emissions data to provide insights to improve software for his host company, Unscrambl. He also was a UConn@COP fellow in 2022. He has continued to demonstrate long-term commitment to sustainability by working for several eco-organizations in Connecticut, including: the Connecticut Green Bank, the Highstead Foundation, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.” We’re also impressed by his active membership in the Connecticut Sustainable Business Council and his efforts as lead portfolio manager of the UConn Student Managed Fund (SMF) MBA Team. In his role with the SMF program, he pushes for environmental sustainability considerations in investing their $1.1 million portfolio.
Faculty:Dr. Jamie Vaudrey (Marine Biology)
Dr. Vaudrey was nominated on the basis of excellence in outreach, academics and teamwork in support of the environment. On outreach, her nominator shared “Communicating science is the fiber that runs through all of her research and teaching. She does this across a broad array of stakeholders, shaping the stewardship trajectories of watersheds regionally and seagrass ecosystems worldwide. Her leadership roles in professional societies and on advisory councils have pushed for more integration of scientific results into decision making and broadened participation of underrepresented groups in marine science. The success of establishing the Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve is largely due to this nominee who spearheaded the steering committee.” Additionally, “She works with Save the Sound and other public environmental education groups to engage citizens, senators, and federal agencies with nitrogen pollution and helped develop an Environmental Report Card for Long Island Sound. Her impact on understanding of environmental and sustainability in Connecticut’s local waters reaches far beyond the classroom.” Congratulations to Dr. Jamie Vaudrey who’s “compassion for nature and the future of Long Island Sound emanates from her everyday work, which is a key motivating force for every member of her team!”
Staff:Katie Milardo (Facilities)
Katie Milardo’s nominator described her as “always being overwhelmingly kind and open to discussing anything. She has gone above and beyond with answering questions about EcoMadness in addition to scheduling tours of the Co-Generation Facility. Facilities is a large and complicated department, but she makes it easy to navigate.” She also recently became the advisor of the re-vamped Soil and Water Conservation Society UConn Student chapter, which works toward natural resource conservation.
UConn Group:Spring Valley Student Farm
SVSF is described as “always trying new, innovative sustainability techniques to make the land healthier. They host bees and pollinators, don’t use herbicides and pesticides, and are working on activating solar energy.” The group also is haven for students – “Student volunteers are provided weekly transportation to the farm, making it accessible for students without cars. The new composting privy is ADA accessible and they host learning opportunities about local food insecurity, zero-waste, and tree production. They over a diversity of activities and show commitment to building sustainable, green community.”
Environmental Justice – Faculty:Dr. Elle Ouimet (Anthropology)
Dr. Ouimet advances action through teaching courses and advising extracurricular work that empowers students to make change locally and build community. She is the advisor for EcoHusky and has connected the club with Environmental Justice partners like Keney Park Sustainability Project. As her nominator shares, “She exemplifies conservation because she motivates students to explore their personal relationship with nature and promotes the use of sustainable goods and services. Her courses provide students with knowledge needed to critically engage with their personal role in climate change and its unequal impact on marginalized communities.” She is a champion for collaboration, building bridges across campus to create change. Lastly, her nominator shares “she has been the catalyst for so many student voices at UConn pushing for environmental equity on campus, while bringing a global, regional and local approach to teaching environmental justice.”
Sydney Collins has worked for UConn Student Government to promote alternative transportation, organizing a community ride day to boost cycling on campus. She connects this work to the many social improvements that biking offers – improved health and mood, and healthier air for all. Her nominator says, “She is a strong leader for the environment. Her leadership inspires me and others to work on environmental issues and to try and make change. She took on her roles at USG to help create solutions and improve UConn. She feels everyone has a voice and enables all to be part of the discussion.” Collins focuses on environmental justice in and out of class. Her nominator shares that “she is passionate and dedicated to achieving environmental justice for everyone and making sure everyone has an equal living situation and life. She goes above and beyond to fight for environmental justice – and that passion has inspired my life path.”
Calabretta was nominated by a classmate who shares that she “has excelled in our environmental and climate law classes at UConn Law. She is an outstanding leader on our campus and helped develop and found the Energy and Environmental Law Negotiation Competition at UConn Law. She conducted research for CIRCA and is working to publish a paper on the fashion industry’s impact on climate change.” The Office of Sustainability grew familiar with this finalist during COP27 as a UConn@COP fellow. At COP and back at home, she has been a mentor to underclassmen and an inspiration on staying engaged and educated on environmental matters and ways to promote justice. She recently was offered a fellowship at DesegregateCT, which has a strong environmental justice component. Her nominator says, “She is a leader in environmental academics and outreach on UConn Law’s campus and deserves to be recognized for her efforts to grow an environmental law community.”
Faculty: Dr. Oksan Bayulgen (Political Science) Dr. Mike Dietz (CT Institute of Water Resources)
Dr. Bayulgen is described as “a tireless advocate of sustainability on the UConn campus and globally throughout her career. She has led students participating in the United Nations climate change conference and lent her expertise on renewable energy and sustainability practices to enhance UConn’s purchasing policies. She had developed innovative courses integral to the GenEd Sustainability mandate and Human Rights coursework. She leads with integrity and compassion and is a masterful consensus-builder, while deeply committed to ensuring equity in the process of economic growth.” Dr. Oksan Bayulgen is “the best example of a scholar-advocate and a leading voice on these issues globally”!
Dr. Dietz also received glowing remarks from his nominator. “He is always looking for practical ways to bridge findings from scientific research to the lifestyles of everyone outside of our academic system. He promotes public health and community knowledge in many ways. He began a low cost well water testing program for rural areas of Connecticut, identifying toxins that otherwise are prohibitively costly to detect. He’s also put on the Green Snow Pro program to educate state and municipal workers on environmentally conscious salt application – this directly improves human, plant and aquatic health. His joint Stormwater Corps course demonstrates to students how to create environmental change in towns through green stormwater infrastructure installation, combining theory with practice. His unconventional routes as a professor helps students see the world from different perspectives. He never misses an opportunity to meet with students individually.” From Dr. Dietz’s graduate student, “I know that I have a one-in-a-million advisor. If Mike Dietz has done anything in the past year, he’s given me countless reasons to pursue a lifetime in environmental research and conservation.”
The Office of Sustainability is hiring a new cohort of interns. These paid internships provide excellent work experience, hone leadership skills, and set students up for success in environmental positions after graduating. Please apply to our team of sustainability-minded student interns. Positions are 8-12 hours per week and will begin Fall ’23. Interns deal with all kinds of sustainability topics – from energy use to environmental communications. All majors welcome!
Apply by 11:59pm on April 19th
Must be a current first-year or a second-year student pursuing a bachelor’s degree at UConn
Join the Office of Sustainability and UConn’s environmental student organizations to see how you can get involved with saving the planet! Joining a club is a great way to learn, make friends, and take action for nature. Come say hello!
New Date: Thursday, March 30, 2023
Time: Event is open from 3pm-5pm
Place: Atrium of Biology & Physics Building (by the giant ant!)
*The Green Careers Panel will be in the lecture hall right next to the fair, starting at 5:30. Stick around to network and learn more about careers in sustainability*
List of Organizations Tabling
Soil & Water Conservation Society – UConn Student Chapter
Engineers Without Borders
Clean Energy Society
Environmental Justice Front
USG Environmental Justice Subcommittee
UConn Outing Club
-Clubs added once registrations come in-
Is your club interested in tabling? RSVP HERE! Details on set-up and clean up can be found in the form.