UC Irvine held its first Summer Institute for Sustainability and Leadership this past July, where incoming students built leadership skills while learning about beneficial sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices on both a campus and global scale.
“Targeting students who are new to the campus provides both early exposure to these types of programs while also introducing the goal to have a culture of sustainability, where we are more aware of what we use, where we buy from and where it goes,” Marisa Arpels, Project Coordinator of SISL and Project Manager of the new Global Sustainability Resource Center at UCI, said.
Modeled after UCI’s existing Summer Multicultural Leadership Institute (SMLI) run by the Cross Cultural Center, SISL (pronounced “sizzle”) was created through collaboration with UCI’s Global Sustainability Resource Center, The Green Initiative Fund and Student Affairs.
Arpels said that the eventual goal of this program was to create a culture of sustainability on campus and in the community.
“The idea is that SISL students will help seed student sustainability organizations with fresh energy, commitment and ideas,” Abby Reyes, Director of the UCI Sustainability Initiative, said.
“They will also be ambassadors to other students about the campus culture of sustainability and how to navigate the fantastic sustainability-related curriculum we have here at UCI.”
The formal definition of ‘sustainability,’ according to the United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development, is to “meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
“Personally, I define sustainability to be the nexus of economic justice, social justice and environmental conservation,” Arpels said.
“Robert Gilman, an astrophysicist, describes it as ‘equity over time,’ which is accurate. It’s a holistic outlook on ensuring that there’s a fair share for current generations, future generations, as well as biodiversity.”
Out of approximately a hundred applicants, SISL was composed of twenty “SISLers” and six current UCI students acting as mentors. Viviana Sanchez, a third year Civil Engineering major, decided to become a mentor because she felt that she could be a relatable role model.
“I came from a family who wasn’t aware or showed much concern about these problems,” Sanchez said. “I evolved into someone who genuinely cares about the state of our planet and how we impact it.”
The three-day, two-night program consisted of various activities, including workshops, panels and service learning. SISLers were taken to an Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano, where they toured the facility and partook in planting seeds, mulching and composting.
“Initially, a lot of the students were really grossed out by the compost,” Arpels said, laughing. “I had to force some of them to put their hands in, and by the end, they were all saying they wanted to have a worm bin at home.”
SISLers also received the opportunity to meet and speak with Chancellor Michael V. Drake.
“He was very welcoming to the students and put them at ease,” Arpels said. “He was so open, and it really displayed how much UCI does care about the causes they find to be important.”
“To meet Chancellor Drake, even before starting any classes at UCI, was so amazing and made me so grateful to be a part of the program,” incoming first year Robert Dunn, a biomedical engineering major, said.
“He showed us his personality and passion to UCI. His support for sustainability on campus, I think, inspired all of us to make him proud and truly make a difference on campus without time here.”
The program was incredibly well-received by mentees, mentors and panelists alike.
“All these inspiring people, including the mentors and the staff of SISL, made me want to eventually be on a student leadership panel or a global leaders panel and share my wisdom,” Rosalie Reyes, an incoming first year Environmental Sciences major, said.
“Through the program, I was inspired and motivated to involve myself in the clubs and organizations on campus that deal with making the school more sustainable.”
“It was inspiring to see students so interested in getting involved with sustainability on campus so early on in their careers at UCI,” Nikki Larson, The Green Initiative Fund’s Sustainability Commissioner, a current third year Earth System Science major, said. “The sooner you start, the bigger impact you can make, and TGIF was thrilled to help transition the new generation of sustainability innovators.”
“Sometimes the question isn’t whether one person can make a difference, but rather, if you want to be the sort of person who tries,” Larson continued.
“We were so lucky to have the generous support of TGIF and Student Affairs,” Arpels said. “We’d love to put on this program again and show students that they can make a difference.”
“It’s very easy to become disheartened by the size of the situation. The minute you start trying to make a difference, change the way you feel and find the power to fight it, you can make a change.”