Nov. 19 was a cloudy and cold day in Aldrich Park as volunteers from the Arbor Day Foundation worked to set up tables and signs for the planned tree-planting. In the background, a podium with the UCI logo stood in front of a backdrop of old towering trees, with newer saplings standing in line with green flags emblazoned with “Tree Campus USA.” As a trailer full of gardening equipment pulled up onto the dirt embankment, students began to slowly trail in toward the registration tables with the same question in mind: “What’s going on here?”
The Arbor Day Foundation, in partnership with Toyota, started a program called Tree Campus USA, in which campuses around the U.S. are recognized for their dedication to a greener and more sustainable campus environment, along with the required funding plans and volunteer effort from student, staff and faculty. At UCI, this came about in the form of the Green and Gold plan, a long-term land-use plan that involves the careful planning and planting of drought-resistant plants throughout the campus to increase the diversity of the plant population. The Office of Environmental Planning and Sustainability worked closely with student sustainability groups like The Green Initiative Fund to organize both student and campus efforts around the green movement at UCI.
Greg Jue, the assistant director of EP&S, expressed strong support for continued student involvement in campus sustainability.
“Students comprise a large percentage of the campus,” Jue said. “Getting them involved helps the cause.”
Many of the ideas brought forward to his office, like the Anteater Garden Initiative, are inspired by students, and are strongly encouraged. With the campus environment becoming rife with hostility and paranoia towards administrative action, Jue remained positive. “It’s not easy working with the ‘man,’ but I think we’re on the same page. If the goal is mutually acceptable, I don’t think it matters. We’re working to the same goals.”
Both student and staff turnout at the event was fantastic. Community service groups like Circle K and over 40 students from the Alpha Phi Omega and Alpha Phi Rho service communities showed up in force to aid in the volunteer effort. As the students began to trek around campus, several began to call other friends to participate. From one student came the shout, “Plant trees man, plant trees!” In addition to the strong turnout, many students turned to their camera phones, taking pictures and texting as a part of a competition which, if won, would result in an additional cash reward for more tree-planting events in the future.
Among the student population was Chancellor Michael Drake who, donning a “Plant Trees” T-shirt and cap, got dirty alongside other administrators in the tree-planting effort. Chancellor Drake was also involved in another tree-planting event on Jan. 31, 2009 near Bonita Canyon Drive. During the awards ceremony, he reiterated UCI’s strong support of sustainable practices, saying that UCI’s goal on campus was to have the same environmental impact as a tree. He also took the time to thank the approximately 75 groundskeepers, many of which were present to help out during the tree-planting.
“They do this day in and day out. We really do appreciate it,” Drake said as the crowd applauded. “Thank them for what they are doing for us.”
As students in short sleeves and sandals took up shovels next to administrators and faculty in dress shoes and pinstriped shirts, the trees begin to find their new homes around the park. Many holes were pre-dug by the groundskeeper staff, with several of them watching over and offering a helping hand to the volunteers as they followed the strict instructions provided to them by a volunteer from the Irvine Ranch Water District. One group of students found themselves particularly attached to their new tree.
“Let’s name our tree!” one girl exclaimed. “I want to name our tree!”
Richard Demerjian, director of Environmental Planning and Sustainability, noted that his daughter, who was involved in another tree-planting at UCI while she was a child, often asked if he could check on how “her tree” was doing. He, dressed in a green “Plant Trees” T-shirt and jeans, was all-smiles all day as the large group of students and faculty continued to plant the 75 trees around the park.
With the success of this event, students, staff and faculty at UCI will continue to see an expanded presence of sustainable and green events around campus, and should look forward to increased volunteer efforts in the future.