The Committee on the Campus Environment (CCE) held its annual Environmental Leadership Awards on Wednesday, April 22, via Zoom to recognize students, faculty, staff, and community members who demonstrate exceptional environmental leadership both on campus and in their everyday lives. Below are both a video recording of the awards and a written recap.
The awards stem from the Committee on the Campus Environment and are managed and funded by the Office of Sustainability as one of the annual Earth Month events.
The event began with a brief recap of campus sustainability highlights from the year by CCE co-chair Christie Kennedy. Highlights included the campus’s new official designation as a Bee Campus; continued construction of bioswales along Volunteer Boulevard that will help improve the water quality of the Tennessee River; a huge push by many groups across campus to fight campus food insecurity which led to Chancellor Plowman’s commitment to open an on-campus food pantry this fall; and the chancellor’s approval of the Zero Waste Commitment, which will see campus achieve a 50 percent waste diversion rate by 2030, with the ultimate goal of becoming a Zero Waste institution.
Office of Sustainability Program Development Specialist Annalisa Tarizzo provided an update on the campus Sustainability Master Plan, which can be viewed in its entirety as a PDF here.
Leah Fontaine, Outreach Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, then recapped the three winners of the monthly Sustainability Champion program that celebrates people from the UT community who go above and beyond in their daily lives to be and act sustainably both on campus and in their personal lives. The 2019–2020 winners were Kendall Wimberley, Matt Layne, and Maryn Miles.
Before presenting the first of the student awards, CCE co-chair and Sustainability Manager Jay Price thanked his 7 AmeriCorps volunteers, without whom executing the vast majority of sustainability initiatives throughout campus would be essentially impossible.
2020 Environmental Leadership Award Winners
The Student Organization Award for Environmental Leadership went to the Student Basic Needs Coalition for their strides to build a vision for what true social sustainability looks like on campus. Among many other activities, the group has worked with VolDining to ensure leftover food from dining halls and events is redirected to feed students and has pushed for an on-campus food pantry (slated to open this coming fall), proposed a bill that has been sponsored and will be going before the Tennessee State Legislature that mandates all Tennessee public colleges have a food pantry.
The Student Academic Award for Environmental Leadership went to senior Genesee Semon, who is studying finance and entrepreneurship in the Haslam College of Business. Earlier this year, Semon won first place for a project submitted to the Vol Court Pitch Competition, with the idea to offer non-toxic cleaners in reusable bottles which consumers can refill at grocery stores. She will be working to make her business, The Beachy Clean, a reality thanks to the prizes offered by the competition. This idea came to her after learning about the severity of the plastic crisis and how much waste single use plastic bottles create.
The Student Engagement Award for Environmental Leadership went to senior Kendall Wimberley, who is studying environmental and soil science. Wimberley received several nominations—a testament to the impact she has had on her peers. She is an officer with Vols for Veggies and has been a leader for the environmental club SPEAK for several years, spending hundreds of hours organizing campaigns, educating other students, and keeping the club coordinated and active. She played a critical role in formalizing the Zero Waste Commitment, helping to circulate a petition and presenting the results to Chancellor Plowman during her office hours. In addition to her work on campus, her personal commitment to sustainability shows through in the very way she works to live sustainably every day.
Nominator and Professor of Environmental Science and Urban Ecology Mike McKinney said of Wimberley “I cannot overstate how important her leadership has been to SPEAK. I have been the advisor to the club for a couple of decades and she is by far one of the best leaders they have ever had.”
The Faculty Award for Environmental Leadership went to Associate Professor of Social Work Lisa Reyes Mason, who exemplifies the creative innovation the world needs at the intersection of climate change and social justice. Reyes Mason is a strong proponent of multidisciplinary public impact scholarship and focuses deeply on ensuring that her research positively benefits her community. Her most recent work includes collaborating with two other UT professors, Andrea Ludwig of Biosystems Engineering and Jon Hathaway of Civil and Environmental Engineering, on a project in North Knoxville that aims to better manage flooding in the area through community rain gardens.
The Staff Award for Environmental Leadership was awarded to Abigail Brumfield, Student Life Coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students. Brumfield has been a tremendous force behind fighting food insecurity on campus. She works with student groups, Smokey’s Pantry, the Office of Sustainability, campus administrators, and the End Hunger/Feed Change task force to continue the fight against hunger through programs such as the Big Orange Meal Share and the push for a new on-campus food pantry.
She and her team hosted the second annual Hunger and Homelessness Summit this year, which brought together folks from around the region to stem the tide of hunger and homelessness on campus and in our region. She has also been the guiding force behind Smokey’s Closet on campus which provides free professional clothing for students to use for job interviews, career fairs, and more. Brumfield is an incredibly supportive and encouraging collaborator. She always celebrates the work of others and never fails to reach out to offer congratulations.
The Community Award for Environmental Leadership was awarded to Jennifer Alldredge, former education team program manager for the Alliance to Save Energy. In that role, she worked on educating and training Knox County K-12 students about energy efficiency practices. She also led the critical client and community education Savings in the House workshops for the Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover, KUB Round It Up programs, and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Since 2015, more than 2,000 Knox County residents have been through her low-to-no cost energy efficiency workshops.
In retirement, Alldredge continues to stay heavily involved in advancing the local conversation about sustainability and climate change through Tennessee Interfaith Power & Light, Climate Knoxville, and USGBC, and continues to organize community awareness events like EarthRise East TN.
The John Nolt Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to a faculty or staff member who has demonstrated environmental leadership throughout their tenure at UT and will leave a lasting impact on the university after they retire. This year, the honor went to Professor Emeritus in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics Bill Park. Bill has been active on campus in environmental issues for many, many years. He has served on the Committee for the Campus Environment and has been involved with many other student environmental activities. Academically, he created the very successful Natural Resources Economics major and has taught hundreds of students about environmental economics over the years.
The Special Recognition Award for Environmental Leadership honors the work of an individual, club, department, or research group that has made a significant contribution to the environmental sustainability of the campus and its community. This year, the honor went to the Sunrise Movement Knoxville Hub. Although the group has only been around for about a year, they have already created a significant presence working toward climate action in Knoxville.
They have hosted numerous climate strikes and have worked tirelessly to get local officials to sign No Fossil Fuel Money pledges, with successes including Kimberley Peterson (County Commission District 5), Susan Sneed (State House District 20), Renee Hoyos (congressional candidate), and Gloria Johnson (state house representative).