Archive for June, 2015

Looking for More Sustainable Outreach Opportunities? Explore EcoAmbassadors: VIMS Discovery Labs!

~By Allison McCluskey, Geology-ENSP double major

The EcoAmbassadors internship program is relatively new to W&M, but already has a great legacy. Earth Week, sustainability blogs, knowledge of campus recycling patterns, the native plant nursery, a proposed electric car charging station, green careers…all of these programs are made possible by EcoAmbassadors.

Led by Calanda Waters-Lake, the Director of Sustainability, EcoAmbassadors meet once a month to discuss sustainability issues and progress on individual projects. These internships are for-credit, and can count as an ENSP capstone experience.

Along with Sarah Hong, I have been serving as the VIMS Discovery Lab EcoAmbassador for this past academic year. Discovery Labs are public programs led by the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR) at VIMS that give families the opportunity to actively learn about the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Each month focuses on a specific aspect of the Bay—whether it’s blue crabs, birds, shipwrecks, or underwater sound, kids and adults alike engage in hands-on learning activities to get them excited about our Bay.

EcoAmbassadors connect each month’s theme to climate change at the “Climate Corner” table. Many birds, for instance, are losing nesting habitats due to sea level rise. For March’s bird-themed lab, Sarah and I crafted a diorama activity that demonstrates how rising sea level would gradually cover up the habitats birds need. Kids get to pour increasing levels of water into the diorama and note which areas and species would be affected. They could then play a “Migration Madness” board game to see how migration patterns would be affected by changing seasonality.

Our culminating project was planning the entire April lab under the theme of Climate Change. This was quite an undertaking and required advanced planning during the Fall semester. We focused on making the activities fun, and emphasized solutions and a positive future to make sure that kids could handle the sometimes-uncomfortable topic.

This experience has been exceptional in many ways. I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible about teaching climate change. There is an exact methodology behind using words like “we” rather than “I,” and avoiding catastrophic messages of extreme destruction. We must be aware of the dangers of climate change, but approach it as something to which we can adapt and mitigate through collective action.

The EcoAmbassador for VIMS Discovery Labs internship is one I would recommend to anyone. It is a great opportunity to apply science concepts to the outside world, interact with kids, and get involved in public education. If you have any questions about my experience as an EcoAmbassador feel free to email me at

Applications for the 2015-2016 EcoAmbassador program open in September. For more details contact Calandra Waters-Lake at

June 29th, 2015

The Virginia Institue of Marine Science: An Opportunity to Explore and Engage in Research

~By Claire Goydan

In my experience, I’ve found most William & Mary students either a) don’t know what VIMS is or b) think of it as an mystery institution somewhere off in the mist. I can dispel both these fears; VIMS is William & Mary’s “sister school” for marine science graduate research. It also does indeed exist – just take a 20 minute drive down the Colonial Parkway.

This year, I’ve worked as an EcoAmbassador, blogging about sustainable research and projects happening at VIMS. It has been a truly exciting experience getting to speak with the knowledgeable faculty and staff, and I have learned quite a bit about marine science as I collected stories and information to post. My blog has two goals, as I see it – to educate and engage.

I hope to educate William & Mary students (as well as any random internet passersby) about the research currently ongoing at VIMS, and how it fits under a larger umbrella of sustainability. In pursuit of this goal, I speak to VIMS professors about their chosen fields of study: their past work, the current thinking on the topic, and what the future might hold. There are some subjects I am already knowledgeable on, such as sea level rise. Other topics, such as marine protected areas, I had never encountered before. I had to educate myself before I could hope to write about it in a blog to educate others.

I also hope to engage William & Mary undergrads in said research. To that end, I have two short sections at the end of each and every one of my blogs: “Want to learn more?” and “Want to get involved?” To learn more, I post links to academic papers related to the blog topic, written by the VIMS researchers themselves. To get involved, I list the current ongoing research projects at VIMS looking for volunteers, as well as contact information.

So, William & Mary, I pose this question to you – want to get involved? Take a look at my blogs, and see if a topic or project interests you. Fascinated by marshes and sea level rise? Matt Kirwan, assistant professor at VIMS, is looking for volunteers. Is exploring marine population dynamics calling to you? Assistant professor David Kaplan has some projects you may be interested in. Environmental education more your style? Look to volunteer at the CBNERRs Discovery Lab, and contact Jaclyn Beck.

Regardless of your interests, I invite you to learn about and engage with the exciting research happening at VIMS.

June 22nd, 2015

VIMS Discovery Labs

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~By Sarah Hong

My name is Sarah Hong, one of the EcoAmbassadors for the VIMS Discovery labs. I am a Korean Studies and Environmental Science double major, with interest in pre-medical and pre-physicians assistant tracks.

My job as the VIMS Discovery Lab Assistant required immense amount of planning and researching. Each month VIMS hosts a Discovery Lab, that is open to the public, to educate the local area about marine science. There is a different topic each month. For the labs that I planned, January was Gliders, February was Blue Crabs, March was Birds, and April was Climate Change. For each lab, I came up with climate related activities and posters to connect the theme of the lab to climate change. For the gliders, crabs, and birds lab, I was only given a table to plan, which usually consisted of two hands on activities and information sheets. The bulk of the work was in April for the Climate Change lab. I had to plan the entire with fun activities and posters.

Over the course of the year, I have learned a lot about how to communicate science to people of all ages. It is really exciting to engage with different age groups and figure out ways to best teach them a concept. What I found the most useful is to be really excited about what I am talking about and then the participant will hopefully gain some interest in the topic.

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Ideally, when planning the labs, I try to aim for interactive activities. Having the participants engage in an activity will make them feel more connected to the topic. It is really boring to talk at someone about climate change, because it is going to go in one ear and out the other. By allowing the participants to visualize and think about the topic will have a more positive result in understanding the information. I even made a cute children’s book called, “The Acidic Adventures of Polly the Coral,” to teach the process of ocean acidification and the effect it has on coral reefs.

This EcoAmbassador internship was a very wonderful experience for me. I was able to be creative to translate scientific research on the environment into fun activities geared towards ages 2 and up. Being able to communicate scientific concepts effectively to the public can be challenging. By simplifying the ideas to make it easier to understand can encourage participants to look into the topic in their free time. A majority of the participants are kids, so capturing their attention is a feat. Since children are the future, hopefully I was able to inspire them to pursue careers in environmental science.

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June 15th, 2015

Earth Week 2015: Environmentalism Past & Present

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~By Liz Jacob

A few short weeks ago, the College of William and Mary hosted its fifth annual Earth Week for the campus and greater Williamsburg community. The goal of Earth Week is to promote sustainable lifestyles and raise awareness of environmental issues on campus. As such, Earth Week 2015 was a fantastic opportunity to reassert the College’s commitment to sustainability, and get more students and community members involved in sustainable initiatives. The week featured events ranging from invasive species restoration to a forum on environmental justice and culminated on Saturday, April 18th with Homebrewaroo on the Crim Dell Meadow.

While the week featured a plethora of events, the overarching theme of “Environmentalism: Past and Present” provided structure, guidance, and flow to the schedule. Given the broad nature of the theme, we were able to use it as a timeline for the week with each day having the following themes: Monday – Preservation and Recreation; Tuesday – Reform Environmentalism, Wednesday – Public Health; Thursday – Environmental Justice; Friday – Global Perspectives; Saturday – “We are the Future”. The daily themes were especially helpful as they provided both a contextualization and an outline for each day. As a result, more individuals were able to engage with the weekly events, even those who previously had little to no exposure to campus sustainability. This was especially important to me, as the main reason I was drawn to plan Earth Week was to create more avenues to engage the community and build capacity for more students to get involved with environmental issues.

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The true highlight of the week was Saturday’s Homebrewaroo Celebration, which drew a crowd of over 200 students and community members. The beats of student performers, the delicious scents of the entirely vegetarian meal, and the merriment of students relaxing in the meadow drew individuals to the celebration. The event featured a fantastic collaboration with Alma Mater Productions, campus dining, student organizations, and local businesses. While a big celebration on Saturday is an enduring Earth Week tradition, we were able to add flair to the event by featuring a diverse array of student organizations and community groups so individuals could visualize sustainability on campus. This also created an opportunity for students to continue to engage with environmental issues beyond Earth Week and to translate sustainability into their daily lives. In addition, we were able to restore the tradition of President Reveley reading the Lorax, complete with a costumed Lorax in attendance!  As one of the organizers of Earth Week 2015, it was absolutely fantastic to see the community come together and read a classic tale to raise environmental awareness.

While I have long been an outdoor enthusiast, my time in college has truly allowed me to realize the depth of my passion for environmental issues. From my very first environmental science and policy class I realized ardent passion I have to study, and in the future, dedicate my career to environmentalism. Since then, I’ve centered the majority of my college experience, from my independent research to extracurricular activities, on environmental issues. As a result, I truly appreciate large-scale awareness efforts, such as Earth Week, as they expose more individuals to a broader array of environmental concerns. For many college students, sustainability can be a lofty ideal that can seem impossible to attain on campus. Earth Week 2015 made sustainability tangible for students and provided avenues by which they could learn to integrate environmentalism into their mentality and lives. So, I’m proud to say that while Earth Week 2015 may have passed, more individuals now know that sustainability can be a reality and everyday can be earth day.

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June 8th, 2015

Elecrtric Vehicle Charging Station on Campus–Is it Feasible?


~By Laurra Sperry

Oh electric vehicles, a sign that technology continues to advance and make everyday life a little bit more interesting. A lot of coastal universities in the United States are catching on to this relatively new spike in electric vehicle usage by installing electric vehicle charging stations on their campuses. Most of these installations are happening on the west coast- primarily in California, but continue to sprout along our eastern coast as well. Curious to see if having an electric vehicle charging station on our campus at William and Mary would be feasible, I became an EcoAmbassador for our school and began my research! Now this sounds like riveting and engrossing research; but I needed to get down to the basics- Where would we place the charging station? How much would it cost? Who would use the charging station?


Fortunately, there is a plethora of immensely helpful employees on this campus and I was able to talk to the experts. To answer my question of where and how, I turned to Associate Director of Utilities Daniel Patterson. Where would we put this hypothetical charging station? I came into our meeting with a few places in mind: PBK parking lot (great visibility from Jamestown Road!), the commuter parking deck (I mean, they are the ones driving the furthest!), or Zable Stadium lot. Mr. Patterson worked his magic and was able to give me some approximate figures regarding the cost of installation for each area. Zable Stadium parking lot would cost $3,616.35 and the commuter parking deck would cost $2,028.75. Wait, why no approximate cost for PBK lot you ask? Well, it turns out that the PBK parking lot is far away from an electric box and every foot of wiring needed to make that doable would cost way too much! So our options were down to two. With our options now down to the two it’s obvious to see that the commuter parking deck would be most economically feasible. It’s good to keep in mind there are grant options available to help fund projects like these.


On to the next task- figuring out who would use the station if we had it. This is where things got tricky…how do I assess usage on something we do not actually have on campus? And again- this is when the miraculously wonderful people of Williamsburg come to the rescue. I met with the Williamsburg KOA campground manager to talk about the usage they receive from the electric vehicle charging stations they have on their site. They get used- but mostly by out of state visitors! I wanted to know why this was the case. I contacted Steve Yakshe of Yakshe Enterprises, a local electric vehicle genius. I expressed to him my dilemma and concern on the low usage from Virginia drivers. Mr. Yakshe stated that this area has been slow to fully catch on to the electric vehicle movement and usage in these areas is minimal. In fact, working with our own Parking Services I realized that our campus only has a small handful of registered vehicles that could utilize this service.
Ultimately, an electric vehicle charging station would not be feasible at this point for our college. There is much too little need. However, the lingering question is this: If we did have an electric vehicle charging station would that promote more drivers to switch to an electric or hybrid car? Perhaps this service will be needed on campus in the not so distant future. For any questions on the EcoAmbassador program or furthering this research contact the Committee on Sustainability. For further questions about the research contact undergraduate student Laurra Sperry at

June 1st, 2015


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