You, Me, and Sustainability

October 16, 2015

~By Rachel Wimmer (reposted from the William & Mary Blogs)

It seems like just yesterday that I was in 2nd grade at Arlington Science Focus School singing songs like “Swing With Me on the Scientific Method,” “Plant a Tree for Your Tomorrow,” and “The -Ology Song” with my classmates. As dorky as these sound, I have to admit that nearly 15 years later I still remember all the words to these songs and have even hummed them to myself while sitting in chemistry to remind myself of the phases of matter. It was these experiences in elementary school that sparked my interest in both science and theatre, interests that I thought were two unrelated and distinct aspects of my life.


Fast forward 13 years to my sophomore year in college when people started asking me what I was going to do with my life and I would forcibly smile through gritted teeth and say that I had no idea. That is until I stumbled upon an internship with the Marine Mammal Commission where I discovered the field of science communications and how it perfectly married my love of marine science and storytelling. That summer, I created my own blog that aimed to communicate marine science in a way that anyone could understand so that everyone could have access to the wonders of the ocean, even those who may have never been anywhere near a beach. For the Mammal Commission (@MarineMammalCom), and later through internships at the Smithsonian (@SImarineGEO), I worked on education and social media related projects that aimed to communicate the incredible work that scientists were doing to the public who, in all honesty, has a very short attention span. I loved being able to find ways to share my excitement about science with others, particularly information that is critical for understanding how our interactions with the environment affect every aspect of life on this planet.

Here on campus, I am a biology major, a marine science minor, and work in a research lab at VIMS. All areas in which I am constantly exposed to the groundbreaking research that is changing the way in which scientists look at the environment, but which is failing to be communicated with the general public. Last semester, I had the opportunity to escape to New Zealand where I got to see not only how many Pacific Island cultures are highly dependent on a healthy and functioning environment, but saw how the the country of New Zealand as a whole was largely committed to protecting their natural resources and preserving the absolutely breathtaking vistas and environments that they are well known for (check out my travel blog). One of the most remarkable moments that I had while I was abroad was seeing how every aspect of sustainability was embodied by many Pacific Island communities, including Samoa. In my Samoan society and culture class, my Samoan classmates and professor shared with me the struggles that their culture as a whole must endure as a result of industrialization, climate change, sea level rise, and overfishing. The Samoan culture has strong historical ties to the environment and traditional ideas of sustainability. However, these connections are slowly degrading as the natural resources that they are dependent on slowly disappear. I was shocked and disturbed that Samoa was being affected biologically, economically, and culturally from changes in the environment – three of the major cornerstones of sustainable development.


So that brings us up to today, my senior year at W&M and the year in which I have the exciting opportunity to share stories of sustainability research and projects occurring on the W&M and VIMS campuses as an EcoAmbassador. Myself and six other EcoAmbassadors have been selected to spread the word of sustainability on campus and to get people excited about bringing a bit more green to the “green and gold” of our dear alma mater. The projects this year range from exploring green careers to creating green spaces on campus to surveys on cigarette litter. I will also be highlighting W&M and VIMS researchers who are investigating issues like sea turtle strandings, seagrass bed restoration, and doctor prescribed outdoors time.

My job is all about sharing these stories with you, tapping

into my love of science communications to get you as excited about sustainability as I am. The work on sustainability that is being done on the VIMS and William & Mary campuses is inspiring and is paving the way for the university to become an environmentally conscious institution. Stay tuned to see what “sustainability” really is, where it is happening on campus, and how you can be a part of the generation that is changing the way we interact with planet earth.

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