Bringing Earth Day to life across campus

Posted on April 21, 2021 by Dana Poleski

Campus from Monument Hill

Update: See photos from the week’s events!

Honoring and caring for our home — both Earth and our special 2,840 acres of it — has always held a prominent place in the collective heart of the Sweet Briar family. We know firsthand the power and peace that one gains from being immersed in a healthy, thriving and sustainable environment. It is noble work to care for our land and resources and keep them well-positioned for the future — something that takes abundant energy, creativity, resourcefulness, determination, community, leadership and time.

Over the past several years, the College has become well-known for its focus on environmental science. We turned our innovative eye towards determining the best way to use our natural resources, which led to a greenhouse, vineyards, an apiary and wildflower pollinator habitat. To see what has grown out of those initiatives has been impressive. Beyond the plants, vegetables, fruits, flowers, honey and bees, watching the students thrive in this natural environment has been the best part.

This year’s celebration of Earth Day has been extra sweet due to the impressive collaborative effort between students, clubs and academic programs. The Sustainability Club and the College’s Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability joined forces with numerous other clubs to plan activities for the entire week. To kick it off, student beekeepers gave tours of the apiary this past Sunday, followed by an Earth trivia night hosted by the Sustainability Club.

On the heels of Sunday’s activities, Sweet Briar hosted two virtual events with two Pulitzer Prize-winning women: Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction, and composer Ellen Reid. Elizabeth, a writer for The New Yorker, is one of the leading voices in environmental journalism. Ellen, a diversely talented composer, has recently produced soundwalks, which are GPS-enabled works of public art that use music to illuminate the natural environment.

As the week progressed, our Outdoor Program got in on the action with canoe certification classes in the Lower Lake. The Crafty Vixen club held a crafting extravaganza. The Sustainability Club held a rejuvenating outdoor morning yoga session with The Hidden Opponent (mental health support), hosted a tea party in the Community Garden and organized a movie night with the Campus Events Organization. And, all of this happened before Earth Day!

Environmental science professor Lisa Powell gave agriculture tours, showing off all the impressive assets from one end of campus to the other. “The 2021 Earth Week events are showcasing the enthusiasm our students have for sustainability,” says Lisa. “From activities at the apiary, the boathouse and the community garden, to engaging with Pulitzer Prize winners whose work focuses on the natural world, to sharing meals that focus on our campus-grown vegetables, students with varied interests and fields of study are enjoying celebrating Earth Week.”

Tomorrow, for Earth Day, there is a community clean-up event with the morning session being led by the Chemistry Club and the afternoon sessions being led by the Young Democrats. In the evening, students will enjoy an outdoor dinner and live music sponsored by the Office of Alumnae Relations & Development.

To round out the week, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Chung Mungs organized a virtual fashion show with a recycled materials theme. And, the Chung Mungs are bringing everyone down to the Boathouse for a float party — a fun way to end the week with a dip in the lake, surrounded by nature.

This Saturday, the Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability is hosting a virtual conversation for students with two leading women in the Virginia wine industry, Christine Vrooman with Ankida Ridge Vineyards and Jennifer McCloud with Chrysalis Vineyards. Following the discussion, a select group will join Christine and Jennifer for a mentoring luncheon to share advice and insight on careers in areas like wine, food and agritourism.

To support participation, students who attend six Earth Week events will receive a tote bag. And, since this week is also Diversity Week on campus, students who attend two Earth Week and two Diversity Week events will receive a T-shirt. This commemorative swag serves as a fun reminder that every day is Earth Day.

In addition to this full schedule of fun events and programs, numerous courses in the spring semester have been focused on the environment and sustainability. In Environmental Policy, students learn about the history of Earth Day and how it was part of making the 1970s “the Environmental Decade,” a time during which groundwork was laid for much of the environmental policy and activism that still resonates today. In Sustainable Systems, students tour the campus steam plant and two geothermal fields to talk about the past and future of campus energy. Other courses that focus on the environment are Curious Naturalists, Environmental Chemistry, Landscape Painting, Engineering Design in the Community, Observational Drawing and Photographing the Natural World. Last but not least, engineering students designed, built and continue to manage a nutrient film technique hydroponics system in the greenhouse for their senior capstone project.

While we give special attention to these environmental academic programs and student activities during this week in April, it is truly an everyday occurrence. It has become a core principle of our community and purpose — deeply planted into Sweet Briar’s heart and soul — and we cannot wait to see how much we have grown year after year in April when we again celebrate Earth Day.

 Earth Week across campus:

Earth Week Tea party in the Community Garden

Earth Week Sustainability Club sticker

Earth Week Birdwatching with the Audubon campus chapter

Earth Week Community Garden clean up

Earth Week Trail clean up

Earth Week Campus clean up