Every day, select students at MSU are going above and beyond to make their campus more environmentally friendly, working with bees, planting gardens and spreading messages of sustainability.
This all comes from the Be Spartan Green Student Project Fund, which provides students with the monetary resources they need to carry out the environmental projects they have created.
Now, about a year after three of these projects received the green light for the fund, progress has been made as a step in the right direction to help make campus a greener place.
Bailey Hall Rooftop Bee Collaboration
With increased pesticide use, loss of habitat and urban sprawl, honeybee colonies are becoming weaker and even disappearing, according to psychology senior Alexis Hinson, creator of the Bailey Hall Rooftop Bee Collaboration.
“That combination that puts the colony under stress leaves them more vulnerable to things that they used to have resistance to,” RISE director Laurie Thorp said.
Thorp said bees are an indicator of a whole ecosystem health, and by association health of humans and of our planet.
“They’re kind of waving a flag at us right now, saying ‘We’re in distress, we’re not healthy, you better look around,’” Thorp said.
She said perfect landscaping has been normalized, with solid green lawns and no weeds, even though it’s healthy to have a variety of plant species.
This is why the Bailey Hall Rooftop Bee Collaboration offers a safe habitat for honeybees to live and flourish.
“For us, this education is for all of these students to start thinking about what is healthy, what is normal, what is needed for a healthy ecosystem,” Thorp said.
Hinson first became interested in honeybees last summer, when she began working with beekeeper Meghan Milbrath.
After learning the basics, Hinson decided she wanted to bring the beehives back to campus.
She said since she arrived at MSU, the beehives had been taken down because there were concerns that they would attack the students, even though no one had ever been stung.
“There’s this misconception that bees are the insects that go and sting people, and that’s not their purpose,”Hinson said.
Hinson said honeybees have a vital importance in the ecosystem, especially because the flowering plants that provide fruits and vegetables depend on the bees for survival.
She said the main goal of putting the hives on the roofs is to educate students and give them a chance to become involved in beekeeping.
For Hinson, working with the bees produces a calming effect, and she said she has loved learning about their complex colonies and social structures.
“The foundation of knowledge that I’ve been able to gain from it this year, you can’t put a price on that,” Hinson said.
A Truly Green space
Next door to the beehives lies environmental biology and zoology sophomore Hanna Brenner’s project, A Truly Green Space.
“Our projects really work well together because the bees will be able to pollinate the green space,” Brenner said.
She said the purpose of the project is simply to create a beautiful area on campus that is also good for the environment.
It all started during a RISE seminar when Brenner had to write a grant proposal. She wanted to create something that would stand apart from the other gardens on campus.
The garden is unique in that it’s made up entirely of Michigan plants and will always be low maintenance.
The reason for this is the focus on greenscaping, which is basically environmentally-friendly landscaping.
Brenner said ordinary landscaping takes a lot of resources, work and water. Especially with the use of fertilizers, it’s not always good for the environment.
“Greenscaping enhances it ... that’s part of what really makes it a green space, is that it gives back,” Brenner said.
Horticulture senior Jorhie Beadle said because the garden is right next to the Red Cedar River, runoff from the road will filter through it and create a better habitat for the animals that live nearby.
She said one of the original project’s goals was to draw attention to a beautiful area of campus that wasn’t really being used.
Students in Brody Neighborhood participated in the planting of the garden so they could learn first-hand how greenscaping works.
“I think having students coming out and getting their hands dirty helps them to reconnect with the land,” Beadle said.
She said that connection has been lost over time, and she believes it’s important that students are actively involved in the environment and in the production of the food they eat.
“I think it just brought more meaning into the project,” Brenner said. “Not only were we learning about greenscaping and what it can do for the environment and how beautiful it can look, but people that have seen this and have been involved can influence this into their future.”
As a sophomore, Brenner will be around for a couple more years to keep the project going. After she graduates, the RISE program will take it over so that MSU will never lose its Truly Green Space.
Students for sustainability
This year, biological science junior Ian Zaback and environmental biology and zoology sophomore Kathryn Frey teamed up to organize a series of sustainability workshops for MSU students.
“We were both very into community outreach and environmental sustainability, and we thought what better way to combine these two,” Frey said.
Zaback said they aim to inform students on how sustainability applies to them personally.
“We’re hoping to show people that sustainability is a lifestyle,” Zaback said. “It’s about the little choices you make every day.”
Zaback said students see political conversations about environmental issues, but there’s not a lot of discussion about what people can do about it individually.
“When it comes down to it, the environmental impact that’s going to be made is not going to be by large companies, it’s going to be by all of us working together to make a difference,” Zaback said.
Frey said many people are simply unaware of their impact. They don’t realize how much a single person can make a difference.
She said this causes over-exploitation of resources and diminishes the ecosystem, which then trickles down to water systems and food, eventually causing a whole out-of-balance habitat.
The fall semester workshops focused on water conservation, and this semester’s workshops focused on urban farming.
Since many heavily-urbanized areas in the U.S. suffer from food deserts or the inaccessibility of fresh food, urban farms are beginning to pop up across the country.
These farms will provide fresh fruits and vegetables to benefit the local economy and the health of the people living in those areas.
During the first workshop of the semester, Zaback said received overwhelming support from students when asked if they would be interested in starting MSU’s own urban garden.
Zaback and Frey are planning on writing a guide for the students who take on the project so they don’t make the same initial mistakes.
He said their main goal is to connect with other Spartans to leave this lasting idea of personal sustainability.
“We hope that we can create a network of environmentally-conscious students across campus, and that we can work together to achieve other goals in the future,” Zaback said.