UCF Arboretum Coordinator Exemplifies Sustainability

jen_elliotJennifer Elliot, coordinator of the UCF Arboretum, was featured as June’s faculty spotlight by the UCF Sustainability Initiatives. As an advocate for sustainability at UCF through her work at the arboretum, Elliot shares the same goal with UCF Sustainability Initiatives of pursuing environmental, economic and social sustainability.

Q: What does Sustainability mean to you?
A: To me personally, Sustainability must include the three pillars of environment, social equity and economic viability. I find that often times people mistake the term “Sustainable” as synonymous with “Environmentally Friendly” or “Environmentally Sound”; these terms are not the same. Sustainability encompasses environmental issues, but it must also include people and profit if we truly want to initiate change for future generations.

Q: Describe the class you teach.
A: The course that I teach is called Urban Ecological Field Studies. In this course students are engaged in research project based field activates that focus on answering urban ecological questions in our campus natural lands, and built environment. During the course of the semester students learn how to ask relevant urban ecological questions, design experiments to try to answer those questions, conduct field research, analyze the data they collect, create scientific poster presentations, and effectively communicate their results in public forums. Our students often win in both the UCF Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence (SURE) and the UCF Service Learning Showcase with their class projects. Additionally, the Arboretum hosts semester long Internships that focus around our Organic Community Garden where students acquire basic plant knowledge and gardening techniques, develop leadership skills, and practice effective communication in environmental education. The Arboretum also hosts Independent Studies, Independent Research and Research and Mentoring Program (RAMP) projects. All of these opportunities provide course credit and help develop students through education, leadership, and community building.

Q: What do you do at UCF to advance sustainability initiatives?
A: As the Coordinator of the UCF Arboretum Programs, it is my responsibility to make sure that our programming is helping us accomplish our Vision and Mission statements which include creating and fostering partnerships to advance ecological knowledge, promoting natural resource conservation, and supporting human and environmental well-being. We are a creative learning community that supports relevant experience based learning, urban ecological research, and human connections with ecosystems and landscapes. All of these goals support Sustainability initiatives across our campus in in our local Orlando community. The biggest volunteer draw at the Arboretum by far is our Organic Community Garden. The garden is run in large part with our wonderful volunteers, interns, and work study students with the support of our vary small staff. The garden promotes sustainability on campus environmentally through our organic growing methods, socially by supporting students in need through our partnership with the Knights helping Knights Pantry which receives 80% of what we grow, and economically by giving back to the volunteers who work so hard the other 20% of the produce. Because everything we produce is organic it would be unreasonable for students to afford on their limited budget.

Q: How can students get involved in your work?
A: All students (and faculty, staff, and community members) are welcome to come and join us in the Community Garden where they will learn about the value of organic farming for their health and the heath of the environment, begin to understand many of the social issues in our society that revolve around food including food desserts and the current issues with food insecurity in our nation, and join us in our annual Harvest Feasts where we celebrate the hard work of the semester and commune around food! What better way to create a sense of community at UCF than around responsibly grown, environmentally friendly, and FREE delicious food! Visit our website at arboretum.ucf.edu for semester volunteer shifts and other information about our program!

Q: What is your vision for sustainability?
A: To me Sustainability must include the three pillars of environment, social equity and economic viability as I mentioned in the first questions. I believe the only way to accomplish the goals of Sustainability is through education, and hands on experiences that connect us to each other and the environment. My vision for Sustainability is to continue to create an atmosphere focused around respect, appreciation, and understanding of each other and our social and environmental needs. If we build it they will come, trust me, they all show up in the garden ready to work and at the feast ready to eat! I wouldn’t have it any other way!

View Elliot’s original spotlight Q&A here.

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