UH Hilo students receive awards at the 5th Annual Hawai‘i Sustainability in Higher Education Summit

A delegation of 12 from UH Hilo attended the annual sustainability summit on Oʻahu; two students returned home with prestigious awards for their sustainability work on campus.

By Brooke Hansen.

Group photo of UH Hilo delegation to the summit.
The UH Hilo delegation to the fifth annual Hawaiʻi Sustainability in Higher Education Summit held recently at the UH West Oʻahu campus. Left to right, Zoe Whitney, Philippe Binder (back row), Maggie Chen, Ryan Perroy (back row), Mary-Fem Urena, Joshua Boranian (front center), Alexis Stubbs, Daniel Dunnom, Brennan Low and Brooke Hansen. Whitney and Stubbs received awards at the summit. Courtesy photo.

Logo of summit, green and yellow with stylized volcano, wave, wind turbine, sun.On March 15-18, a delegation of 12 faculty, staff and students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo attended the 5th Annual Hawaiʻi Sustainability in Higher Education Summit, held at UH West Oʻahu with dozens of our peers across the UH System.

Students from the UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management who attended include Alexis Stubbs, Daniel Dunnom, Josh Boranian, and Jacob Connell, along with College of Arts and Sciences environmental science majors Mary-Fem Urena, Zoe Whitney, and Maggie Chen.

Faculty members attending were Ryan Perroy, assistant professor of geography and chair of the UH Hilo Sustainability Committee; Philippe Binder, professor of physics and astronomy; and Michelle Shuey, instructor of geography and environmental science.

Brennan Low, IT specialist and UH Hilo Sustainability Committee member, was also in attendance.

The guiding principle of the summit was hoʻomauō (to perpetuate well-being). Matthew Lynch, director for the UH System Office of Sustainability, gave an overview of UH campus accomplishments over the last five years, which was quite impressive.

Student awards

The student awards were one of the many highlights of the summit.

Alexis Stubbs, from the UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, won the most prestigious prize of $10,000 for the project, “Waste Sustainability Initiative through Vermicomposting and Composting,” which will expand the zero-food waste project at UH Hilo.

Alexis recounts her surprise and enthusiasm of that moment: “As I heard the title being announced, my hands immediately began shaking. I thought to myself, ʻNo… No way, is he reading the title of my project?’ It was within moments after receiving the award that I felt re-activated, re-charged, motivated, encouraged, supported, acknowledged, appreciated and stimulated to get right to work!”

Zoe Whitney, from the College of Arts and Sciences, won a $1,000 Green Student Leader Award for her commitment to sustainability initiatives on campus and she received special recognition by Hawaiʻi Electric Company for her Green Project Implementation Award for her work on reducing energy, food and material waste on campus.

Zoe reflects, “I am put in awe by the generosity of my community, particularly the UH Office of Sustainability, our UH President, the event sponsors, and Professor Shuey for recommending me for the Student Leadership Award.”

Other highlights at the summit

UH West Oʻahu Chancellor Maenette Benham greeted us warmly and reminded us “this place is pedagogical, it is our greatest teacher.” Indeed, UHWO embraces this mantra with their new program in Sustainable Community Food Systems led by Assistant Professor Albie Miles.

The organic garden is in the piko (center) of the UHWO campus and we toured the garden and thatched hale several times and met faculty and students who discussed their various projects from soil testing different organic methods to experimenting with crop varieties.

UH President David Lassner gave an engaging speech about his commitment to sustainability and recounted his moving journey as a crew member on Hōkūleʻa this past summer on the east coast leg that landed in New York City. I was at that jubilant celebration in NYC with the Statue of Liberty in the background. I had taken several pictures of President Lassner with the crew members and local Native American leaders that I shared with him at the summit.

Other highlights of the summit included the huakaʻi (journey) to Maʻo Farms and Kaʻala Farms where we worked in the loʻi (taro fields), rebuilt irrigation channels, harvested dry kalo and witnessed the revitalization of the ahupuaʻa(land division). We learned about some of the traditional uses of the kalo we were harvesting called mana ʻopelu, which was used to feed reef fish to habituate them to eating it so they could be gathered up in a net.

Much manaʻo (knowledge) was shared at the summit from panelists and presenters. At the poster session, I presented my sustainability-related course on agricultural tourism (AG 194) and Professor Binder presented the new energy science certificate program.

In the Meeting of Wisdoms Panel, Noa Lincoln, assistant professor of tropical plant and soil sciences at UH Mānoa, implored us to stop treating indigenous knowledge as low tech and to move beyond generics (e.g., the existence of an ahupuaʻa or traditional subdivision of land) to specific knowledge of the practices (i.e., all the techniques used in that location for food production and sustainability).

On reflecting about their experiences at the summit, UH Hilo students from our agriculture college shared their thoughts on the importance of gathering with others working on sustainability:

  • “You can get discouraged sometimes but when you see people from other campuses all working towards similar goals you feel this connection” —Maggie Chen.
  • “We got to collaborate with students from other campuses which made it a unique and excellent experience” —Jacob Connell.
  • “I thought it was really inspiring to know that there are people out there that care as much as I do. It was great being up in the mountains and reconnecting with nature—I spent my first night in a hammock outside so that was pretty cool!” —Daniel Dunnom.
  • “It’s about sharing what you have, what you know, and what you perceive about sustainability and how we can work together to solve our issues we have on the campuses.” —Mary-Fem Urena.

Sustainability on campus

Sustainability at UH Hilo has a renewed momentum. We will keep this going through our efforts at identifying sustainability courses, building a certificate program, reducing the ecological footprint of our campus, and uniting all the campus groups working on sustainability under the UH Hilo Sustainability Coalition.

Currently we have the UH Hilo Sustainability Committee, the UH Hilo Student Association (UHHSA) Standing Committee on Sustainability, and the SOS (Students of Sustainability) club that meets on the first and third Tuesdays of every month.

Get involved!

Brooke Hansen is an anthropologist with specialties in food, tourism, sustainability, integrative health, indigenous studies and experiential learning. She has taught edutourism and service learning on Hawaiʻi Island since 1999 with a focus on kānaka maoli culture and revitalization. At UH Hilo, she serves on the Sustainability Committee and the Blue Zones Committee and holds two teaching posts: affiliate associate professor at the Department of Anthropology and lecturer at the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management.

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