While southeastern Ohio is partially known for its beautiful scenes of green and bountiful areas of nature, environmental issues raise concerns about how these two aspects, and more, can be preserved and flourish. But the aesthetic isn't the only feature of southeastern Ohio and Athens that students at Ohio University hope to protect, and through various environmental and sustainability organizations on campus, some students are hoping to spread awareness of the ways their peers and university can get involved in environmental activism.
On Aug. 30, the first ever Eco Fest was hosted in Scripps Amphitheater. The purpose behind the event was to share with students the sustainable club options offered to students at OU. Era Bakia, the president of Bobcats Go Green and coordinator of Eco Fest, said she has always been an involved student but noticed it could be a difficult process to join certain organizations on campus. As a current senior studying biology, Bakia knew it may be hard for incoming students and even upperclassmen to know what sustainable club opportunities are out there.
"It's one of those things where I feel like it's hard to know all of those options because they're so scattered," Bakia said. "I also am hoping this is the first step in doing more collaborative stuff and something where we all have better communication as group leaders."
At Eco Fest, leaders and representatives of organizations had the opportunity to share their missions. Bakia said the hope of giving the organizations a chance to share their goals and work would help students get involved in their interests.
"If you're the kind of person who really likes hiking and is really into crafts or something then there's no reason for you to join a club that doesn't really do events that align with your interests," Bakia said. "So I'm hoping it makes it so that people join clubs that they're actually interested in."
There are collective missions that a lot of the organizations in attendance share. Kate Harmon, the co-president of the Sierra Student Coalition and a junior studying environmental studies, said most sustainable and environmental organizations at OU have events dedicated to Earth Day and those events need the help from everyone who cares about bringing awareness to environmental issues such as climate change.
"I think it's nice to have a source of people who all want to help fight climate change and bigger issues," Harmon said. "So it's kind of nice to have a pool of volunteers and just names that we know that we could reach out to for events and stuff like that."
The Sierra Student Coalition and club brings awareness to environmental issues through activism and education. Harmon said the organization hosted events last year where they made tote bags out of t-shirts and did other upcycling crafts. Harmon also said she recognized that everyone has different levels of knowledge on the environment and the issues that threaten it.
"I think right now we want to focus on little cute activities to educate people how to live more sustainably and then maybe move into a bigger mission," Harmon said.
If students want to get more involved in choosing sustainable lifestyle options, OU has a living and learning experience just for that. Ridge Cook is a resident of OU's Ecohouse and a senior studying field ecology, which is a sustainable housing choice on campus.
"When I first came here, actually four years ago, I knew that I wanted to live there," Cook said. "The house itself is an old farmhouse. There's solar thermal energy for heating and then solar that supplements that energy."
Each semester, Cook said, the people who live in the Ecohouse are involved in a project to improve the property.
"So this semester, I'm thinking about replacing a lot of the landscape with native plants that have co-evolved with the fauna in Ohio and maybe even replacing a section of lawn with something that would provide an ecosystem service," Cook said.
Maddy Zarembka is the president of OU's chapter of the American Meteorological Club and a senior studying meteorology. Zarembka said the organization is developing live storm tracking into their programming for this year. If people are passionate about the weather, whether they are going into meteorology or not, Zarembka said there is a place for them within the organization.
Another opportunity to get involved in sustainable organizations on campus is Bobcats Go Green. Bakia said the goal of the organization is working toward zero waste. One example of how Bobcats Go Green works to accomplish this goal is by making confetti out of flower petals for Greek life events.
"Last year, we did a full unit on sustainable fashion, so we want to bring that back," Bakia said. "We had a fun event called Thrift Shop Shuffle. We went to different thrift shops and got the (information) on them."
A few other organizations in attendance at Eco Fest were Plant Club and the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, or AAEES, both of which Sarah Maracz is president. Maracz said Plant Club helps students learn and appreciate plant biology and advocate for the environment. Maracz, a senior studying civil engineering, also said AAEES is a national organization and serves environmental engineers professionally. One of AAEES’s missions that Maracz enjoys is children outreach.
"I love educating kids about the environment and innovation," Maracz said. "So that's what our club is geared towards. So I'm organizing that and then making sure that (members) have learned something and they have a fun time."
Although the first Eco Fest has passed, the organizations and their sustainability and environmental goals aren't going anywhere. Bakia recommended that students who want to get involved shouldn't be afraid to seek out these types of organizations on campus and quoted Jana Stanfield, a music artist and motivational speaker, to let people know they aren't responsible for all of the help the environment needs.
"I love the quote: 'You cannot do all the good the world needs but the world needs all the good you can do,'" Bakia said. "I think everyone doing their own cool individual things is what we need to make the campus greener."
Correction appended: A previous version of this article stated that Era Bakia was studying civil engineering, when she actually is studying biology. This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.