By Karina Mazhukhina | Jun 3, 2016

UW Environmental Studies majors gathered in Alder Hall last week to present their capstone projects, which ranged from in-depth looks at millennials’ involvement in environmental advocacy to research on improving our connectedness with nature.

“I’m always impressed by students,” said capstone instructor Sean McDonald. “They apply their environmental degree to the professional world.”

As part of the environmental studies major, students can participate in a three-quarter long Capstone project. The project includes a quarter-long internship, study abroad experience or research with a faculty member.

Potential capstone sites can range from community-based non-profits and government agencies to faculty research projects and private sector initiatives. Students can either conduct an oral presentation or produce a poster detailing their work. However they choose to present their work, it must tie in with their professional experience (internships, study abroad, etc.) and academic study.

The capstone sympiosium featured 10 students who detailed their projects to a room full of community members, students, faculty and staff. Through a collection of visuals, statistics, and graphs, they shared their experiences and findings on the auditorium’s medium-sized screen. Once the presentations were done, a poster session highlighted more student projects.

Presenter Kevin Terrado discussed why fewer millenials become involved in environmental advocacy and how to increase participation in the community. He found that the lack of an environmental education, time, stigma and self-confidence were the biggest reasons why students chose to stray away from environmental advocacy.

“We have to be engaged in local advocacy and activism," said Terrado. “We have to be motivated to take action and share a love for the environment.”

And there are some students who continue to show that millenials are seeking opportunities to connect with nature.

For example, Shane Kelly presented his findings on whether students who took classes which immersed students in three different nature settings - incuding backpacking in the Pacific Northwest, exploring biodiversity and conservation in Peru, and understating the natural history of the Puget Sound Region - could foster a deeper connection with nature.

Kelly found that each UW course had positive impacts on student nature connectedness.

Similarly, former UW Sustainability Green Seed Fund Coordinator Mishu Pham-Whipple presented her project on grants that fund sustainable projects, such as the Green Seed Fund. While working with the GSF, Pham-Whipple researched ways of improving funding decisions so that grant money can be spent efficiently while also maximizing the impact on sustainability.

For example, she focused on how to best implement long-term plans for projects like the Gould Hall Green Wall, the necessity of providing blueprints for carrying out possible solutions, and more.

“It’s about creating sustainability over a long period of time,” said Pham-Whipple.

Former EcoReps Outreach and Green Greek Coordinator Alex Huff presented ways the UW Greek community can promote sustainability in their chapters. After conducting both individual surveys of Greek community students and chapters to gage sustainable infrastructure in the houses, he found that the major barriers to promoting sustainability was the lack of direct university engagement, student knowledge and awareness of resources available to chapters. To help overcome these barriers EcoReps created the Green Greek Representative Program

“These projects allow student to focus on critical thinking as opposed to memorizing facts,” said McDonald. “The amount of work they put in is something that’s usually expected of graduate students.”

For a full list of this year's student presenters and projects, click here.