Allegheny Students, Garden Manager Honored for Sustainability Work

An Allegheny College student environmental organization, two individual students and the College’s garden manager have been recognized by the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium (PERC) as 2020 Campus Sustainability Champions.

The Campus Sustainability Champion title is awarded annually to students, faculty, administrators and staff of Pennsylvania colleges and universities who have made meaningful contributions benefiting social, economic or environmental sustainability on their campus or in their community. “The award reinforces their credentials as a leader in the transition to a sustainable future,” said Benjamin Culbertson, communication team chair of the statewide group.

The inaugural meeting of the Allegheny Green Students of Color Society. The group was honored as one of the 2020 Campus Sustainability Champions in Pennsylvania.

The Allegheny student group Green Students of Color Society, students Isabella Petitta and René Benoit, and Kerstin Ams, the garden manager of the on-campus Carr Hall Garden, received the awards. There were 11 student group or individual recipients and 11 non-student recipients in the Commonwealth for 2020.

“The Green Students of Color Society started from scratch and created one of the most active, innovative and unique groups on Allegheny’s campus. I don’t know of another group like it on any campus,” said Eric Pallant, chair of the Environmental Science and Sustainability Department. “Every PERC awardee from Allegheny deserves the recognition. Each one is an exemplar of environmental activism and professionalism.”

The student environmental group, known as GreenSOCS, organized, participated in, and hosted a series of campus events, including the International Climate Strike — also known as the Global Week for the Future —and a sewing and patching workshop to teach others how to repurpose used and vintage clothes and promote sustainable fashion. The group also organized a sustainable homemade-pizza workshop, hiking events, muraling and education sessions on urban food deserts and how to change them. The group is dedicated to nurturing and mentoring students of color to make a difference for the environment. The student leaders of the group include Melissa Burnett, a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cassie Brown, a senior from Brussels, Belgium; Makayla Alicea, a junior from McKean, Pennsylvania; Shaellen Franco, a sophomore from Los Angeles, California, and Elisia Wright, a junior from West Burke, Vermont.

Rene Benoit was recognized as a four-year leader in the College’s Department of Environmental Science and Sustainability. As a first-year student, she became a research assistant in long-term forest experiments on acid rain and climate change, training new assistants in field and laboratory protocols. For the Creek Connections Annual Symposium and the Foundation for Sustainable Forests (FSF), Benoit facilitated educational activities, teaching tree measurement and identification, and guiding younger students in producing forest protection-themed arts and crafts. Benoit developed these activities into units to be used in future events, and she used her artistic talents to produce promotional material for the foundation. She also has been an active participant in the Students for Environmental Action organization. Benoit is a senior from Buffalo, New York.

Isabella Petitta “embodies a sustainability champion,” said Pallant. “She is so enthusiastic and real about her love of the environment, it’s contagious.” Petitta has been a project assistant for Creek Connections, Allegheny’s environmental education outreach program, for four years. She has been a leader at Creek Connections, coordinating summer activities and acting as the main college counselor for Creek Camp for high schoolers. She has twice taken part in an alternative spring break with Living Lands and Waters, a group that cleans trash from the Mississippi River watershed. Petitta is a junior from Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania.

“If it’s green, growing and edible in Meadville, then it probably has Kerstin’s name on it somewhere,” Pallant said of award winner Kerstin Ams. “Since she became the inaugural manager of Allegheny’s vegetable garden, which supplies produce to the campus cafeteria, Kerstin has become the point person for gardening on campus and in the community.”

Am’s work in the garden attracts interns and work-study assistants who seek hands-on gardening experience. She also engages various courses in projects on sustainable agriculture, and she hosts elementary school students on field trips to the garden. Ams is also a major organizer every fall of the annual DeHart sustainability dinner, a College-community celebration of food production on campus and in the community. Ams partners with community members in her “Grow Meadville” initiative, which has spawned pop-up and community gardens throughout Meadville. The garden she initiated at the Meadville Area High School has become a teaching tool for high school students and a resource for local residents.

Said Rich Bowden, Allegheny environmental science professor: “All our recipients this year have shown themselves to be outstanding leaders in environmental sustainability. Kirsten’s work to promote sustainable agriculture, Bella’s aquatic ecology efforts with K-12 students, Rene’s range of activities from forest research to environmental art, and GreenSOC’s encouragement of minority participation in environmental protection all speak to both the passion and accomplishment of these awardees.”