Climate Change & Adaptation / Energy & Efficiency / Fridays in the Field

Fridays in the Field #8: The Climate Ambassadors of Wesleyan University

Student-led group hopes to build awareness and facilitate changes around campus.

 The Climate Ambassadors are a student-led group at Wesleyan University. Speaking with a few of their members is Kevin Kromash, blogger for CFE/Save the Sound.

Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT is known for its laid-back culture and eclectic student body.  But take a walk around campus on any given day, and you will notice that the students take their extracurricular activities seriously – from running the campus farm to playing ultimate frisbee to “fire spinning.”

Ally Ruchman (’16) is no exception. While still in high school, she trained her beagle, Wally, to be a therapy dog.  She then decided to bring him to her local hospital in Long Branch, NJ to work with patients receiving MRI tests.  She constructed a research project to guide her work, and ended up publishing her findings in the American Journal of Roentgenology, landing subsequent mentions in media outlets such as The New York Times, ABC News, and US News and World Report.

Now Ruchman has a new project: addressing the issue of climate change.  Along with fellow students Scott Elias (’14) and Aly Raboff (’16), she is leading a campus organization called Climate Ambassadors.  Says Raboff, “we aim to educate and spread awareness around the campus to help inspire behavioral changes and help take action on climate change at Wesleyan.”

One of the group’s recent activities was to support a collaboration – led by Associate Professor Mary Haddad – with a company called JouleBug, which has developed a new app that aims to help people “save energy and have fun doing it.”

“The JouleBug team is using Wesleyan as a guinea pig to test out the app. The way it works is that you form teams and get points for doing sustainable actions such as hitting the lights or not using plastic bags.  The prizes are undisclosed to help reinforce intrinsic motivation to complete the sustainable actions. It’s combining a social media campaign with sustainability to reach a diverse group of people not usually interested in environmental action,” says Ruchman.

Over the next year, Climate Ambassadors plans to increase their membership, build awareness on campus of the need to act on climate change, and continue to find ways to make other students care.

Wesleyan is no stranger to student action on pressing social issues.  It has a long history of action from the 19th century onwards, through the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, the protests for divestment from South Africa in the 1980s, or recent acts of civil disobedience on behalf of LGBTQ rights.

And now with the relatively recent establishment of the College of the Environment in 2009, a Sustainability Office in 2012, and the “Wes, Divest” campaign for divestment from fossil fuel investments earlier this year, the time seems right for accelerated action on climate change at Wesleyan.

Says Elias, “as students we realize that we are going to be the ones that deal with the effects of climate change down the road, so I see Climate Ambassadors as a means to raise awareness and spark action to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. That’s why, as part of Climate Ambassadors, I’m co-organizing a ‘Climate Justice, Climate Solutions’ conference this April that will highlight the co-benefits of climate action, focus on strategic, technical and policy solutions, and hopefully spark the local action necessary to help stabilize our climate and lead the world to a clean energy future.”

Ruchman adds, “Our ultimate goal is to see climate ambassadors as a thriving group on campus working with other student groups as well as the administration to discuss (and hopefully implement!) better climate policy.”

Read more about the Climate Ambassadors in Wesleyan’s student paper.

Featured image by US News & World Report.

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