Three UC Merced undergraduates are the recipients of a new fellowship under University of California President Janet Napolitano’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative.
Through the President’s Sustainability Student Fellowship/Internship Program, the students — Adriana Gomez, 18, a freshman from Sacramento; Alex Newman, 21, a senior from the Dublin-Pleasanton area; and Gabriel Morabe, 20, a junior from South San Francisco — each receive $2,500 toward projects that bring the campus closer to meeting carbon neutrality goals.
The program provides $7,500 for research fellowships and traditional internships to each UC campus, along with the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Office of the President.
Napolitano’s initiative, announced in November, commits the UC to emit zero net greenhouse gases from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025, something no other major university system has done. The goal is no stretch for UC Merced, which already has the Triple Zero Commitment to consume zero net energy and produce zero waste and zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
Gomez, an Earth systems science major, is helping Facilities and Sustainability staff members update the UC Merced Climate Action Plan.
“It’s a very unique challenge here, because we’re still growing,” Gomez said. “It’s hard to think of every angle, because the variables are always changing as the campus changes.”
Newman, also an Earth systems science major, works with Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe investigating how land-management activities, specifically soil erosion, can affect the ability of soil systems to store carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere, a process known as carbon sequestration.
“The soil system can serve as a sink or source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere,” Newman said. “We’re trying to figure out how soil minerals can contribute toward increasing the soil’s carbon-holding capacity.”
Morabe, a human biology major with the School of Natural Sciences — like his co-fellows — is already an intern for the Alliance to Save Energy’s PowerSave Campus program, so his project is to work on campus outreach regarding the carbon-reduction goals.
“I feel I can have a much larger community impact,” Morabe said. “Our green campaigns are focused on behavior changes, and I really want to help people see how each person can achieve goals, instead of just focusing on what’s wrong.”
The projects are supposed to be completed by the end of the academic year, and the students will present results or measurable accomplishments at a large sustainability conference in San Francisco this summer. The students realize these are ongoing goals, though, and have come up with ways they can measure their own success.
“I really believe in changing lifestyles to improve efficiency,” Gomez said. “The best way to measure success in this case will be by seeing people get engaged with the process and follow the plan.”
Morabe is using an online dashboard that tracks the pledges people make to change behaviors and how successful they are in meeting their goals. It’s the same kind of dashboard used during the residence halls’ spring electricity-saving battle each year, and gives users a way to see real-time information about their progress.
“Harnessing the passion and creative energy of our students is just one step in our effort to focus the university’s collective resources on the wide range of sustainability-related issues facing our campuses, our communities, our country and our world,” Napolitano said. “I am hopeful that these awards will help energize students’ interest in supporting the Carbon Neutrality Initiative and the efforts being led by each campus.”