Michelle Barron

Michelle Barron

Green Grad

Graduation photoshoots are about celebrating your accomplishments and the time you’ve spent at UCF. Sustainability Initiatives wanted to reward a graduate this semester who has spent their time at UCF promoting and engaging in sustainability. This semester, Jennifer Bennett was awarded a free graduation photoshoot, courtesy of our Digital Media Assistant (that’s me!), and some pretty sustainable goodies.   

Jennifer Bennett has been pursuing an education in Soil Science, focusing on wetland biogeochemistry, at UCF. Because of her childhood growing up in South Florida and living near many beaches, hiking trails, and wetlands, she naturally found herself pursuing such a career. She says it wasn’t an easy road to get where she is now but, thanks to a good support system, perseverance, and not being afraid to ask for help, she was able to find herself in the position that she is today. Below, I ask her just what it means to be a Green Grad.  

Where did your research interests originate?

Jennifer: After transferring to UCF as an Environmental Engineering major with a minor in Environmental Studies, I felt something was amiss from my curriculum. I was drawn to writing essays on soil erosion and eventually made the connection that soil science is my true passion. After changing my major to Environmental Studies, I reached out to my now-Principle Investigator Dr. Lisa Chambers of the Aquatic Biogeochemistry Laboratory to discuss my deep interest in the field and she offered me a position in her lab as a research assistant. After a year, I was fortunate enough to have my own independent project and to work on research projects for two courses in my major.

How has the curriculum in Environmental Studies courses prepared you to push for improved environmental regulations at UCF?

Jennifer: The environmental studies major takes an interdisciplinary approach to solving environmental issues, with courses related to sociology, economics, and politics. This helped me become a more well-rounded student and researcher, and apply my experience to form movement on campus. These include the ban of glitter, promoting recycling rates, and conserving soil carbon hot-spots in our Arboretum. I found through my projects that the cypress dome located by the student union could use more management to reduce the number of invasive species and littered items found there. Furthermore, UCF body should improve not only their recycling habits but to also reduce the number of resources we are using.   

Besides helping the environment, what was rewarding about it?

Jennifer: Learning the process of developing research projects was rewarding. It’s a huge learning curve, of which I’m still going through, but it is the foundation of everything I have done and will do. From learning how to design the details of my research to data analysis and writing, my leadership skills have strongly improved from this. Performing the fieldwork for any sampling collection was rewarding since I often found myself in the heart of these naturally beautiful systems (mainly wetlands). These areas were often untouched and just simply so beautiful to be in.

What advice would you give to UCF students to who want to play a role in sustainability on campus?

Jennifer: Getting involved in research projects has allowed me to make great sustainable changes on campus. However, smaller actions one can take could be to properly recycle and to watch one’s carbon footprint. Being self-aware of one’s actions and taking time to teach others can go a long way. You may feel that your individual actions don’t play a role in sustainability, but collectively as a society it all adds up and truly makes a difference.

What are your plans to progress sustainability after graduation?

Jennifer: I hope to find and choose more green alternatives and ensure that future research goes towards the furthering of improving our environment and state of our climate. I hope to continue to create personal goals such as growing a garden to have my own source of produce and cutting out single-use plastics.

As I walk across the stage, I know I will have pushed for sustainable movements and preserving the tons of carbon stored in our soils.

Peep the homemade confetti Jennifer made out of fallen leaves!

Jennifer would like to credit her soil carbon inventory research funding to the Office of Undergraduate Research and her cypress dome project that was conducted through the Ecological Field Studies course.

Read her full Green Grad submission.