Four years ago when NC State student Austin Bowman moved into EcoVillage, a sustainability-focused living and learning community on campus, he didn’t know much about sustainability or that it would change the direction of his career.
Attending medical school had always been his plan – until he learned about sustainability planning and urban development on an EcoVillage spring break trip to Boston.
“The trip was a wake up call for me,” said Bowman, who returned to campus and changed his major. “Fast forward three years and I’m starting my masters [degree] in landscape architecture [at NC State].”
Bowman’s story is among many big and small ways that EcoVillage has impacted the lives and careers of its former residents over the last four years. Since EcoVillage launched in 2013 at Bragaw Residence Hall, more than 250 students – mostly in their first or second year of study – have participated in the village’s sustainability-themed education and community building experiences.
“We have created an incubating home where students who share a passion for sustainability make lasting friendships and are encouraged to continue their work in sustainability, even after they leave us,” said EcoVillage Director Meghan Teten. “You can pick some of our former EcoVillagers out from the crowd and track their sustainability trail all over campus.”
Former EcoVillage residents have gone on to involvement with the NC State Stewards sustainability leadership program, the Campus Farmer’s Market and the student-run SOUL Garden on Centennial Campus. They have also served as resident advisors, academic college ambassadors, started a new sustainability student organization, conducted sustainability research and completed sustainability internships.
While the first freshman class of EcoVillage residents just graduated this spring, older EcoVillage residents are already making a sustainability impact worldwide, including serving in the Peace Corps in Panama, studying as a Fulbright Fellow in Hawaii and Fiji, working in a National Park and pursuing graduate studies in sustainability-related fields.
“I am so proud of everything that all of our alumni go on to do,” Teten said.
Students living in the village represent a diverse set of majors and career interests – some sustainability-related and many not. As an EcoVillage resident, students have the opportunity to participate in a special introductory sustainability course, volunteer opportunities, service learning, student-planned presentations and activities, and industry tours and off-campus trips, which are all designed to help students transition to and thrive in college.
For student Haley Hall, NC State didn’t feel like home until a weekend EcoVillage trip to explore N.C. coastal ecology last August.
“It was in those two days … that I realized how comfortable and happy I felt. I was in a community of passionate, interesting and loyal people, and I knew I would be happy at NC State,” said Hall, who is double majoring in biology and environmental science.
This August as EcoVillage enters its fifth year and welcomes its largest class of students yet, Hall is among a handful of EcoVillage student mentors responsible for planning village activities. The mentor program provides leadership experience while also enabling robust EcoVillage programming. Since the village began, 34 student mentors and 2 graduate students have helped Teten plan more than 250 EcoVillage programs, trips, tours and service opportunities.
More than just a number, these opportunities have built community and enabled personal growth, according to student Mary Paz Alvarez Valverde.
“I have been incredibly blessed to be a part of such a great program that not only has amazing programming and one-of-a-kind opportunities but also creates a community that reminds me of a family,” she said. “The village has made me what I am today. There is absolutely no doubt about it.”