Sustainable students unite

Students who pursue the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability’s Major in Environmental Science or Minor in Environmental Systems and Society have a passion for issues affecting our planet. Activism is a common trait among this population, and part of the impetus for a new undergraduate student group—ESSN, the Environmental Science Student Network.

The idea germinated last spring when ESSN’s three founding members, President Robert Freidin, External Vice President James Bunts and Internal Vice President Tina Hoang, realized there were many student groups representing other degrees, but no active organization on campus in place for the Institute’s undergraduate education. The three mobilized, recruiting members and officially registering with the Student Affairs Center for Student Programming in fall 2010.

ESSN’s mission is to promote environmental skills and professional development, as well as create a setting to help build strong and enduring connections.

Freidin noted that “lots of students transfer in, or are otherwise unaware that the Environmental Science degree exists. We hope the group will help promote the major.”

He continued, “Since we started advertising the group, through in-class announcements and messages sent over the Environment Science student listserv, we’ve witnessed an increased following.”

The group’s leadership is comprised of 17 officers who hold functional roles including External Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, a four-person Presentation Council, Sponsorship Chair, Membership Chair, Mentorship Chair, Publicity Chair, Environmental Activism Coordinator, Community Services Chair, Social Chair and Webmaster.

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ESSN intends to spearhead a number of ambitious initiatives.

Creating connections with companies, government institutions and non-profits is a major project. ESSN wants to build partnerships with organizations to facilitate career exploration. ESSN hopes cultivating these relationships will lead to job site tours. A regional environment and sustainability focused career fair is planned for the spring.

The Presentation Council is charged with running a speaker series that will offer insight into how instruction can be applied in the real world. Those currently working with knowledge and expertise can explain the process leading up to a job in the environmental field.

There is a strong desire to organize social engagements to increase informal interactions between students. Bunts stated that a major objective of the group is to create ways for upperclassmen and underclassmen to intermingle and learn from each other. He said, “It’s reassuring to learn from other students who are on the same path and share personal experiences.”

ESSN also hopes to find opportunities to interact with peers from other colleges and participate in environmental conferences and competitions.

Another important initiative is the mentor program, linking freshman, sophomore and transfer students with more experienced upperclassmen. The purpose of these pairings is to coach new students through the program. ESSN also wants to offer study group sessions and office hours. Through these social engagements, and more formal mentorship program, ESSN wants to create an “exchange of information” to help establish a community within the major and minor. Another component is to identify professors to serve as faculty advisors.

There is also a plan to engage in volunteer and community outreach by setting up service projects. According to Bunts, these activities will connect the curriculum to practical application.

The current president will graduate in June 2011 and he’s got a lofty goal in mind as he nears the end of his time at UCLA and as leader of the network: to get everyone in the major and minor involved in ESSN.

To learn more about ESSN visit their website, www.essnla.org.