Three Elmira College Sustainability Leaders worked throughout the 2023-2024 academic year on projects they hope will reduce waste, increase recycling, and foster biodiversity on campus. The three Sustainability Scholarship recipients, now in their second year as Sustainability Leaders, also came together and made progress on renovating the Sustainability House, a future meeting hub for students interested in sustainability.

Sustainability Leaders 2024

Grace Whiffen '24 shows the map she created that identifies where recycling bins are located on each floor of the campus buildings to Dr. Kelly Kane during the Elmira College Student Research Conference.

As the most senior of the Leaders, Grace Whiffen ’24, an Environmental Science major, became an unofficial team leader, organizing times for the trio and a few engaged friends to meet and work on the house. The small group cleared the first floor and readied the space for painting. They removed multiple bags of trash, took down wallpaper, pulled up carpet nails, and spackled. Whiffen also installed LED lightbulbs in several rooms, which she secured during her 2022-2023 sustainability leadership project.

“We chose the paint after researching which would be the most sustainable,” explained Whiffen, adding that the goal is for the 2024-2025 Sustainability Leaders to paint the space.

Although Whiffen, who graduated in May, won’t be around next year, she helped the team identify the furniture for the space and investigated where the team might find items.

For her individual project, Whiffen teamed with Alleney Klunk ’25 to identify where the College’s recycling bins are located across campus. They used quick capture mapping software, which they frequently used in their courses, to create a visual map.

“I heard people saying they didn’t have recycling or trash bins in their resident hall pantries, nor were they in the academic buildings,” Whiffen said when asked where she got the idea for her project.

Whiffen noted that the map is a “picture in time” and that the bins get moved around by students and staff. However, she believes a few changes could help improve recycling efforts.

“Certain buildings have more bins than others and I think they are distributed oddly,” she explained. “The College should think through the distribution. Where there are larger populations, use the larger bins.”

She also feels more distinctive visual cues could help.

“We have a bunch of different color bins, but we should have a distinctive color for each building. For example, in one building the yellow bins could be the recycling bins. We also need to make sure that the recycling stickers on the bins are visible.”

Sustainability Leaders 2024

Ashton Craver '25 installed an "insect hotel" between the Sustainability House and the Sustainability Garden on campus for his individual project as a Sustainability Leader.

During the 2024-2025 academic year, Ashton Craver ’25, a Nursing major, will step into the senior Sustainability Leader role and will lead the house renovations. For his individual projects, Craver likes to think simply. For example, although they’re in plain sight, it’s easy to miss the wood piles he placed between the Sustainability House and its neighboring Sustainability Garden–an area where students, faculty, and staff can plant flowers and vegetables. Equally easy to miss are the woodpile inhabitants: insects.

“I created an insect hotel using firewood from around my house and campus,” he said. “There are a lot of mycelium mushrooms and crevices in the bark. These promote biodiversity, which in turn promotes pollination rates, leads to decomposition, and adds nutrients to the soil. It's a simple way to boost the Sustainability Garden.”

His “hotel” has become home to slugs, pill bugs (AKA rolly pollies), worms, ants, and other small soil dwellers.

Sustainability Leaders 2024

To complete the project, Craver will add signs explaining the purpose and benefits of the hotels.

Craver also enjoyed renovating the Sustainability House and wants to bring his love for biodiversity into the space.

“We’re making improvements year by year but there’s so much to be done. If more people take an interest, we could renovate an upstairs room and start a small greenhouse growing space. I’ll put together a plan over the summer,” he shared.

Sustainability Leaders 2024

Alexis Barnes '26 sorts through items left by students as part of an end-of-the-year donation drive to keep items out of landfills.

Alexis Barnes '26, a Nursing Major, decided to build on the success of her 2022-2023 individual sustainability project and ran her second end-of-the-year donation drive. She put bins in the residence halls for students to put items they otherwise would have left or thrown out as they headed home for the summer. Barnes said the bins in her residence hall were overflowing and, in total, the drive collected enough items to fill 100 square feet. Barnes donated the items to The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities.

“I learned lessons in who to contact and how to get the drive organized so that it worked more effectively this year,” she shared.

For the upcoming year, Barnes plans to refine her donation drive and make the event organization smoother. She also looks forward to Sustainability House renovations.

“It’s fun to do something hands-on and I’ve never done a renovation before,” she exclaimed. “It’s fun to think of ways to make the Sustainability House better and make it a place where people want to spend time.”

While being a Sustainability Leader doesn’t directly apply to her nursing studies, Barnes is grateful for the opportunity and what she is learning.

“We’re learning more than leadership. We’re learning to work together in a group,” she shared. “And I likely wouldn’t have known Ashton and Grace if I wasn’t a Sustainability Leader.”

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