When Anna Schmidt walks past a recycling bin in the Rogalski Center and sees it is full, she smiles.
When Kristina Shelman walks past a food donation box and sees it is full, she also smiles.
Their work and passion for the environment and sustainability, as well as their drive to educate each and every person on how easy it is to make a difference, is sparking change across campus, as well as in the broader community. For these leadership efforts, they are being honored.
Shelman, a senior Biology student, and Schmidt, a junior Nursing student, were named "Future Leaders of Conservation in the Quad Cities." They will receive the Oberholtzer Award and a $1,000 scholarship each from the Nahant Marsh Education Center during a reception on Feb. 29.
The award recognizes conservation leaders who have made significant contributions toward understanding and protecting the natural world. It is named after Davenport native Ernest Carl "Ober" Oberholtzer, who was a founding member of the Wilderness Society.
Shelman is president and Schmidt is vice president of GreenLife, an SAU student environmental club dedicated to increasing awareness, education, and sustainability. After a few years of dormancy, Shelman, Schmidt and others helped re-launch the club in Fall 2018.
According to Assistant Professor of Biology Dennis Tarasi, PhD, Shelman and Schmidt have raised the standard of environmental awareness and advocacy across campus and have been instrumental in establishing a new campus identity focused on conservation and sustainability.
"They are strong examples of environmental leadership in the Quad Cities. They are excellent leaders and very deserving of the award," said Tarasi, who co-advises the club with Biology Department Chair and Professor Amy Blair, PhD. She and Tarasi nominated Shelman and Schmidt for the award.
Future Leaders of Conservation
SAU students Kristina Shelman and Anna Schmidt will receive the Oberholtzer Award, and a $1,000 scholarship, from the Nahant Marsh Education Center.
Shelman got involved with Green Life because she wants to reduce overall waste on campus and establish plants that are native to Iowa on university grounds. "My biggest goal is to increase awareness on ways to be sustainable and why it matters," she said.
First as a member, then as president, Shelman led efforts to reduce food waste with an awareness campaign in the cafeteria and coordinates end-of-semester food drives in each residence hall. Students are asked to donate non-perishables they don't want to carry home. Last academic year, GreenLife collected and donated more than 1,200 pounds of food to the Riverbend Food Bank.
GreenLife is selling reusable glass straws, holds campus litter cleanups each semester, and partnered with other campus groups to assemble and install a bat box on campus last year. Members are now working to label campus recycling bins to show what can and cannot be recycled.
Last year, the club organized and moderated a roundtable discussion on climate change after a public screening of the film Paris to Pittsburgh. More than 120 community members, local leaders, and environment professionals attended, elevating St. Ambrose as an emerging leader on environmental issues, Tarasi said.
"There were a lot of good discussions and it stirred the pot, made us think about other things we can do but aren't doing yet. As for the campus of St. Ambrose in general, we should be using our collective voice to spark change," Schmidt said.
Last year, Schmidt initiated "Green Girls," an environmentally-themed campus house where she now lives with her friends. They go "plogging" (picking up litter while jogging) once a week to raise awareness and spark other students to get involved, too. Schmidt also helped lead the design and planting of the first pollinator garden on campus.
Under the leadership of Shelman, SAU has resurrected a campus-wide Sustainability Committee, consisting of students, university leadership, faculty and staff across departments, and they met for the first time in early February.
"If we want to see change it has to be addressed on campus as a whole," Shelman said.
Both women believe GreenLife is increasing environmental awareness on campus, but so much more could be done.
"I'd love for people to realize little changes do make a difference. It is easy to think I am only one person, and this is only one plastic bottle, how will that make a difference? But if we all start making small changes to become more sustainable it will add up and lead to bigger changes. It starts with the individual," Shelman said.
"And, when you tell people about the changes you are making," Schmidt said, "using your voice to educate those around you, you'll make a difference as well."
God gave us a planet and made it beautiful, and it is our job to protect and take care of it.
Senior Kristina Shelman
Both women said they will continue to advocate for the environment and sustainability after they graduate.
"As a future healthcare worker, I see how the changing climate is changing the lives of individuals and their livelihood. It is impacting the environment and the health of others. I feel a calling to that, and I want to make it better for those people," Schmidt said.
Shelman has a deep respect for the environment. "I love to admire the beauty of creation. God gave us a planet and made it beautiful, and it is our job to protect and take care of it. The more I grew in my faith the more I understood the necessity of it. And, in the past four years, I've gained more insight and perspective on how important and valuable the planet is and what our future looks like if we don't take care of it," she said.
"Kristina and Anna embody everything we as advisors hope for in campus environmental leaders," Tarasi said. "They are organized, dedicated, and knowledgeable of the best strategies to accomplish their and GreenLife's goals."
GreenLife is open to all students interested in raising environmental awareness and advocacy. Meetings are held every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Christ the King Chapel Gathering Space. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.