Farmers of Tomorrow Learn Sustainable Agriculture Practices at Warren-Wilson College

America’s independent farmers don’t have it easy. We’re talking long hours, backbreaking work, toiling in the hot sun or the bone-freezing rain. You get dirty, you sweat a lot, and, when you’re dealing with livestock, you might go home at night smelling just a little bit funky. Not to mention a spell of bad weather at the wrong time can ruin everything.

Talk about building character.

At Sullivan Foundation partner school Warren Wilson College, many students do that kind of work anyway and learn a lot in the process. The Warren Wilson Farm has been thriving since it was founded in 1894, worked and supported by a student crew and current farm manager Blair Thompson. It’s a “living classroom” sprawling across 275 carefully managed acres, replete with cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens—you name it.

“The work is never mundane,” said one student, Georgia Ackerman, in a testimonial on the farm’s web page. “The puzzles that we face every day entertain our lives with necessary and real challenges. In my mind, there’s no better way to connect to one’s place than by putting in the effort to grow food holistically and resiliently.”

Related: Is insect agriculture key to the future of sustainable farming?

Located in the Swannanoa Valley near Asheville, N.C., the farm is a mixed crop and livestock operation specializing in grass-fed and grass-finished beef and lamb, pasture-raised pork and pastured poultry, plus corn and barley. Many of the farm’s products are sold at Asheville’s ASAP Farmers Market and in bulk packages and retail cuts through an online store. The meats can also be purchased by farm-to-fork restaurant owners looking to highlight locally or regionally harvested proteins on their menu.

The Warren Wilson College Farm crew recently created this harvest display at Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church, depicting the bounty of the harvests from the farm and garden.

“Their standards are very much in line with what we are committed to bring to the market,” Kate Hanford, manager of the ASAP Farmers Market, said in a 2020 interview with Mountain Xpress. “It’s a great program, and we love that students come to the market and work the booth.”

Above all, the farm is a teaching farm for students interested in pursuing careers in sustainable farming. Warren Wilson College has sent many young farmers out into the real world, teaching them how to deal with all aspects of the business, from maintaining equipment to marketing the products and mastering sustainable agriculture techniques.

“The bottom line for us is getting new farmers and new land managers trained up,” Thompson told Mountain Xpress. “This is a way to support that mission.”

Students on the farm crew have to care for, feed and move roughly 65 brood cows, 20 brood sows, 750 broilers and 300 laying hens. They plant and harvest the corn, barley and hay crops, learn to manage the crops and the pasture, repair fences, and renovate old buildings. They also get veterinary experience, from delivering newborn animals to giving shots and diagnosing and solving health problems.

Related: This Sullivan Foundation partner school makes its own vino to help the wine industry.

Learning outcomes at the Warren Wilson College Farm include: dependability, integrity, initiative, analytical thinking, communication skills, collaboration and appreciation of the value of hard work.

Asher Wright, a 2008 Warren Wilson college graduate, preceded Thompson as the farm’s manager. When Wright took the position in 2016, he told the Citizen Times that he joined the farm crew as an undergraduate and fell in love with the college. “I was a little green,” he said. “I didn’t know the front end of a cow from the back end.”

“Ecological agriculture systems are in dire need around the world,” Wright said at the time. “The college is a part of this dialogue, a dialogue that is happening at a critical time in history. We need to make sure we stay in the conversation and continue to be leaders and innovators in this field.”

Thompson took over the farm manager role in 2020 and has been working in the regenerative and sustainable agricultural field since 2006.

Working under Thompson, Ackerman said the farm “fosters an invaluable learning experience.” She added, “All workers, regardless of gender, age, wealth, experience and background, are given agency on the farm, which gives them power, confidence and motivation.

“Working on the farm has taught me how much of a difference it makes when you really love the work that you are doing,” noted Thomas Smythe, another farm crew member. “[You’re] not working just to meet required hours or to earn pay but because you believe in what you’re doing. [You’re] taking pride in every project because the thought of contributing to the bigger picture is such an empowering image.”

7 Ways to Get Students Excited About STEM

By Audrey Breen, University of Virginia

Young kids are often excited about science. Their natural curiosity is met by the wonders around them, inspiring them to imagine and then work to discover exactly how things work. A child enamored with jets may eagerly learn all about aerodynamics, thrust, intake and lift, not knowing he is captivated by the physics of flight.

Unfortunately for many, however, that enthusiasm and interest in science begins to wane as they move from the elementary years into middle and high school.

“Our research has shown that the decline in science engagement among young people begins in late elementary school and bottoms out by the end of middle school or the beginning of high school,” said Robert H. Tai, an associate professor of education at the University of Virginia, a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

“A lack of science engagement among young people can easily be carried forward into a lack of science engagement as adults,” Tai said. “With scientific advances playing ever-growing roles in practically every aspect of our lives, ranging from the personal in terms of the food we eat to the global in terms of slowing climate change, engaging with science in order to make good decisions as adults is critical.”

Related: Auburn to lead STEM education initiative for students with disabilities

Efforts to maintain or improve students’ enthusiasm about science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, subjects through middle school pay off. In his 2006 paper published in the journal Science, Tai showed that kids who are interested in science when they are in the eighth grade are two to three times more likely to go into science as adults.

Since that study was published, Tai and his team have been working to answer the obvious next question: “How do we get and keep students engaged in STEM?”

(Photo by Monstera of Pexels)

According to Tai, some studies have found that the way students are taught STEM courses can affect their levels of interest. But understanding how students are taught STEM lessons should include more than just their learning experiences in the classroom.

“Whether it is participating in a STEM summer camp, in the National Science Fair competition or the First Robotics Competition, there is evidence that participation in outside-of-school programs can have a positive impact on students’ STEM attitudes,” Tai said. “In this new study, we wanted to identify exactly what these different kinds of programs were doing to get these kids excited about science.”

In his paper published recently in the Journal of Youth Development, Tai shows that engaging students in STEM is more complex than simply providing hands-on activities.

“Within the field of science education, there is an assumption that kids like to solve problems and figure things out,” Tai said. “That is true. Kids love to complete puzzles and other similar activities. The other side of that assumption is that kids like to create things. But not all kids like to do things with their hands. So, STEM education must be more than that.”

After looking over a number of STEM programs and brainstorming all sorts of activities that could engage kids in science, Tai and his team began to see a pattern of learning activities showing up across programs, even those that seemed to have little in common.

“Programs designed to most effectively engage students were comprised of seven active, intentional learning experiences,” Tai said. “These experiences can happen in both informal and formal settings.”

Not every child wants to “build” something; female students, for example, tend to want to “make” something, which they perceive as wholly different. (Photo by Alena Darmel from Pexels)

Named “The Framework,” Tai’s team developed the instrument to measure the presence of these seven experiences: Competing, Collaborating, Creating, Discovering, Performing, Caretaking, and Teaching.

Related: Bellarmine University offers STEM scholarships for low-income, high-achieving students

For example, imagine a team of three students, finalists at the National Science Fair, standing before their project about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They have finalized and displayed their experiment, published and presented their findings, and are now sharing their work with the judges as they pass by. By this time in the fair, the team of students have engaged in all seven learning experiences.

  1. Competing: By nature, the National Science Fair is a competition; students work to place higher than another team. But “competing” can mean more, according to Tai. “To compete can also mean to make and meet a challenge that may not necessarily have to do with beating someone else,” he said. “A competing learning experience may be asking students to build a tower five feet tall with a specific set of materials. The competition can be created by the goal.”
  2. Collaborating: As a team of three, the Science Fair students would need to understand what each one is there to accomplish. Collaboration allows for each member to know what their role is and how far that role reaches. “The classic example is a football team,” Tai said. “Every player on the team knows that the collaboration will fail if one of them isn’t there.”
  3. Creating: To present their work, the team would have engaged in creating or making in several ways. Words matter significantly when it comes to this learning experience. “Words used within the creating and making framework have a gender differential,” Tai said. “Female students are less interested in ‘building’ something than they are in ‘making’ something. We found that when asked to make something with materials, female students were more engaged than when asked to build something.”
  4. Discovering: The “discovering” learning experience is, perhaps, at the heart of the National Science Fair. The team of students has spent time problem-solving and figuring out a solution worthy of presenting. For this experience to be effective, students do not necessarily need to generate their own problem to solve. A leader or teacher could set up a problem for students to solve.
  5. Performing: Although they are engaged in performing, the National Science Fair finalists are not putting on a show. As Tai described, this learning experience has more to do with the importance of the work. “Performing is not just about the presentation of the work itself,” Tai said. “At the heart of it is accountability. This work counts. It matters. And by doing it, we are making a difference.”
  6. Caretaking: The National Science Fair team would have spent time caretaking, or stewarding, this project to fruition. And with the project centered on eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, the students are also working to steward the environment. “Note that we are not utilizing the term, ‘master,’ which infers a kind of dominance,” Tai said. “Caretaking or stewarding implies the act of coming alongside.”
  7. Teaching: Finally, the practice of teaching is, in fact, a learning experience. Explaining what you know is an important part of learning.

Tai’s framework allows users to measure if a student is engaged in each of the seven areas, as well as if they like them or don’t. According to Tai the most important way to use this tool is to engage the students who are measuring as not liking a particular experience.

Related: Mercer University partners with Real Impact Center to get girls excited about STEM

“Just because a kid tells you they don’t like doing something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t engage them in that activity,” Tai said. “It is more important that you engage a kid in an area they say they don’t like. In fact, this measure is not about identifying what kids like and then giving them what they want; it is about finding out what kids aren’t into and creating a positive experience with that thing.”

For Tai, this measure is about understanding how kids learn so you can reach them more effectively.

“Based on my experience as an educator, learning begins with engagement,” Tai said. “It’s hard to teach someone something new if they’re not paying attention. So, as educators, reaching young people and engaging their minds with science opens the door to learning, and even more importantly, opens the door for young people to explore science on their own, as something they want to do in their own time.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Virginia website.

Going Hypernova: These Students Are Building 3D-Printed Solar Car of the Future

Most people with access to a 3D printer find themselves creating small objects or gadgets. But one student group at George Mason University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has something much bigger in mind.

“We build, design, test and plan to compete in solar-powered car competitions,” said Michael Riggi, president of Mason’s solar car team, Hypernova Solar. “[We believe] our car, when complete, will be the world’s first and only 3D-printed solar car.”

Riggi, a junior studying systems engineering, said the team hopes to compete in the American Solar Challenge, which involves racing a couple thousand miles across the country against other university teams. Their next goal is to race in the World Solar Challenge in Australia.

Related: William & Mary initiative challenges Virginia kids to solve microplastic pollution problem

But solar cars aren’t just for racing. These cars of the not-so-distant future are better for the environment than traditional gasoline-burning cars. Because they draw energy from the sun through solar panels that convert sunlight into electrical energy, solar-powered cars are zero-emission vehicles that don’t burn fuel or use any non-renewable resources.

When Hypernova Solar was founded in 2019 by Mason alum Alex Hughes, Riggi said the group laid the logistical groundwork for parts, designs and fundraising. Today, the group’s 50 members comprise everyone from Mason freshmen to seniors, plus a few students from Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) and local high schools.

The Hypernova Solar Team (Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications/George Mason University)

Their momentum has been strong. “We’re in the process of building our own car, Hypernova One, that we plan to complete in about a year,” Riggi said, adding that the car’s steel frame, which they weld on Mason’s Science and Technology Campus, is halfway done.

Hypernova One will be the team’s proof-of-concept car, he said. Once it’s complete, they’ll review it to see what could be done better, then build a second car for competition.

The group has also been working on a car that was donated to them in 2020 from the University of California/Berkeley team.

Related: Is your used pizza box recyclable? Here’s how to find out

“We’ve completely revamped the suspension, the motors, the aeroshell and repainted it,” Riggi said of the 10-year-old vehicle they renamed Orion. “It gave everyone a good experience on what actually goes into a solar car.”

So why is the team developing their own 3D printer for the car?

Hypernova Solar team members work on the 3D printer that will be used to build their solar car. (Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications/George Mason University)

“Unlike a 3D printer where you’re printing layer by layer going up, ours is tilted at a 45-degree angle and prints on a conveyor belt, so you can actually print on an unlimited axis,” said Ross Clark, Hypernova Solar’s lead designer and a NVCC student who said he’s transferring to Mason.

The unique printer helps make the car resilient and safe, he said. Printing vertically would make it more susceptible to breaking along the X-axis.

“The shell is going to be sturdy and meet safety regulations,” Clark said. “We’re also using a special plastic, PETG, which doesn’t break, flexes more, and is a lot more heat-resistant.”

“I’ve been impressed by the team’s passion and drive,” said faculty advisor Colin Reagle. “They are constantly pushing boundaries on what they can do within a university setting.”

“The opportunity to build a unique machine like this is a huge draw to a diverse group of students,” said Reagle, who teaches in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “I can’t wait until you see them rolling around campus in this vehicle, inspiring the next surge of students.”

This article has been edited and expanded from the original version appearing on the George Mason University website.

Lees-McRae College Makes Push for Campus Sustainability Month

Lees-McRae College, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, is joining colleges and universities around the world in a monthlong sustainability push.

Campus Sustainability Month is sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), a group that empowers faculty, students, and staff to drive change at their institutions. AASHE inspires higher education to lead the way in creating a more sustainable world. At Lees-McRae, Campus Sustainability Month ties into a long history of conserving and stewarding the local environment.

“We have a deep-rooted past of sustainability and resiliency at Lees-McRae,” said Katie Wall, the program coordinator for Outdoor Recreation Management. “This is part of what makes us distinctive. I’m thrilled that we are continuing our commitment to sustainability at Lees-McRae and learning about ways we can improve and grow.”

Current sustainability initiatives include a community garden, campus-wide recycling, and a composting program, all organized by the sustainability-oriented student group Green Team.

Related: William & Mary initiative challenges Virginia kids to solve microplastic pollution problem

Another campus group, C.R.A.N.K. Crew, helps create a bike-friendly community by advocating for increased bicycle accessibility and educating students on bicycle maintenance and safety. Many academic programs, including Outdoor Recreation Management and Wildlife Biology, incorporate sustainability education into the curriculum, covering topics like conservation and Leave No Trace practices.

Throughout October, these campus groups and others will lead activities that teach sustainability principles and empower individuals to make healthy choices for themselves, their community and the planet.

On Oct. 1, students had the opportunity to sign up for Project Green Challenge, which sends daily sustainability challenges to their email. Other activities include a trip to the Watauga County Farmers’ Market, a “slow roll” faculty bike ride, a flora and fauna identification walk, a discussion on the link between diversity and sustainability, and a biking trip along the Virginia Creeper Trail.  

The fall semester’s Mountain Day of Service will also take place during Campus Sustainability Month on October 13. Students, faculty, and staff will assist with various volunteer projects around Avery and Watauga Counties as part of the college’s commitment to giving back to the local community.

William & Mary Initiative Challenges Virginia Kids to Solve Microplastic Pollution Problem

Middle school and high school students across Virginia will work in teams to create a sustainable plan to reduce microplastic pollution in their communities, thanks to a partnership between the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) at Sullivan Foundation partner school William & Mary and JASON Learning.

The Beyond the Plastic Bottle Challenge puts together teams of students with the goal of reducing debris associated with one source of microplastic pollution. It was inspired by research being done at VIMS and highlights the work of the Challenge STEM role model, Meredith Evans Seeley, a Ph.D. candidate and Freeman Family Fellow in William & Mary’s School of Marine Science. STEM—short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—is a curriculum based on an applied approach to educating students in these four disciplines.

JASON is an independent nonprofit founded in 1989 by Robert D. Ballard, the now-retired oceanographer and underwater archaeologist who discovered the Titanic. It provides curriculum and learning experiences in STEM for K-12 students and high-quality professional development for teachers. JASON Learning has been used successfully in a wide variety of formal and informal education environments.

Related: University of North Carolina research explains why sea turtles eat plastic

“Most people are aware of the damage that plastic does to the environment,” Seeley said. “Those same people are probably aware of the dangers that water bottles and plastic straws pose to nature. But something that a lot of people don’t think about are microplastics: tiny pieces of plastic that either break down from or break off of larger pieces, which then pollute filtration systems and eventually find their way into our food supply when fish and other animals accidentally eat them.”

The challenge will involve grade 6-12 students in their communities through creative, science-informed problem-solving. This ties in directly with the principles of JASON Learning and the formal and informal curriculum materials developed by marine educators at VIMS.

“We are looking forward to seeing the real-world solutions that students develop, lending to the mission of micro-plastic reduction,” said JASON President Eleanor Smalley. “We’re also thrilled to have such a talented role model spearheading the competition and offering her knowledge on the subject.”

Related: California governor signs “world’s toughest” recycling law covering plastic bottles

The challenge will be an ongoing campaign, encouraging student participation on a local level throughout Virginia. Both organizations see the benefit of local solutions to problems that exist on a global scale.

While there is no grand prize, JASON and VIMS will highlight participants with effective and creative ideas throughout the campaign’s lifetime. Students and teachers can share their progress using the hashtag #VIMSPlasticChallenge.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the William & Mary website.

University of Montevallo Student Creates Music Wall for Kids Out of Recycled Materials

Children at the University of Montevallo’s Child Study Center can make their own kind of music on the center’s playground this fall, thanks to an innovative project completed by alumna Katharine Murray and her faculty mentor, Tanner Young.

Murray, a member of the University’s TRIO McNair Scholars program who earned a bachelor’s degree in art from UM last year, and Young, an assistant professor of art, celebrated the ribbon-cutting for the interactive art music wall earlier this year.

The wall received financial support from the UM Green Fund and McNair Scholars program. It was constructed using recycled materials Murray collected from Child Study Center parents, including pots and pans, old grills, baking pans and other discarded stuff that might normally end up in a landfill.

Related: Is your used pizza box recyclable? Here’s how to find out

“I wanted to make something that was equal parts sculpture and play thing,” said Murray, who began working on the project while she was still a UM student before its completion was delayed by COVID-19. “I had previously made a sculpture out of pieces of a drum kit, and a critique I kept running into was people wanted to play with it. I didn’t design it to be durable in that way. This led me to the question, ‘But what if I did?’”

“I researched artists like Isamu Noguchi and John Cage, studying both ideas of playground art and sound art,” Murray continued. “It was a lot of experimentation with forms and the sounds each material made. The process for how to make it changed and evolved as problems like sustainability and structure stability needed to be solved. My mentor, Professor Tanner Young, played a great role in helping me problem-solve and execute the project.”

Related: Duke University student turns trash into stunning sustainable art

In addition to providing a fun and interactive way for kids to make music during playtime, the art music wall’s sustainability aspect also helps teach children the importance of conserving and recycling the planet’s resources, Murray said.

“I’m excited for the children to experience free play and music-making at the same time. I think having a piece of nontraditional playground equipment will encourage creativity,” she said. “I hope the children enjoy it!”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Montevallo website.

Duke University Researchers Use GPS to Help Save Forest Elephants

How can you protect an endangered elephant if you don’t know where it is or where it’s likely to go next?

That’s the quandary conservationists and wildlife rangers in the Central African nation of Gabon face in their battle to keep their remaining population of critically endangered forest elephants safe from poachers, who hunt and kill the animals for their ivory, and other threats. Now they’re getting help from researchers at Duke University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

The vast size and dense vegetation of the pachyderms’ range, coupled with many elephants’ idiosyncratic movement patterns, can limit conservationists’ ability to track an animal’s whereabouts and gauge when it is most likely to cross paths with danger.

Related: Furman University Alum Educates Public About the Plight of Elephants

A new GPS-enabled study led by Duke scientists could change that. It provides the first landscape-scale documentation of elephant movements across and between seven national parks in Gabon and helps answer not only the questions of where and when the animals move, but also why.

Analysis of hourly location data collected over two years from 96 forest elephants wearing collars equipped with satellite GPS yielded some interesting data. It reveals that their movements are driven by a complex interplay of intrinsic factors—primarily the elephant’s sex—and external variables, chiefly rainfall, temperature, seasonality and proximity to human activity.

Individuality, a common trait among many elephants, also figures in.

“Male elephants, as a whole, tend to move farther, have larger home ranges and exhibit more nocturnal activity than females. Females tend to be less inhibited by human proximity. But, individually, there can be big differences within each sex,” said John Poulsen, an associate professor of tropical ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Photo by Brenda Timmermans of Pexels

Knowing all this will help government agencies configure parks and wildlife corridors so protected lands contain the year-round resources elephants need and are big enough to keep them a safe distance from human settlements and infrastructure, Poulsen said.

It will also help wildlife rangers and conservationists identify where and when the risks of poaching are greatest so they can marshal their resources accordingly. For example, the new data show that, during times of plentiful rainfall, elephants tend to roam farther than during dry seasons, when they need to stick close to lakes, rivers or other permanent sources of water. Armed with this insight, rangers may be able to effectively target more of their surveillance to areas around watering holes during the dry season and expand their geographic focus during the wet season.

Related: Duke University researcher tracks down cute mouse-like creature in the Horn of Africa

“Gabon’s national park agency does a remarkable job of monitoring these critically endangered animals and keeping them as safe as possible,” said Christopher Beirne, who led the study as a postdoctoral research associate in Poulsen’s lab. “But the vast size and remote nature of the territory they have to cover can stretch resources and create openings for poachers. Hopefully, our findings will help rangers close those gaps.”

It’s estimated that poachers have killed more than 80,000 forest elephants in Central Africa since 2001.

These killings, combined with deaths precipitated by forest degradation and habitat loss as farming, road building and other human activities encroach deeper into unprotected parts of the elephants’ range, have reduced the species’ population by 60 to 80 percent.

This rapid decline poses dire consequences not only for the species itself, but also for the region’s forests.

“Without intervention, as much as 96% of Central Africa’s forests will undergo major changes in tree-species composition and structure as local populations of elephants are extirpated and surviving populations are crowded into ever-smaller forest remnants,” said Poulsen.

These changes will occur because elephants are ecological engineers that help create and maintain forest habitat by dispersing seeds, recycling and spreading nutrients, and clearing understories, he explained.

The researchers published their peer-reviewed study on June 16 in Scientific Reports.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Duke University website.

Converse College Artist’s Striking Sculpture Illustrates Threat of Ocean Pollution

Charlotte “Lottie” Hutson, an art education major at Sullivan Foundation partner school Converse College, has created a striking sculpture that illustrates the growing threat of ocean pollution.

The John F. Green Spartanburg Science Center hired Hutson, a member of Converse’s Class of 2023, to create a sculpture raising awareness for sea life and the dangers from waste being thrown into our oceans.

Charlotte’s sculpture depicts an eight-foot long Northern Atlantic Right whale. She sculpted it entirely from recycled materials, including plastic bottles, wrappers, cans, bottle caps, newspaper, tile, mirrors, and broken ceramics. The skeleton of the whale was created with recycled chicken wire.

Related: Duke University student turns trash into stunning sustainable art

The sculpture was placed on display at the Spartanburg Science Center and featured in May’s Spartanburg ArtWalk.

Located in Spartanburg, S.C., the John F. Green Spartanburg Science Center provides science education and enhancement for the Spartanburg County community through interactive scholastic programs, hands-on exhibits and community outreach.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Converse College website.

Closing the Loop: Burger King Goes Green(er) in 2021

Burger King is going green—or greener, anyway—in 2021, starting today with 51 restaurants in Miami that will test new sustainable packaging, including straws, forks, spoons, knives, drink lids, Frypods (cup holder-friendly French fry packaging), Whopper wrappers and napkins.

The burger chain also plans to test reusable packaging created in a partnership with New Jersey-based TerraCycle, a company that works with the retail sector on solutions to eliminate plastic waste.

Related: Shake Shack starts testing sustainable, biodegradable straws and cutlery

Customers have to opt in to try the green packaging. If the pilot program is successful, the company has said it’s aiming to roll out its sustainable packaging nationwide in 2022.

According to Food & Wine, Burger King has begun testing green cutlery made from a plant-based plastic called cPLA. The napkins will be made with 100-percent recycled fiber. The Frypods consist of renewable, unbleached virgin paperboard.

The fast-food chain will also try out several alternatives to plastic straws, including paper-based and plant-based straws, as well as strawless lids. The company said it hopes to “eliminate up to 500 million single-use plastic straws annually from participating U.S. Burger King restaurants. This action alone would translate to the removal of 910 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year.”

Additionally, they’ll try out two types of sustainable Whopper wrappers—one with a 13 percent reduction in paper and another with a 34 percent reduction in paper.

At some point later this year, Burger King plans to test washable, reusable Whopper containers and cups. These cups can be returned by the customer through Loop, a circular package service and a division of TerraCycle. The containers will be sanitized by Loop and sent back to the restaurants for reuse, thus reducing the production of single-use packaging.

Related: This sustainable restaurant will top its pizzas with rejected veggies to combat food waste

This closed-loop, zero-waste solution will be tested in New York City, Portland, Tokyo, Paris and London. As with the pilot program in Miami, customers must opt in to try out the new packaging. They will have to pay a deposit at the time of purchase; once they return the packaging to Loop, they will receive a refund.

Burger King is trying out its greener and reusable packaging through pilot programs in order to test the products’ performance and gauge customers’ reaction. “By piloting solutions in restaurants, the brand is able to get direct feedback from guests on how the packages perform, make iterative changes with its supplier and build an implementation road map for the system,” according to a press release.

“The pilot will help advance Burger King restaurants’ sustainability strategy, building on existing commitments to reduce its environmental footprint and protect the planet for the long-term,” the press release states. “To support the sustainable production of packaging materials, 100% of guest packaging will be sourced from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025. While working towards reducing the use of virgin materials and single-use packaging, the brand is also tackling the challenge of improved waste diversion, with a commitment to recycle guest packaging in 100% of restaurants in Canada and the U.S. by 2025.”

Ole Miss Journalism Students Investigate Climate Change in Mississippi

By LaReeca Rucker

Nationally and globally, much of the conversation about climate change has been territorial and political. In Mississippi, state leaders have spoken of it rarely, if ever. However, the state’s science, industrial, agricultural and energy sectors have been working to address change and devise strategies.

A desire to explore the issue more in-depth led University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media professors and students to study the topic within the state. The result is the project Climate Change in Mississippi that focuses on “what is,” not “what if.” In other words, practices, not policy.

Charlie Mitchell, a journalist and associate professor of journalism who helped lead the project, said the premise was that too many people have formed opinions about climate change without seeing how it relates to their daily lives. The project aims to report this relevance as a factual resource among political chatter.

Related: Ole Miss freshman Tatiana Davis advocates for minority students everywhere she goes

“Climate change is a super-broad topic, and much reporting is along political lines or appeals to emotion,” Mitchell said. “The students worked to identify front-line people in Mississippi dealing with change directly or indirectly and tell their stories about what’s happening, what’s being researched and what’s expected.

“The point was to deal with fact, not speculation or opinion.”

Jared Poland, a senior integrated marketing communications major from Chattanooga, Tennessee, plans to work after graduation in public relations at an agency, nonprofit or for a political action committee.

“I saw this class as an opportunity to use my public relations skills to shed light on the effects of climate change felt by everyday Mississippians,” he said. “The depth reporting class gave me the opportunity to spend time creating a series of stories that describe at length the 2019 floods in the Mississippi Delta and how the backwater flooding related to climate change and affected individuals.”

University of Mississippi journalism student Jared Poland takes photos while working on the Climate Change in Mississippi project. Submitted photo

Poland said he immersed himself in the issue, traveling to the Delta twice and speaking with community leaders, locals, a climatologist and other knowledgeable individuals about the floods and the pumps.

“I was able to see firsthand the hardships they had faced due to the flooding and was able to speak with them about the proposed pump project that almost everyone believed was the solution to the floods,” he said. “I also learned about their lives, their families, their passions and their hardships caused by the floods.”

Students honed their research, interviewing and writing skills and worked to become better at identifying relevant facts and sources, then weaved the information into an understandable and compelling narrative.

UM’s journalism school has a history of producing relevant depth reports on national and international topics ranging from the emerging economy in post-war Sri Lanka to the intersection of good food and poor health in the Mississippi Delta, Mitchell said.

“Former Dean Norton identified this topic as crucial, and it was decided students here and students at the University of Nebraska would tackle the topic simultaneously,” he said.

Related: This sustainable restaurant will top its pizzas with rejected veggies to combat food waste

Besides Poland, the UM student reporting team included Danielle Angelo, Anne Florence Brown, Lydia Cates, Will Corley, Abbey Edmondson, Cody Farris, Jacob Meyers, Eliza Noe, William Schuerman, Tamara Tyes and Lauren Wilson.

Team advisers included faculty members John Baker, Michael Fagans, Mitchell, Norton and Darren Sanefski, and graphic designer Hannah Vines.

This issue has affected Delta residents since the early 1900s, Poland said. “The project that is believed to be the solution to the floods was originally proposed in 1941,” he said. “I was able to speak with individuals who have spent their entire life dealing with floods and fighting for solutions to prevent them.”

“As someone deeply interested in politics, I was fascinated by the pumps project and the political discourse and conflicts that have unfolded surrounding it, including the EPA’s veto of the project in 2008. It has been a heavily contested political issue and remains one today,” he added.

Poland said others who take the course should use it as an opportunity to deeply explore the topic. “It was the first project of this size I have ever taken on, but with the help of my instructors, it truly was one of my favorite experiences during my time at Ole Miss,” he said.

William Schuerman

Schuerman is a senior journalism major from Houston, Texas, with a print emphasis and an environmental studies minor. “I enrolled in the class because, after I heard about the project, I knew there would be an opportunity to produce content about a subject I am very passionate about,” he said.

Schuerman, who hopes to work as a photojournalist and be published in National Geographic someday, said the class was different from others he’s taken. He traveled across the state helping other students create multimedia.

“Projects like this are where I have learned the most in my time at the University of Mississippi, so it was a logical step forward for me,” he said. “I feel that I always learn more when working in the field than purely sitting in the classroom.”

Fagans, an assistant professor of journalism, said he tried to ask questions to get students thinking about how to better cover their story area and how to tell it with infographics, photos or illustrations. “As with many of our ‘outside the classroom’ reporting opportunities, students learn valuable lessons when they get out into Mississippi and meet, interview and tell the stories of our residents,” he said.

Edmonson, a senior journalism major from Tupelo with minors in English and creative writing and an emphasis in social media, said she was curious about the effects of climate change in the state. Her focus was on saltwater aquaculture on the Gulf Coast, where she traveled with Fagans and Schuerman.

Abbey Edmonson

“Throughout the trip, we interviewed several people who are involved in the commercial fishing industry, specifically the oyster industry,” she said. “We toured the last oyster-shucking house in Mississippi, watched how oysters are bred and rode a boat out to an oyster farm. That trip is something I’ll hold onto forever because we got to interact firsthand with people who are experiencing real issues as a direct result of climate change.”

Students also interviewed people about possible solutions in the works, which “added a bright spot to an otherwise disheartening situation,” she said.

“I hope that, because of this project, people recognize that climate change is real and it is causing real repercussions, even in Mississippi,” Edmonson added. “Mississippi is rural and not nearly as populated as other areas of the country that are experiencing major effects of climate change. So, I feel like it often gets overlooked in the big picture of climate change.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Mississippi website.