Students win international award for sustainability


Eric Urbaniak (left) and Teresa Homsi (right) pose with their award. 

On Dec. 9, Teresa Homsi and Eric Urbaniak won the Campus Sustainability Student Leadership Award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for their work promoting sustainability at Central Michigan University.

Homsi and Urbaniak won the award for their work on an initiative called Central Sustainability, which they began in May of 2020. In conjunction with Facilities Management and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the two students created the initiative to collect information about CMU's sustainability efforts, educating people on sustainability and continuing current and future efforts. Both Homsi and Urbaniak hope receiving this award will inspire students and the university as a whole to take a bigger leadership role in sustainability efforts.

"CMU can always do better and the foundation could always get greater," Urbaniak said. "There could always be more community projects, internal and external, but I think this is a good starting point."

Homsi and Urbaniak said they are very excited and shocked to receive the award. Urbaniak said submitting their work to the sustainability board at AASHE was like a shot in the dark. The awards given out by AASHE are quite competitive. In 2020, around 400 applications were sent in, and only 11 awards were distributed. Homsi and Urbaniak are very proud to see that external organizations, such as AASHE, are recognizing their work here at CMU.

"We're competing against universities who have a lot of resources for this kind of stuff," Homsi said. "But I think AASHE saw the value of our ground work."

In addition to being proud their work is being recognized, Homsi and Urbaniak would like to acknowledge the sustainability efforts other CMU students have done in the past. They believe past initiatives, such as Take Back the Tap and the dining halls composting food waste, have the potential to create institutional standards surrounding sustainability.

"We don't want to pretend like we're the first because it's far from that," Homsi said. "The groundwork we're doing now is something we hope gets built upon in the future."

Homsi and Urbaniak said they could not have achieved what they've done in the past two years with Central Sustainability without the support of Facilities Management, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and their many mentors. Director of Facilities Operations Jay Kahn said both Homsi and Urbaniak have excelled in their work. He is excited to see what they do after they graduate from CMU.

"Both Eric and Teresa make a difference in CMU’s response to environmental and social justice locally and nationally," he said. "Proof of that is this national award from AASHE." 

Homsi, a senior, will be graduating in May 2022. Urbaniak is currently a junior. Both hope Central Sustainability will continue to grow once they have graduated from CMU. Additionally, they anticipate the initiative will become an official office at CMU and get a physical space on campus. They also expect that the next people in charge of the initiative find more student leaders to help fill in gaps with the university's sustainability efforts.

"We want whoever's in charge of it in the future to continue identifying areas where there's room for growth, whether those be in the community, the students in ResLife at CMU or behind the scenes with policy," Urbaniak said.

Homsi and Urbaniak are thankful to receive the award. They hope this won't be the last award from AASHE that the university receives.