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Graduating Sustainability Volunteers Receive Recognition in New Event

Growing up in a family that loved to backpack, hike and ride bikes, biology senior Kelsey Lyle has an appreciation for nature and the environment that came naturally.

Her interests ramped up dramatically at The University of Texas at Dallas when she became an Ecology Representative (Eco-Rep) and began implementing sustainability programs on campus.

“Before that, sustainability wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t know to value that. I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Lyle said.

Eco-Reps and other sustainability volunteers devote their time to such projects as building worm composting bins, managing beehives at the campus apiaries, studying greenhouse gas emissions, evaluating biodiversity on campus, reducing food waste and promoting recycling.

I hope these students learned that personal actions can build toward the sustainable future we hope to see. I look forward to seeing how they carry that with them as they graduate and move on to their next challenge.

Gary Cocke, associate director for sustainability and energy conservation at UT Dallas

For the first time, the University recently recognized eight graduating seniors, including Lyle, for their sustainability service. The Office of Sustainability presented the honorees with sustainability pins to recognize their contributions, and the students then installed a pollinator-friendly Sustainability Honors Garden outside the Eugene McDermott Library.

“I hope these students learned that personal actions can build toward the sustainable future we hope to see. I look forward to seeing how they carry that with them as they graduate and move on to their next challenge,” said Gary Cocke, associate director for sustainability and energy conservation at UT Dallas.

Lyle’s interest in sustainability began with a fascination with bees. She fell in love with the busy pollinators after reading about their intricate system of gathering nectar, producing honey and protecting the hive. Wanting to know more, Lyle joined the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association and the Texas Beekeepers Association.

She gained hands-on beekeeping experience at two apiaries on campus. Lyle helped manage the hives and taught basic beekeeping to other students.

Thea Junt, former associate director of energy conservation and sustainability, saw Lyle’s interest in bees and took her under her wing to become an Eco-Rep.  

“I really appreciate how Thea structured things. She was practical about getting things done and yet was focused on educating others. I’ve picked that up,” Lyle said.

Lyle’s sustainability knowledge has broadened as she has learned about global sustainable development goals championed by Cocke. She has spent 12 to 15 hours a week on these and other sustainability projects:

  • Tracking metrics and developing a pollinator-friendly habitat and a least-toxic pest management plan to help UT Dallas gain the Bee Campus USA designation;
  • Completing an assessment of tree biodiversity and developing a plan to add pollinator-friendly species;
  • Reaching out to faculty and encouraging them to incorporate sustainability in their course curricula.

Lyle said she has seen an increased passion for sustainability among students during her time at UT Dallas.

“That’s one thing I’ve been really excited about. The new wave of students is more active in sustainability. In fact, they’re demanding it. I didn’t have the sense that I had power to change anything. These students understand their efficacy,” she said.

After graduation, Lyle will seek a position as a research assistant. She has already researched how plant cells respond to viruses in a lab headed by Dr. Jeanmarie Verchot, director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas.

Eventually, she would like to focus on how sustainability can help solve problems, such as using aquaponics to supply fresh produce in urban areas that lack healthy grocery options.

Beyond her career aspirations, though, Lyle said learning about sustainability has changed her life.

“I recycle more. I compost. I plant native plants. I see things that can be repurposed. I know that food doesn’t have to be wasted,” she said. “Little changes make a difference. It’s not so daunting to become more sustainable. We have a unique opportunity to equip students and let them carry it on.”

Kelsey Lyle (left) is congratulated for her accomplishments by Gary Cocke, associate director for sustainability and energy conservation at UT Dallas.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].