Tanvi Gadhia ’09, Geography and Environmental Systems, is UMBC’s first Environmental Sustainability Coordinator.
What excites me about UMBC is that the campus community is brimming with intellectual resources, passion and the capacity for innovation. For this reason, we have the opportunity to serve as a living model of sustainability: a way of living that focuses on what is best for the individual, the community, and everything connected to it, with consideration of long term impacts.
While I’m new to my role as a UMBC staff member, I am also a UMBC alum. I arrived as a self-conscious transfer commuter student, never expecting to become engaged in civic life, much less as a student leader. By the time I graduated, an array of experiences had transformed me, and I left feeling empowered, inspired, capable of making positive change, and deeply connected to a vast network of intelligent, thoughtful, and caring members of the UMBC community.
When I started college I began to understand and experience the global context and environmental impact of my everyday actions and choices. After attending conferences, rallies, and trainings with students just like me, I became inspired to get involved and soon began taking on leadership roles. I sat on the steering committee of the Maryland Student Climate Coalition, and became president of UMBC’s Geography and Environmental Systems Council of Majors. Together with my new friends in UMBC’s Students for Environmental Awareness group, I led efforts to collect over 1,000 pledges (10% of the undergraduate population) to vote in the 2008 election with sustainability in mind, and to hold our legislators accountable for representing youth concerns on energy policy, climate change, social justice and public health issues. It was exciting to help transform Students for Environmental Awareness from an 8-member club to a visible movement with over 40 active members.
I also designed the very first environment-focused UMBC Alternative School Break trip. Such trips have been staples of the ASB program ever since. My successes on campus equipped me with skills and confidence that translated to my professional development, as I completed internships with national nonprofits as well as state and local government agencies. I felt emboldened as I built coalitions, navigated the politics of sustainability, and learned so much about how the issues I was studying in my classes play out in the wider world.
What I appreciate most about UMBC is the way people and organizations encourage members of the campus community to view ourselves as co-creators rather than merely constituents. I am so grateful that I had so many opportunities to craft initiatives to improve the campus. As an Alternative School Break trip leader, I had plenty of guidance and support, but also freedom to design and lead the learning adventure. It was exhilarating to collaborate with professors, staff members and community partners. They led me to see I wasn’t just a student; I was somebody who could dream up an idea and see it through.
Such experiences transformed my sense of self, as well as how I relate to my surroundings. By the time I graduated, I was no longer merely a sheltered kid, unaware of all the things I took for granted, or an angry teen frustrated by the realities of the global injustice. I recognized my own power to improve and connect with my community by actively giving, going beyond merely consuming or judging. I had learned how to use my critical eye to identify and work cooperatively to produce real solutions. Over the past four years, I have had many opportunities to use those skills and insights locally, nationally and internationally. Without the rewarding and empowering lessons I learned as a student, I know my work and life could not have been as purposeful or fulfilling.
I am so glad to be back on campus, and so excited to work with members of this extraordinary community to build towards a sustainable future. I am especially looking forward to helping students discover their own power, passion and ability to make a difference. I will be reaching out to you, but please do not hesitate to contact me with your ideas, concerns and questions.
Contact the author, Tanvi Gadhia, at email@example.com.