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'Pulling Weeds': ASU service groups collaborate for garden workday at Escalante Center

The USGBC and NGSC hosted a garden workday where students from both organizations were able to tend to vegetation and help support the revitalization of Escalante Community Garden


ASU students pull weeds at Escalante Community Garden on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 in Tempe.

The Escalante Community Garden in Tempe brings together volunteer-oriented students and future service members weekly. But last Friday, a "garden workday" saw collaboration between the United States Green Building Council Student Group at ASU and the Next Generation Service Corps — volunteer organizations dedicated to uniting sustainability fanatics and the service members of tomorrow.

The United States Green Building Council at ASU, or USGBC, planned the event with Next Generation Service Corps. During the garden workday, members of both groups helped remove weeds and debris from the community garden and break down Halloween decorations previously set up for elementary school students who visited the community center and garden.

"I wanted to invite the students to come in and really participate in a garden that serves the surrounding community because I think you become kind of isolated at certain times," said Anna Melis, the president of USGBC and a junior studying design, architectural studies and sustainability. 

Though the garden workday significantly impacts the community center and food bank, the work of the USGBC and NGSC extends far beyond campus and the Tempe community. 

The United States Green Building Council at ASU is a student organization focused on sustainable building designs and networking with professionals to give students opportunities.

The USGBC at ASU meets every Friday at the Terrace Gallery Design North from 1-2 p.m., where members work in LEED study sessions or host the occasional guest speaker.

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Taylor Foster, a junior studying human systems engineering and a new member of USGBC, said the community garden workday was a "nice way to connect with nature" with "like-minded people who also want to give back to the community." 

"The ASU chapter is focused a lot on sustainability and equity, including that kind of framework within it as well because sustainability hits more people harder (and) some people harder than others," Melis said. "The Escalante Community Center is definitely a place that's very important to me."

The USGBC at ASU is a subsection of a larger organization with the same name, dedicated to green building practices and advocating for architecture that “saves money, improves efficiency, lowers carbon emissions and creates healthier places for people,” according to the USGBC website.

A large part of USGBC is the LEED accreditation. 

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification program that students can receive by working within the club, Melis said. The club offers study sessions during their weekly meetings to encourage students to take the exam and become a LEED Green Associate.

"I joined USGBC because I'm passionate about the built environment and how people could be improving it so that we can have more sustainable lives," said Foster. "It's a great place to find more information about future sustainable living in cities."

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"We really focus on getting every sector engaged into our program because our student body does represent so many students who have interests in the built environment but aren't just architecture or construction management," Melis said.

The University, as a campus, has 51 certified LEED projects, totaling 75 buildings. Since 2005, ASU has been required to have a LEED Silver certification for all new construction of university-owned and operated buildings, according to the ASU LEED Certifications webpage.

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The Next Generation Service Corp is a leadership development program for students to serve their communities through their focuses by being put in different mission teams to branch their reach in the valley with other organizations like USGBC.

The Escalante Garden Workday helped unite the USGBC and the NGSC in their efforts to give back to the community and work on sustainability on an ordinary Friday morning. 

"I was really passionate about social issues, specifically the environment, and once I found that there was a mission team for it, I wanted to join," said Ian Hsu, a freshman studying entrepreneurship and a member of NGSC.

Two members of NGSC attended the Escalante Garden Workday as part of the organization’s sustainability mission team. They contacted friends and attempted to bring in participants to help work on the garden.

NGSC offers additional curriculum, cross-sector internships and full-tuition coverage for students to focus on their involvement in events and stay involved in the community. 

"It’s very community-service based, and I liked that this was cross-sector leadership-based, so it’s really important," said Kirsten Kierum, a freshman studying environmental engineering. "I also liked how you’re basically required to do an internship, three at least, and also all these other requirements that when I follow them, I’ll be set for future careers."

"I think it's important to protect it (the garden) for generations to come," Hsu said. "And as an entrepreneur, I really want to make sure I’m part of the social responsibility with my major and what I do with it."

Edited by Grey Gartin, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.

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