Waste Not, Want Not

Missiology Student Conducts Undergraduate Research on Environmental Sustainability

Sarah Branch

Sarah Branch ’18 wanted to find out what Gardner-Webb is doing to promote environmental sustainability. Her Undergraduate Summer Research Project looked at six main categories of sustainability practices, and she discovered that the University is taking steps to reduce energy and water use and decrease carbon dioxide emissions.

“What GWU can work on most is waste diversion and reduction and the use of chemicals,” noted Branch of Pilot Mountain, N.C. “A simple practice that the University can implement is composting, specifically, vermicomposting (the use of worms to break down organic material). This will reduce the waste that is being dumped into the landfill and will be beneficial to use as fertilizer and mulch around campus, thereby reducing the chemicals used for fertilizer.”

Branch was one of 10 GWU students who conducted research during the summer term with a grant from the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. The students worked 40 hours a week for five weeks on their projects, which they are required to present in a professional forum. Each one had a faculty mentor or collaborator who worked with them. Branch encouraged other students to take advantage of the research opportunity. “It seems daunting at first, but there is no other time in your life that you will be able to focus on this one topic with no other distractions,” she explained. “The research is so worth it.”

She worked with David Wacaster, GWU director of Safety and Administration, to determine Gardner-Webb’s environmental sustainability practices in certain areas. Once she obtained the information, she and her mentor Dr. Stefka Eddins, professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Natural Sciences, determined how to make her project more manageable. She will present the research at the GWU Life of the Scholar Multidisciplinary Conference in the spring and will give a report to GWU President Dr. Frank Bonner and the University’s Board of Trustees.

“My dream job is to be a sustainability missionary,” she disclosed. “This research has given me the basic knowledge I need to be able to make that dream a reality. I have had one mission organization express interest in the composting aspect of my research, so I would love to be able to support existing organizations in that way as well.”

Learn more about the Summer Research Scholars Program