VOL. 125 | NO. 222 | Monday, November 15, 2010
EMPHASIS Green Energy
Mayahi Charged With Turning Tiger Blue Into Green
NICKY ROBERTSHAW HITCHING | Special to The Daily News
When Amelia Mayahi was a college student, even though her passion was environmental sustainability, there was no degree program available in the topic.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Now that she is sustainability coordinator at the University of Memphis, she is working with faculty to make sure students who are passionate about sustainability have the opportunity to make it part of their educations. Her goal is for the university to add a minor degree in sustainability.
That’s just one of the long-term goals that Mayahi, who was named U of M sustainability coordinator in August, has in mind. She also wants to reduce by half the amount of waste from campus, and to make sustainability behavior, such as recycling, turning off lights and conserving water, a habit on campus.
“If you just pick any random dumpster and look inside, you see that 80 percent of what’s in there can be recycled,” she said.
Specifically, her job as coordinator is to educate students as well as faculty and staff about helping the environment, to coordinate all the sustainability events such as America Recycles Day on Nov. 15, and to collect data to help identify where improvements can be made in water consumption, electric bills, and retrofitting buildings.
But the main focus is coordinating the sustainability interest and activity, which when she arrived was scattered. Now, it is gathered under a central theme, “Tiger Blue Goes Green.”
“It needed to be collected as a united effort, to make it an actual strong movement,” said Mayahi, who served as interim coordinator for a year before landing the job.
She first got interested in sustainability through her dad, the custodial services manager of University of Tennessee at Martin. When she became a student there, she worked with her dad to establish a sustainability program, and later joined the student government association there, where she helped add new rules to encourage sustainability. After graduating in 2008, she moved to Memphis to pursue a master’s degree in history at the U of M.
When she arrived, it was a natural for Mayahi to get involved with U of M’s sustainability efforts.
“When I got there, I said, ‘Look, this is what I did at UTM. What do you do here, and how can I be involved?’” she recalled.
Although taken by surprise by her talents and experience, Calvin Strong, the university’s director of building and landscape services, lost no time in bringing her on board.
“Amelia quickly demonstrated not only a deep passion for sustainability – it’s almost like a religion, but she also demonstrated a great deal of diligence in research,” Strong said.
Noting that U of M, which made a C on its “sustainability report card” last year, made a B- this year, he attributes the improvement to Mayahi’s work.
When she arrived, her first task was to find out what had already been done, and to form a sustainability committee of staff, faculty and students. She was encouraged by the leadership in this area by university President Shirley Raines and progress that had already been made in some areas.
An important step was to sign up student volunteers, and in January she recruited some 250 students to get involved with promoting sustainability. Another sign of progress is that the amount of recycled paper has doubled to 40,000 pounds per month compared with 20,000 pounds a month a year ago.
The America Recycles event will be much more visible on campus, compared with last year’s. Thanks to Mayahi’s planning and the extra volunteers, there will be four recycling stations, staffed with students to answer questions.
She rented an industrial shredder for the occasion, to accommodate paper with confidential information (personal information, for example, or the answers to the final exam). This year she has 30 volunteers, while last year there were six people helping.
While continuing to toil away at U of M’s long-term sustainability goals, Mayahi has three short-term goals.
She wants to see a dramatic increase in recycling bins, especially outdoor bins, within the next two years. Within a year, she wants to establish a bicycle rental program on campus. Finally, she wants to do a series of training classes for faculty and staff in sustainability.