"Save the Planet!" was a mantra for the environmentally conscious in the 1960s. For Maya Azzi of Charlottesville, who will receive RU's first Certificate in Sustainability and Environmental Studies this week, it's a career plan.
A biology major with a concentration in environmental biology, Azzi will be awarded the certificate at the 10 a.m. ceremony during 2012 Winter Commencement on Saturday, Dec. 15.
The certificate is significant because it is multidisciplinary, said Professor Mark Wagstaff of the RU Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism. He chairs a committee of faculty and staff members who support the integration of sustainability into the university's curricula.
"The committee that designed the certificate represents academic departments from across our campus," he said. "The certificate itself was designed using existing courses and resources. No new courses were developed." Wagstaff said other universities offer similar certificates, but to his knowledge the RU program is the only one of its type in Virginia.
Wagstaff and biology Associate Professor Christine Small were Azzi's mentors. Small, who has conducted natural resource conservation with the U.S. Forest Service over the past three years, said Azzi made significant contributions. "She has helped to conduct field research and recruit other undergraduate research students to investigate the impacts of 'wild harvesting' on Appalachian medicinal plants. Her efforts, along with those of other research students, are helping to develop management plans that are vital to the conservation and sustainable use of Appalachian forest resources."
Azzi also credits former Recreation, Parks and Tourism Professor Teresa O'Bannon and Geospatial Science Professor Richard Roth, faculty advisor for the certificate program, for guiding her to her academic goal.
Azzi said she chose the certificate program "to supplement environmental studies and sustainability aspects of my major that we don't necessarily focus on. My major focuses heavily on biological aspects of the environment. This certificate focuses on human involvement, political involvement and physical systems merged together to better understand environmental and sustainability issues."
For her capstone project, Azzi, divided her time equally inside and outside the classroom, visiting ecotourism sites in the New River Valley, creating an e-portfolio and writing a paper titled, "Implementing Sustainable Practices among Ecotourism Establishments."
Azzi's career goal is to find a position in ecotourism—travel that revolves around observing wildlife and learning about the environment. She hopes her RU certificate will open doors for her.
America's biggest challenge in sustainability and environmental stewardship is overconsumption, Azzi said. "Our society needs to pump the brakes and start thinking about the 3 R's: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It is incredibly frustrating how selfish many have become." She applauded advocates on the RU campus striving to increase awareness and understand the value of being environmentally conscious, though "there's always more that can be done."