For the sixth consecutive year, the National Arbor Day Foundation has recognized Florida Gulf Coast University’s efforts in environmental conservation and sustainability with the Tree Campus USA Honors. FGCU has been awarded the honors for its efforts in sustainability with tree planting.
“The Physical Plant started this program and has many partners including the Florida Division of Forestry who donates trees to our projects,” said Vikki McConnell, Assistant Director of FGCU’s Physical Plant. “We have three different tree planting events throughout the academic year.”
The Physical Plant, partnered with University Colloquium, Marine & Ecological Studies and Environmental Engineering students and Environmental Health & Safety, hosts Campus Beautification Day, Make a Difference Day and Earth Day on Campus where they have students and faculty all participate in planting trees around campus. Every year since 2009 the university has applied for the certification from the National Arbor Foundation, and it has been honored every year since the Physical Plant began the program.
“Because we are so involved with the natural environment, conservation and sustainability, we are able to apply for this every year,” McConnell said. “I filled out the initial application with student government for this not knowing that it would turn into a six-year, ongoing thing,” In 2012, we were invited to go to Nebraska to the home office for its annual Earth Day event when we were awarded the best Arbor Day Celebration. They also awarded us with $5,000 to buy nice trees to plant in our event on campus.”
According to McConnell, the Physical Plant has a tree orphanage where they have been moving trees from campus construction sites for years. Trees have been relocated to the space behind Griffin and Howard Halls, as well as to South Village from projects such as the Great Lawn or North Boardwalk.
“Our group has planted hundreds of trees and thousands of plants over the past six years involving students, faculty and staff,” McConnell said. “Just yesterday (April 19), we planted trees and plants at South Village with 60 student volunteers lead by student naturalists.”
University Colloquium is a requirement for all of the students at FGCU. In the class, students learn about the environment, conservation, sustainability, the importance of biodiversity and their sense of place through different teaching methods including field trips to places that are environmentally focused. Some of the field trips students participate in include Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, Mantanzas Pass and farmers markets. The program works hand-in-hand with the Physical Plant to help FGCU with its environmentally-focused efforts.
“Sarah Davis is the coordinator of Colloquium and one of the inaugural members of this program. The Colloquium Department assists us with volunteers and campus naturalists who teach students and faculty to properly plant a tree during the events. Many students want to participate in the planting events because they have never done anything like this before.”
The Physical Plant and the Colloquium Department work extensively throughout the year to maintain and continue developing this program. McConnell said that planting the trees is beneficial to the university community in several ways.
“Planting trees provides more clean air, shade and gives students a way to connect with the Earth. With as much as we’re doing, we’re going to be an oasis of trees with developed land all around us,” McConnell said.