Three Lafayette students are taking on a new challenge: fostering peace and prosperity in the violence-ridden city of Plainfield, N.J.
Chemistry major Melissa Foley ’12 (Lebanon, N.J.), mathematics major Bridget Greeley ’12 (Mountainside, N.J.), and mechanical engineering major David Wenger ’12 (Montville, N.J.) have received a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant to support their project, Living Buildings: Turning Over a New Leaf. The interdisciplinary team will work with the Barack Obama Green Charter School to teach students about sustainability, how to reduce their environmental footprint, and how they can make a difference with the environment and their community. They also hope to increase the students’ notions of citizenship, community connections, and peace.
“Plainfield’s high school dropout rate is extremely high, and we want to provide the students with the opportunity to improve their community and instill in them a sense of responsibility to support and care for their community. We hope that our project will help to inspire revitalization in the city,” explains Foley.
The grant will fund building a compost system, a vertical green wall, and a community peace garden. Discarded food from the school will be composted and that compost will then be used for the garden and to make compost tea for the vertical green wall.
“This summer we will be installing a green wall on the side of the school and a peace garden in a vacant lot across the street from the school,” says Foley. “The wall and garden will incorporate fruits and vegetables that can hopefully be eaten by the school community or donated to a nearby shelter. The students will be involved in the creation and maintenance of both the green wall and peace garden to provide a sense of pride and responsibility for them.”
The grant will also support an educational component as Foley, Greeley, and Wenger will work with students during the year to teach them about the science behind the environmental program. Steven Mylon, assistant professor of chemistry, is faculty adviser for the project.
Wenger says, “Our project is about connecting a community and working with students to educate them about sustainability and the benefits of being green. Many future careers will be dealing with green jobs and we hope to give these kids an opportunity to learn about them before college.”
Foley, Greeley, and Wenger were inspired to do this project because the issue struck close to home.
“We all live near Plainfield, which is an area filled with conflict and gang violence. We knew we wanted to help the town and we wanted our project to have impact on multiple levels,” Greeley says. “This project will increase community connections through the garden since the entire community will be encouraged to work on it and the food grown will be shared with the townspeople and given to various town food banks. We want to show the community and other communities that people in Plainfield are trying to make a difference and that everyone can help.”
The trio’s backgrounds in different majors have been a plus.
“The three of us knew we wanted to work on a project together and it just so happened that we are all different majors. Although we did not plan this, it has been really advantageous because our connections with faculty and student groups are varied. Working together we have been able to maximize the resources we know,” Greeley says.
Foley, Greeley, and Wenger are looking forward to getting into the project this summer, but they are already learning from it.
“This project has taught me a great deal about urban agriculture,” says Foley. “After graduating from Lafayette, I would like to work for a nonprofit organization or volunteer for a social works organization. I also want to pursue a graduate degree in a science or business. However, this project has fostered an interest in environmental science and agriculture, which I may want to study further in the future.”
For Greeley, the project has opened her eyes to sustainability projects at Lafayette.
“After researching and working on the project, we were encouraged to talk to students in Society of Environmental Engineers and Scientists and Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection. I learned a lot about the green initiatives that Lafayette has which I was unaware of. We have been able to establish a working relationship with SEES and LEAP and they have really taught us a lot,” says Greeley.
Greeley hopes to one day work with grassroots initiatives or to potentially work for Americorps or Teach for America. “I am interested in how math can be applied to social situations to help decrease social inequality,” she says. “Working on this project has helped me develop skills that will give me experience if I do follow those plans.”
See a list of recent Lafayette recipients of national and international scholarships and fellowships for undergraduate and post-graduate study. For information on applying for scholarships and fellowships, contact Julia A. Goldberg, associate dean of the College, (610) 330-5521.