Jeopardy! Winnings Spur IBM and Scripps Research Collaboration to Fight Malaria
Study Underlines Potential of Anti-Stress Peptide to Block Alcohol Dependence
Researchers Uncover New Role for Gene in Maintaining Steady Weight
Students Work for a Sustainable Future



Students Work for a Sustainable Future

By Cindy Brauer

It was the summer of 2010 and Scripps Research Institute graduate students Jamal Malik and Keary Engle were dismayed over the amount of recyclable materials—soda cans, water bottles, cardboard packaging, and more—discarded in campus trash bins, rather than in the recycling bins made available through the institute’s recycling program. 

In their commonly held frustration lay the genesis of what would become the Student Sustainability Initiative (SSI), the California campus student group “working to help inject environmental issues in the conversation.” 

Malik and Engle came to their shared passion through different paths. Malik “got jazzed” about the environment during his first high school science project—a water-quality test of the heavily polluted Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. The experience led to Malik’s guiding ecological principle, “We have a duty to be aware of how our actions and choices impact the environment.” His work in the Fokin lab with the green-natured “click chemistry” works hand-in-hand with environmental issues, he noted. Ultimately, Malik hopes to build a career combining science with environmental advocacy. 

Engle, currently at Oxford completing his final two years in the Skaggs-Oxford Scholarship program, worked in the Yu lab on the California campus and attended two green chemistry conferences in 2010. The Holland, Michigan-native came to his passion about sustainability while spending time during and after college living in Germany. “Prolonged immersion in German culture prompted me to look at my own culture with a fresh set of eyes,” he said. Among his observations were the many areas of sustainability upon which the United States could improve, from individual household recycling to the national public transportation infrastructure.

Connecting with the Green Team 

During the 2010 summer, as Malik and Engle considered how to promote sustainability in the research arena, the graduate students discovered another Scripps Research group working toward many of the same goals.

“I had received the Joseph Breen Memorial Fellowship from the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute (GCI),” Engle explained. “A press announcement went out in News&Views shortly thereafter, and Julio [Giannotti, environmental health and safety coordinator] saw it and invited me to the next Green Team meeting to discuss green chemistry with the group.”

The institute-sponsored Green Team is a group of staff and faculty member dedicated to promoting environmental stewardship and sustainable development at Scripps Research.

“By the time I left my first [Green Team] meeting, I knew I wanted to be a permanent part of the conversations that were going on surrounding sustainability on campus,” recalled Engle. Over a “series of long conversations,” he and Malik decided to organize a student group with a three-pillared charter:

  • Reducing the Scripps Research environmental footprint through increased recycling efforts and encouraging carpooling and other transportation alternatives
  • Promoting green chemistry education on campus
  • Participating in civic activities, reaching out to educate the local community about sustainability issues 

Attracting a core group of a dozen like-minded students, the newly formed Student Sustainability Initiative tackled its first project: helping the Green Team launch its single-stream recycling program, at first a pilot program at the Dorris Neuroscience Center, then expanded to the entire campus in early 2011. 

SSI members, including Jennifer Hazen of the Baldwin lab, Marin Gantner from the Kralli lab, and Katie Petrie in the Joyce lab, provided lab presentations to teach faculty, staff, and students about single-stream recycling, in which all recyclable materials are discarded in the same blue bins. To reinforce the message “that it doesn’t have to take much effort to recycle,” the students developed a flow-chart illustrating acceptable recyclables and posted copies of the guide near lab-located blue recycling bins. They also papered the campus with flyers promoting the all-in-one recycling campaign. 

“SSI invigorated the Green Team with their energy, youthful exuberance, and the student perspective,” said Denise Daggett, Green Team co-chair. “With their ability to disseminate important information about campus environmental activities peer to peer to the researchers working at the bench in the lab, SSI and the Green Team are natural partners,” she added.

Moving Beyond Recycling

Moving beyond recycling, SSI has expanded its scope. “Since then, we’ve worked steadily of a range of different projects, where one opportunity always seems to generate others,” said Engle. “Along the way the graduate program and the administration have encouraged us and helped us financially, and we are thankful. The members of our group are remarkably dedicated people who work tirelessly.” 

The group arranged for green chemistry advocate Terence Collins to speak at a 2010 Chemistry Lecture series presentation. Collins is an organic chemist with Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Green Science. During the 2011 Green Feat event, SSI students provided presentations demonstrating green chemistry principles and eco-friendly measures for lab work. 

Erin Anderson, in the Boger lab, has organized a green chemistry program for local elementary and middle school students. Petrie has helped coordinate campus participation in the iCommute Bike-to-Work and Rideshare Corporate Challenge events; Scripps Research captured first-place honors in its institution category for both challenges. 

In the public arena, SSI students helped raise awareness of the 2010 election California ballot proposition to roll back state-legislated renewable energy mandates. The proposition was defeated. SSI is also working with City of Del Mar (and Scripps Research Professor) Mayor Donald Mosier on the long-term goal of an expanded and improved light-rail system in San Diego County. 

SSI’s next big project, said Malik, is an upcoming “hood sash crusade” supporting the Green Team’s planned 2012 campaign to promote a campus-wide lab practice of closing chemical fume hoods when not in direct use to save energy costs and reduce the institute’s carbon footprint. 

“An open fume hood can use as much energy as a house expends. Left open for a year, a fume hood's energy cost can run upwards of $11,000," Malik pointed out.

According to SSI member Vicki Chang of the Nicolaou lab, the student group will “do the footwork on the front lines in the lab for the hood sash campaign, much like we did on single-stream recycling.”

Engle and Malik don’t expect everyone to share their passion for sustainability; however, they maintain, with small steps, anyone can impact the environment for good. 

“In the past, it may have seemed you had to choose to go out of your way to be environmentally sensitive,” Malik noted. “But in 50 years, we will have no choice. It may take more effort to be sustainable now, but these practices will become habit because we will need to do them.”

SSI welcomes all interested students to its general meetings, held the second Friday of each month at 11 AM in the Beckman 5-South Conference Room. 

Send comments to:

"We have a duty to be aware of how our actions and choices impact the environment," says Jamal Malik, co-founder of the Scripps California Student Sustainability Initiative with fellow graduate student Keary Engle.


Keary Engle's experiences in Germany prompted him to reexamine assumptions about sustainability in the United States. (Photo by Jann Coury.)