Student Profile: Alex Monroy

Environmental health major Alexandria (Alex) Monroy’s passion for sustainable living is motivated by a belief that the health and wellness of our planet is essential to the health and wellness of our communities.

B.S. Environmental Health Science, Public Health Practitioner Emphasis, Minor in Global Health

Fall 2021

Wherever my family is (currently San Antonio, Texas). I grew up in a military family, so I don’t have a single hometown.

What attracted you to a degree and/or certificate in public health?

I am very passionate about the environment and I knew coming into college I wanted to do something to help. The more I researched the reasons why our environment was in peril, the more I realized that many of the things that have caused harm to the planet also causing harm to ourselves.

I wanted to study Environmental Health Science because it was one of the only majors I found that made the connection between human health and our environment’s health and, with this career, I could become a kind of a protector of both. I love nature, science, and helping people and I found a mix of all of those together in this major.

The highlight of my time at the College was when I took Dr. Anne Marie Zimeri’s Introduction to Environmental Health Science class during the second semester of my sophomore year. I learned about the effects that humans and our behaviors had on the planet. Many of my life choices were challenged, including the food I ate, when I learned more about the harm that my choices have caused. In her class, I learned about agriculture, waste management, ecosystems, and climate change. This affirmed that this was the major for me and made me want to be more active in promoting health for people and the planet.

Can you tell us about your recent grant from the UGA Office of Sustainability? What is your plan for studying and expanding the current UGA composting program? Why does this topic interest you?

The grant I received in Spring 2020 from the UGA Office of Sustainability is called CASE UGA or the Compost, Art, and Sustainability Expansion. I partnered with another student in the Dodd School of Art. We worked with Dining Service’s Tate Center Compost Pilot program to do waste audits of the compost bins to figure out how successful these bins were and to see how well they were being utilized by people. We found that most people were putting compostable items in the bins, but we did see a lot of confusion about exactly what was compostable. While UGA Dining Services has tried to get “to-go” restaurants at Tate and other locations on campus to adopt compostable food containers and other items, there are still many items that are not compostable.

This Fall, we have been brainstorming how to educate people on how and where to compost through our Instagram (@case_uga). We hope to meet with Dining Services to see if we can get them to change the way that they are packaging food from the dining halls. We are also working on a student survey to learn more about packaging waste. Our aim is to create a sustainable solution that keeps students safe while also maintaining UGA’s and our overall society’s urgent need to move away from sending waste to landfills and transition to composting, where these organic materials stay in the loop and produce new life instead of contamination and greenhouse gases.

We are running out of space for landfills and the landfills that we have already created are huge piles of toxicants and greenhouse gas emitters. I wanted to use this grant to teach our generation to refuse to be a throw-away culture and instead contribute to regenerative practices like composting instead that can heal our soils, heal our planet and reconnect us back to our environment.

Do you have any volunteer experiences that were especially meaningful?

I have volunteered with a number of clubs and organizations, but one that stands out most to me was volunteering through GLOB 3200S, a service-learning course with Dr. Paula Davis-Olwell. We volunteered, through the International Rescue Committee and Food Corps Georgia, to go to a community farm plot and help tend gardens created to help immigrant and refugee students and families learn about growing food. Unfortunately, only a week after my first volunteer trip for this class, the University moved online because of COVID. But that class and volunteer opportunity made me want to learn more about growing food and how to use food as a means for education on helping the planet and human health. During quarantine, I picked up growing food at my house and read books and listened to podcasts about regenerative agriculture.

What activities/achievements/awards during your time here are you most proud of?

In the Spring of 2018, I had the opportunity to work with a couple of UGA graduate students on a grant they received through the UGA Office of Sustainability. The grant helped create and fund the Eco-Art Festival at Lake Herrick. Tables and booths set up around the Lake Herrick loop featured scientists, artists, student organizations, and other community organizations interested in generating conversation and awareness around sustainability and protecting nature areas, like Lake Herrick, from pollution. I helped facilitate meetings with all the amazing people that participated. It was an amazing thing to see members of the Athens and UGA communities come together to learn and grow.

How has the current pandemic impacted your educational experience at UGA and CPH?

With the current pandemic, I have had more time to think more about the impacts that my choices have on our planet and on one another. With COVID and other pandemic viruses stemming from the destruction and mistreating of animals and our ecosystems, I have tried to educate my peers, family, and myself on ways that we can prevent another pandemic and help the planet heal.  UGA and the College of Public Health have both helped me to get to the point where I can have a deeper understanding of the causes of pandemics and overall, the effects that human behavior has had on our planet.

What insights have you gained as a public health student?

The pandemic made me think more about my food and where it comes from. Just what I would do if there was in fact an emergency that prevented food from getting to grocery stores? Would I know how to grow and make my own food? Outside of school, I began growing herbs, peppers, tomatoes, blueberries and I have learned more about canning, fermenting, and other traditional food waste saving and preservation methods. I think that it is incredibly important that people learn how to grow food and begin growing food at home or in their communities.

Posted on October 21, 2020.