Environmentally conscious students, faculty, and staff can be found across the entire campus at the University of California San Diego. In fact, “Understanding and Protecting the Planet” is one of four key research themes identified by the university, which just last year was ranked first in the United States and fourth worldwide in earth and environmental research by the leading science journal Nature.
Of course, some in the UC San Diego community go above and beyond in their efforts to help our planet. One of those people is Maitreyi Nagarkar, a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and supporter of the Scripps graduate community in environmentalism and public outreach.
Nagarkar recently received the “Outstanding Graduate Student” award from the Sustainability Office at UC San Diego. The award was announced as part of the university’s Earth Month celebration, with the official 2016 Sustainability Awards ceremony held April 26 on campus.
Nine award recipients including students, faculty, staff, departments, and groups were honored at the event for their dedication, advocacy, and support for practices and procedures that have contributed to sustainability and renewable energy on the UC San Diego campus.
Nagarkar, a third year PhD candidate studying marine biology at Scripps, said she's thankful to receive this unexpected accolade.
“When I heard about the award, it was completely out of the blue and I felt quite surprised and honored,” said Nagarkar, who was unable to attend the award ceremony because she was out at sea on a research cruise. She doesn’t know who nominated her for the award, but said if she finds out, “I'd love to bake them cookies!”
Along with her marine biology research, Nagarkar is serving as one of the main coordinators of the Scripps Community Outreach Program for Education (SCOPE), a volunteer-based organization composed of Scripps graduate students and researchers. SCOPE connects the general public with the innovative science conducted at Scripps Oceanography. During any given week, you might find Nagarkar and other SCOPE volunteers bringing science to life in a K-12 classroom or along the beach, or perhaps leading a public tour of the Scripps campus or a laboratory.
“Doing outreach through SCOPE is so much fun. I love breaking down science for the public and asking them lots of questions,” said Nagarkar. “It's cool to get someone thinking about something they've never thought about before, and the global importance of the ocean is almost always one of those things.”
Nagarkar also noted the diverse range of groups that SCOPE works with, from young students to senior citizens, San Diego locals to international visitors. The outreach experience is beneficial for Nagarkar, too, as she enjoys talking to each group and learning about their perspectives on the ocean or science.
In the lab, Nagarkar’s research is focused on marine microbes, specifically the microbial community right at the Scripps Pier. She examines these local marine microbes through a variety of different ways including microscopy and growing them in the lab, and she uses DNA sequencing of seawater samples to further understand the dynamics of different microbial species.
“Maitreyi is very community-minded, from our own lab to the wider campus,” said Scripps Department Chair and Deputy Director for Education Brian Palenik, who also serves as Nagarkar’s advisor. “It’s great to see her efforts recognized.”
A leader in environmental education and outreach efforts, Nagarkar has some easy suggestions for people looking to adopt a more sustainable or green lifestyle.
“I once heard some words that stuck with me: ‘your biggest vote is your dollar,’” said Nagarkar. “So I guess I'd say, thinking about what you eat and buy, where it came from, and where it goes can help.”
Other simple suggestions listed by Nagarkar include reducing meat consumption, cutting down on single-use plastics such as disposable water bottles, and buying secondhand as much as possible.
Learn more about the other 2016 Sustainability Awards recipients here.
– Brittany Hook