Provosts interact with students less frequently than faculty. It’s one of the unfortunate features of the role. The Provost’s Office does have several student advisory committees, but they too infrequently discuss the great work that Georgetown students are conducting.
I recently discovered a meeting on my schedule labeled “The Opportunity Project.” I had vague memories of the phrase, but only when the Zoom began did I recall that the initiative is one of the Census Bureau, helping to advance practical use of Federal data sources to solve real world problems. When the Zoom appeared on my screen I saw a set of students, most of whom I had not met.
The Opportunity Project at Census was launched in March 2016 as part of a White House initiative to catalyze new technologies that use federal and local data to empower communities with information about critical resources, such as affordable housing, quality schools, and jobs. Since then, the program has grown in scope and impact, and is now a widely used model for collaborative problem solving through data, technology, and user centered design.
To my delight I learned that a set of Georgetown students organized an initiative under the Opportunity Project umbrella. The students are part of the Ocean Plastics sprint, organized to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans, but they are applying their energy to plastic waste on university campuses. They are part of the Beeck Center larger work in digital innovation, which alerted the students to the possibility of support from the Opportunity Project. But the students drove the idea and proposed their own project.
It is heartwarming to see student banning together from different schools and programs, bridging undergraduate and graduate student divides, and coalescing around a real problem. The team consists of Sarah Mueller, a major in Computer Science; Anya Wahal, Elizabeth Nguyen Siddharth Muchhal, majoring in Science, Technology, and International Affairs; Anna Hoffman, a second-year masters student in the Communication, Culture, and Technology program; Elizabeth Linske, a second-year masters student in Environmental Metrology and Policy; and Jamal Jaffer, majoring in Environmental Biology. Check out their website. https://beeckcenter.georgetown.edu/project/the-opportunity-projects-fall-2020-earth-sprint-reducing-plastic-in-our-oceans/
So, what is their project?
First, the group is collaborating with the Wilson Center to create Georgetown specific code for the Earth Challenge 2020 app, the largest citizen science initiative in the world, to track and locate plastics on the Georgetown campus. The app would allow the Georgetown “citizen scientists” to snap a photo of the plastic and tag it with the GPS coordinates of the plastic waste. The hope is that the app will encourage students to pick up plastic around campus as well as provide a quantitative measurement of Georgetown’s environment and sustainability progress.
Second, using the data captured in the app, they are also creating a dashboard, which will be hosted on the Office of Sustainability website, to map the locations of plastics on campus as well as inform students about where they can get involved with environmental initiatives on campus. This would document locations on campus where larger amounts of plastic refuse is present, in order to increase recycling bins in those locations and eventually to decrease use and discarding of plastics on campus.
Third, they are creating educational modules to teach incoming students about how to care for their community: to reduce plastic waste, get involved on campus, and do their part. The aspiration is that all Georgetown students are exposed to the information in the modules to prompt the development of new habits.
I was honored to meet with them and thrilled to feel the energy and passion they brought to their project. Their total focus was how to leave a legacy at Georgetown of a student culture that behaves in a way to reduce and recycle single use plastics as a routine part of their lives, both at Georgetown and their later lives.