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Published: March 29, 2016

UT Junior Plants Roots of Environmental Work, Hoping to Leave Shoots

»RSVP for Gala by April 1

Scuba diving on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was on Alana Boyles’ bucket list, which she quickly accomplished as a freshman in her Honors Tropical Biology and Conservation travel course. It was an experience she finds hard to put into words.

“It was a dream come true to dive the Great Barrier Reef, so just that fact makes my heart swell and rise into my throat, and I get all fluttery inside. It’s weird but true,” said Boyles ’17, a marine science–biology major with a minor in English. “Then to see the damage caused by the Crown of Thorns starfish and human activities was just devastating.”

Boyles said seeing the starfish was both exhilarating and heartbreaking, and fueled her passion for a lifelong practice of environmental stewardship.

“I screamed through my mouthpiece at the sight, overcome by excitement and anger and grief all at the same time,” she said. “At that very moment, I swore to myself I'd be back to eliminate the problem.”

It’s that kind of passion that drives Boyles, who founded UT’s campus chapter of Roots & Shoots, Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) global youth-led community action program.

“Through UT’s Beta Beta Beta, I got tickets in September 2014 to hear Jane Goodall speak. What she said resonated with me and got me thinking about how I and other students can impact the world,” said Boyles, who started the UT chapter in October 2014. “We built upon the mission of it being a youth-led service-learning program that helps the community, environment and animals. We expanded that to help our students network as well.”

There are several sustainability-themed organizations on campus and, in fact, they hold combined meetings because of the overlap. Roots & Shoots is unique in its focus on service-learning.

“Each organization is addressing the environment in different ways, some of which focus on more applied aspects of human society and some of which focus more on aspects of biodiversity conservation,” said Dan Huber, faculty advisor for the organization. “Roots & Shoots seeks to integrate across both social and environmental issues through service-learning. The organization does service projects around the world, having engaged over 60,000 students and amassed over 52,000 hours of community service.”

At UT, Boyles said their members have participated in oyster bay restorations with Tampa Bay Watch, Hillsborough River cleanups, removal of invasive species near the boardwalk at Lettuce Lake Park and helped clean cages at Big Cat Rescue. They also host an annual professor research panel to discuss faculty research and present opportunities for students to get involved. They have instituted a special presenter circuit where the club hosts a professional from the community to speak to the group about the work they do, and the group reciprocates by volunteering at the organization.

Boyles hopes to instill a little bit of conservationist passion in the hearts of her peers. It’s a topic her conservation biology class has been discussing all semester without firm resolution. She encourages her roommates and suitemates to recycle, turn off the tap while brushing their teeth and turn off the lights when they leave the room. She knows convenience is a factor and has established and empties the recycling bins in her room, plus inside and outside of the Student Government office, and is working to increase recycling campus-wide.

“It's in ways like this, easing people into a new mindset, that we can start to turn people onto a more sustainable way of life,” said Boyles, of Denver, CO.

New for Roots & Shoots this year is an Earth Day Gala, “Evening for the Earth,” on April 23 starting at 6p.m. in Fletcher Lounge. The event is free and includes dinner, and there is a silent auction, plus items for sale. The event is a fundraiser for the group’s goal of creating a community learning garden at a local elementary school. RSVP to by Friday, April 1.

“Evening for the Earth aims to bridge the gap between fields of study and generations while facilitating the exchange of ideas focused on conservation,” said Boyles, adding that the event is open to the UT community, all ages. There will be two keynote speakers including Charles Orgbon III, the CEO of Greening Forward, an organization he started when he was 12.

Orgbon would be considered a changemaker, and Huber said Boyles is too.

“One of her best attributes is her ability to create dialogue amongst different types and groups of people such that their efforts are strengthened by the diverse perspectives they all bring to the table,” Huber said. “This type of synthesis is critical in this day and age of the integration of science, culture, politics and economics as they relate to sustainability issues. She has demonstrated extraordinary leadership skills at this early point in her career, and manages the many responsibilities of her various roles with the skill of an accomplished juggler.”

Boyles, who read Be a Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson as a way to become a better leader for Roots & Shoots and create more social change, was humble when asked.

“A Changemaker can't just want change, or have an idea for a way to change things, they actually have the impetus to get up and do the dirty work to get that change acknowledged and integrated into society,” she said. “I would love to be a Changemaker, and to some small degree I think I might be. It's Changemaker with a capital 'C'. That implies something huge and nothing I've done up to this point has had that kind of heft or large wide-scale impact. I'd like Roots & Shoots to, and it definitely has the potential to.”


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