“My Global Partners for Sustainability project is not about reinventing the wheel but bolstering what we already have here on campus,” says UCI Dalai Lama Scholar Andrew Hallak, an international studies major. Steve Zylius / UCI

Senior Andrew Hallak believes that concerns about environmental sustainability can unite people who typically don’t interact with each other, and as this year’s Dalai Lama Scholar at the University of California, Irvine, he hopes to build a bridge connecting them.

“Here on campus, I feel like we can get stuck in silos – bioscience, engineering, social sciences – working on sustainability within our own disciplines,” Hallak says. “My Global Partners for Sustainability project is not about reinventing the wheel but bolstering what we already have here on campus, building on the groundbreaking work of the UCI Sustainability Initiative and the Global Sustainability Resource Center to fully leverage our interconnectedness.”

Under UCI’s privately funded XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship program, established in 2004 after the Tibetan spiritual leader first visited the campus, up to $16,000 from UCI and Dalai Lama Fellows, a Bay Area nonprofit, is awarded annually to an undergraduate (or a duo) proposing the best “compassion in action” project. Hallak is the 15th recipient of the scholarship.

“The focus of Global Partners for Sustainability,” he says, “is to provide opportunities to learn more about the interplay of economic, technical, ecological and sociocultural factors that are the main pillars of sustainability and then work together under a unified umbrella to help solve the global environmental challenges we face.”

Increasing awareness of sustainability projects in other parts of the world is another GPS goal, based on Hallak’s own experiences with UCI’s Olive Tree Initiative, an educational program dedicated to gaining first-hand knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2015, after traveling with the group to Israel and the West Bank in January and then to Turkey, Georgia and Armenia in June, he made the life-altering decision to change his major from bioscience to international studies.

“We want GPS to be a hub for linking interested students with one of the many sustainability and cultural immersion programs across the globe that are available through Water UCI, the Global Sustainability Resource Center and other campus organizations,” Hallak says. “Participants have the chance to study environmental challenges and solutions in various countries, including Australia, Guatemala and Costa Rica.”

GPS will launch campus awareness campaigns and programs throughout the year about how sustainability affects people from different backgrounds, which Hallak hopes will lead to a more holistic view of environmental movements. In collaboration with the Global Sustainability Resource Center, student groups and academic units, GPS will also host an Earth Week celebration at UCI from April 17 to 21 designed to engage the campus and surrounding communities.

“It’s a core teaching of the Dalai Lama that we all have a sense of local and global responsibility,” Hallak says. “Through GPS, we’re trying to empower students and faculty to take an active, individualized role in environmental protection and sustainability initiatives. Simple actions – such as drinking from reusable water bottles, shortening shower times, and making more mindful and ethical purchases – can make a difference locally and globally.”

“Andrew has a gift for bringing people together. He is a quintessential collaborator with a compassionate heart and a genuine commitment to improving our world,” says Karina Hamilton, director of UCI’s Dalai Lama Scholars program. “He’s a terrific student – an excellent communicator, listener and mediator.”