There have been many paths on the journey Joy Seo has taken during her time as an undergraduate student at UCI. The senior was first accepted into UCI as a computer science major, but her father spent a career as a graphic designer, and her mom said, “I don’t want you to do the same thing as your Dad – I don’t want you to sit in front of a computer all day.” Seo decided to focus instead on pharmaceutical sciences and will graduate this spring – but what she plans to do next isn’t typical for most students in her major.
That’s due, in part, to what happened during a part-time job at UCI’s Basic Needs Center, where Seo first learned about the concept of sustainability. Her interest was so immediate and intense that she reached out to UCI’s Sustainability Resource Center to get more involved. It changed her life.
With the 53rd annual Earth Week set to begin on Monday, April 17, we’ll ask one of UCI’s strongest student advocates for sustainability to share what the concept means, how it shaped her future and for actions we can all take to better care for the Earth and each other.
UCI’s Sustainability Resource Center has compiled a full list of Earth Week events hosted by campus departments and organizations across UCI for the week of April 17-22, 2023.
This episode of the UCI Podcast was recorded in the podcast studio in the ANTrepreneur Center. Music for this episode of the UCI Podcast, titled “A Long Cold,” provided by Riot via the Audio Library in YouTube Studio.
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From the University of California Irvine, I’m Cara Capuano. Thank you for listening to the UCI Podcast, recorded at the studio of UCI’s ANTrepreneur Center.
In 2013, UCI’s Office of the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor created the sustainability initiative to provide a platform for interdisciplinary, community-engaged sustainability, education and research. As with most things UCI, we’ve got a website for that: sustainability.uci.edu.
On the UCI sustainability website, it says, “Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword at UC Irvine. It’s a commitment, a culture, and a collective challenge.” You can see examples of this dedication all over campus. UCI is regularly recognized as a leader in green construction and has won numerous national awards for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As we record this podcast, Earth Day is on our horizon. Every year on April 22nd, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.
We’re joined by a special guest today, UCI senior Joy Seo. Joy is majoring in pharmaceutical sciences and is a strong advocate for sustainability on campus. Joy, thank you for joining us on the UCI Podcast.
Hello. Thank you for having me today.
You were named one of UCI’s Climate Action Fellows for this academic year and you’re a student engagement fellow with UCI’s Sustainability Resource Center. Let’s start there. What exactly is the Sustainability Resource Center?
So, the Sustainability Resource Center at UCI is a central location to find all the resources and opportunities in sustainability for students, staff, faculty, and community members at UCI.
What kind of activities do you engage in at the Sustainability Resource Center?
Most of my activities and tasks with the SRC involve – obviously – student engagement and outreach. So, you can sometimes catch me at the Ring Road “boothing.” Sometimes I work with other sustainable organizations on campus to launch a workshop or an event or sometimes I’m at a UC-level conference to network with other fellows from other UCs.
So, you’re a student engagement fellow and that’s clearly more of like a leadership, very engaged role. What about other students? What kind of things do they do as part of their work with the SRC?
Other students who are involved – or wish to be involved – can always participate in any of the SRCs event or activities, or there’s also other seminar classes or workshop classes such as “Campus as a Living Lab” or “EarthReps” – they’re kind of like a student-led training/internship program. But other than that, we have so many opportunities that students can join, you know, not just class or boothing activity. You can actually find all this information in our Instagram or website.
I love it – referring people right to the social media. Good call! What does it mean to be a UC Bonnie Reiss Climate Action Fellow.
The UC Climate Action Fellowship is under the UC Office of the President. UC actually made the goal of reaching the zero net greenhouse gas emission by 2025 and made the initiative a student-led organization for it – and that’s us, the Climate Action Fellows. The fellows involved do research or student engagement stuff, which is what I’m doing.
How many Climate Action Fellows recognized by UC do we have here at UCI?
We have three at UCI. I am one of them – the student engagement fellow – and we also have two other fellows who are doing, you know, actual research stuff with the physical science department. They’re the resilience fellow and decarbonization fellow.
Why do you have so much passion around this?
You know, ever since I started working here, I realized that it’s not just about the environment. When I first got the job – when I first heard the word sustainability – I thought it was about recycling, environment, composting, something with like earth – you know, “Save the Earth.” But it’s not actually just about that. And as I figure out more and more about the meaning of sustainability, it covers so many topics that actually matter in our life. And it’s interesting to advocate and promote about each thing to other people.
So many people, including myself, think of it the way that you originally thought of it. Recycling, composting, taking shorter showers, that kind of thing. What else have you learned? What can you teach us about the other parts of sustainability?
The term sustainability can be defined differently by whoever defines it. But how I like – and how I was taught by our director, Garrett [Hurley] – is that we would like to define it with the three E’s. One “E” is economy, the second “E” is environment, third “E” is equity. And I think that sums up not everything, but most of the things that sustainability – the term sustainability – holds.
And as the student engagement fellow, that’s part of your job, right? To make people aware.
And how have you done with that?
Well. I hope so!
I’ve been boothing a lot. I’ve been doing workshops and events with other sustainable orgs. And last month, I believe, we had the Sustainival, which is like the annual event of all the sustainability orgs on campus. And it was great to see some people coming back to my booth – because I have previously boothed before on Ring Road – and some of the same people came back at me and they were like, “Oh my gosh, I remember you.” And then, “Now I finally know what sustainability means,” because I actually did like a trivia thing when I was out boothing previously. And then they’re like, “Oh, cuz of the trivia, I know, I remember what it means.” And they came up with the three E’s that I just mentioned. And I was like, “Oh, I’m actually doing work!”
I wish people could see your smile right now. So how do you plan on translating your positive experiences with the SRC and as a Climate Action Fellow into what you do in the future? I mean, you’re a senior, it’s spring quarter, you’re thinking that way now.
I actually want to study more about chemical engineering and biomolecular engineering. And after I finish my education, I want to get into industry of cosmetics, fragrance, perfumes and stuff like that. And the thing that I’ve realized a lot is that they don’t really apply the concept of sustainability in their industries. And that’s something I want to bring to their table – to combine the industry part of it with the sustainability.
Earth Day creates a mindfulness for many people who want to know answers to the question, “What can I do to help?” What maybe is some advice that you’d share? Simple steps that people can take to try to make a difference every day.
I think you already kind of mentioned earlier, showering short definitely helps. You know, composting helps. A lot of people know of composting, but they don’t actually do it, which kind of makes me sad. Recycling… even though I mentioned that sustainability is not just about the environment. I think starting with the environment is the easiest step that you could take. And I think a lot of people already know the answer, they just don’t do it.
Because they’re lazy. They don’t think they’re making a difference. But believe me – you are if you are doing it.
When you’re boothing, do you ever have people come up to you and kind of challenge you? Why are we doing this? I hear that recycling doesn’t really work; they don’t recycle everything we put in the bins. How do you respond to those folks?
Oh yeah. I get so many of them actually. Okay. Of course, one person doing it, it’s not going to make a change. But if we all do it – and if it starts from you to make it “all,” it’s going to make a change. And you know, to those challenges? I challenge them back. “So, do you recycle?” Usually, “what do you recycle? Do you know what to put in the recycling bin? Do you know what to compost?” And they’re like, “Uh, I was just challenging you. I don’t really know.” That’s the answers that I get. So, if you actually look into it, start doing it, I feel like it would change.
Let’s pretend I’m a student who’s very interested in joining like-minded peers who share concerns about the environment, climate, sustainability. What should I do next? How can I find those opportunities to engage myself?
Just come to our office! The Sustainability Resource Center is located at the fourth floor of the R.I.S.E. Suite at the Student Center. You can always come swing by. We always have snacks and resources available for you. If you’re not available to come, we also have social media available, a website available. If not, you can also find me, too. I’m on Instagram, LinkedIn – you can connect with me.
We need some handles. We need to know the Sustainability Resource Center’s social media handles. What do you got?
It’s actually @ucisustainability. (laughs)
There you go! Pretty simple, right?
Is there anything that we didn’t get to today that you wanted to share?
I just want everyone who is listening to this to know that my experience as a student engagement fellow – and getting involved with the SRC – has been really great. It’s so great an opportunity that I would like to change my career path regarding sustainability. So, if what I’m doing interests you, please get involved with SRC or even the Climate Action Fellowship with UCOP.
Thank you for joining us today, Joy.
Thank you for having me.
For more on UCI’s sustainability efforts, visit sustainability.uci.edu and follow the Sustainability Resource Center on Instagram: @ucisustainability. For the latest UCI news, check out news.uci.edu.
I’m Cara Capuano. Thank you for listening to our conversation. The UCI Podcast is a production of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs at the University of California, Irvine. Please subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.