Student Eco-Reps: Q&A with 2016-17 Student Coordinators

eco reps rebecca and ritika photo
January 3, 2017

Eco-Reps is an internship program for undergraduate students interested in learning about environmental issues and working on sustainability projects that advance the University’s Climate Action Plan 2.0. (See article this issue [link]).

The 2016-17 Academic Year Coordinators are Student Directors Rebecca Composto (SAS ’18) and Ritika Philip (Wharton ’18), are interviewed here about their interest in sustainability and their plans for this year’s Eco-Reps program.

Rebecca is a junior pursuing a major in biology with a concentration in Ecology and it is her third year being with the Eco-Reps program. She is from Philadelphia and so is familiar with the benefit and challenges of the urban environment. Her passion lies in food access, education equality and nature conservation.
Ritika comes to Penn from India. She is a junior in the Huntsman Program studying International Studies and Business, with a focus on Marketing and Operations and Social Impact. In her freshman year she was an Eco-Rep in Kings Court College House and last year she served on the Eco-Reps board. Outside of sustainability, she loves taking photos and exploring Philadelphia on a bike.


Q: Tell us more about where you are from. How does it differ from Penn’s Urban Campus?

Ritika: For most of my life, I lived in some of Asia’s rapidly developing urban centers, namely Manila, Beijing, and Kuala Lumpur. However, for my last two years of high school, I lived in a boarding school in the middle of India’s Western ghats, a biodiversity hotspot. Our school had a biodiversity reserve that students were free to explore, and there were several opportunities to go hiking in the nearby mountains, which I greatly enjoyed.

Q: Is an interest in environmental sustainability something that you brought with you to Penn, or have you discovered it during your time here?

Rebecca: I’ve been interested in sustainability since middle school. In middle school I learned about the impacts of fracking and how it affects Pennsylvania drinking water and environmental health. Then in high school I participated in some programs run by the Student Conservation Association, which drew me to issues of conservation and National Parks.

Q: What is the top thing that you believe your fellow Penn students need to learn about sustainability and how can peer education programs such as Eco-Reps make it happen.

Rebecca: I’d like for students to know that their decisions have impact and can influence others. For instance, a student that makes sustainable purchasing decisions, can guide the purchasing decisions of the clubs, labs, etc. that they’re involved in. One of the Eco-Rep projects this year is creating sustainability workshops for clubs. This project aims to make sustainable practices a norm for clubs. 

Ritika: I think Penn students need to be given more opportunities to engage with sustainability in a way that’s personally meaningful for them. In my experience as an Eco-Rep — for students who are not particularly interested in environmental issues — sustainability means recycling, turning off the lights, and using a water bottle. I have learned that sustainability encompasses a whole variety of disciplines from ecology to politics and intersects with a whole range of other issues from women’s rights to supply chain management. I would like peer education programs such as Eco-Reps to broaden the definition of sustainability for students at Penn so they see tangible ways it intersects with their existing passions. 

Q: Describe what you’d like to see students get out of being an Eco-Rep.

Ritika: The first is a tangible, positive impact on their community through successfully executing a sustainability-related project. I hope this empowers them to continue acting on their passion for sustainability in the future. The second is leadership, teamwork, and project management skills that they can apply to any future endeavor. Whether it’s learning to effectively manage a conflict with an external stakeholder or to plan and execute a long-term project, there are many transferable lessons that the program imparts. Finally, I hope they find a tight-knit community of students who share a passion for sustainability but approach it from a variety of perspectives.

Rebecca: I want eco-reps to gain resilience and creativity in solving problems. A lot of the eco-rep projects tackle big problems, and I want eco-reps to feel comfortable hearing “no” and not being afraid to try again.

Q: Where would you like to see the University’s sustainability efforts focus on or expand in the next few years?

Rebecca: Even with Philadelphia’s limited compost vendors, I would like to see a continuation in expanding composting around campus and reducing food waste. In the next few years I would also like to see more long-term environmental projects and partnerships coming from student groups.

Ritika: I would like more sustainability-related classes to be offered so that every student who graduates from Penn has engaged with it academically in some form or the other. Sustainability intersects with every discipline and is a global priority that already has and will increasingly affect everyone, professionally and personally. As such, an understanding and engagement with sustainability in college will be extremely beneficial in any career and help Penn graduates be more engaged global citizens.