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December 8, 2003

Student activist pursues environmental sustainability

By Jennifer McNulty

You’ll have to forgive Marcia Winslade if she seems a bit scattered. Not every undergraduate is juggling a full load of classes, a senior project at an elementary school an hour’s drive away, and a full-time job’s worth of environmental activism.

This article is part of Profiles in Excellence, an ongoing series highlighting the outstanding educational opportunities and achievements of UCSC students and graduates. Other profiles are posted on the Profiles in Excellence web page.

Photo of Marcia Winslade
As cochair of the UCSC Student Environmental Center, Marcia Winslade has helped bring together students, faculty, staff, and community members to draft campus goals for waste reduction, transportation, and renewable energy. Photo: Jennifer McNulty

But Winslade is not your average college senior. A Texas native, she came to Santa Cruz for the surf but has stayed for the opportunities, which include designing an independent major in agriculture, ecology, and political economy, and spending a month in Europe studying human rights.

“I spent my first year at UCSC learning about what’s wrong in the world, and I spent my second year thinking about what I was going to do about it,” said Winslade.

By developing her own leadership skills, Winslade has helped to fill the void she saw around her. She traces her interest in energy conservation and environmental preservation to the lessons she learned in the classroom about global warming.

“All of the solutions simply aren’t being implemented,” she said, recalling the frustration that sparked her into action.

A three-month tour of Canada gave Winslade the opportunity to visit several communities that were trying to put into action the principles of living gently on the Earth that she had studied in school.

“People were doing it,” she said, smiling broadly at the memory. “I saw it. And I came back to school ready to be a part of building that on campus and in the community.”

As cochair of the UCSC Student Environmental Center (SEC), Winslade has helped bring together students, faculty, staff, and community members to draft campus goals for waste reduction, transportation, renewable energy, and other areas. She also helped establish a permanent committee of the Student Union Assembly that oversees funding allocations for student projects, including the so-called Blueprint for a Sustainable Campus.

The SEC received a major endorsement last spring when UCSC students voted to increase student fees by $3 per quarter to support the center’s work. “With permanent funding, we know the work will continue even after current student leaders graduate,” said Winslade. “That’s really important.”

Winslade also collaborated with students across the UC system to prepare sustainable construction and energy guidelines for new university buildings. The guidelines were approved by the UC Regents and are being implemented at UCSC and other campuses.

“It’s new for me to work with administrators, but the UCSC administration has been really responsive and excited about what we’re doing,” said Winslade. “We’re all in this together.”

A varsity athlete and champion diver, Winslade still loves to surf when she has time. But her activism and athletic accomplishments haven’t diminished her academic work. Winslade designed her own major to tap the expertise of professors in several disciplines, including environmental studies, Latin American and Latino studies, and community studies.

“It’s more difficult to make your own major, but I wanted to force myself to explore the issues of social justice in organic agriculture, and I didn’t feel any one major would let me do that,” said Winslade.

Winslade’s faculty adviser, John Borrego, professor of Latin American and Latino studies, says Winslade is organized, tenacious, and an extraordinarily good writer.

“I first met her when she took my course Global Political Economy in the summer of 2002, and she wrote an exceptional final paper for that class,” he said. “She didn’t believe me, though, and showed the paper to another professor. I liked that about her. She always double-checks everything, including the quality of the evaluation.”

Last summer, Winslade spent a month in Europe studying human rights under the sponsorship of Humanity in Action Foundation (HIA), an organization that provides educational opportunities for student leaders. Her research paper, “A Survival Guide for Illegal Immigrants in Germany,” coauthored with a student from East Berlin, was published in the HIA journal.

For her senior project, Winslade is building a school garden with fourth graders at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Salinas. Once a week, she drives to the agricultural heartland of the Salinas Valley to dig garden beds, plant seedlings, and teach the children of farmworkers about the water cycle, weather patterns, and soil nutrients. The curriculum she has developed integrates science and gardening, and involves parents, too.

The school reminds her of her hometown in Texas, where the largely Latino student population attends underfunded schools. Her project is supported by a $10,000 grant from the Donald A. Strauss Foundation, which provides funding for special projects by California college students.

“I can’t be satisfied with myself if I’m not using this wonderful life I’ve been given to contribute to improvement,” said Winslade. “When you look around, people are so eager to accumulate status, but happiness is not rising. Happiness is not about material wealth. What we really need is to take care of our basic needs, build community and meaningful relationships that work, and self-respect.”

The campus community is invited to offer input on the UCSC Blueprint for a Sustainble Campus at the next Campus Earth Summit on January 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Bay Tree Conference Center. Advance registration by e-mail is required.

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