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John Roe Sustainability Awards

The John Roe Student Sustainability Awards recognize exemplary performance by individuals who consistently excel at cultivating opportunities to advance the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals while demonstrating personal integrity, an unwavering commitment to their values/morals, and a commitment to the mission/values of Penn State. The awards are named in honor of the late Penn State mathematics professor John Roe, who was passionate about sustainability and the outdoors and incorporated these values into his teaching. His wife, Liane Roe, established the Dr. John Roe Fund for a Just and Sustainable Future in the fall of 2019.

2019 Award Winners:

Elijah DePaulis
Anna Nguyen

Celeste Makay
Rim Boujnah
Julio Diarte
Emily Sandall
Yumna Kurdi
Benjamin Lyman
Nick Unis
Whitney Ashead

2019 Award Nominees



Anna Nguyen

Brandywine, Undergraduate Student

Nominated by: Laura Guertin

In the words of Anna’s nominator … 

Anna spent Summer 2019 as part of the Penn State Project Drawdown REU, where she generated a mini-podcast series on efforts in the state of Pennsylvania to reverse global warming ( ). She conducted 13 interviews with executive directors, leaders, journalists, and writers in the fields of transportation, food, land use, electricity generation, etc. Her eleven podcasts are posted online, and she has been profiled in an article on Penn State News. Anna made significant achievements with this project - as a rising sophomore food science major that had never created a podcast before, she learned about the field of science communication as well as develop the technological skills necessary. Although her summer research is completed, Anna continues to disseminate her work, having presented her work at the Drawdown Conference (Sept. 2019) and will be presenting at the NCSE (National Council for Science and the Environment) Conference in Washington DC in January. She is also continuing to take the recorded interviews from the summer and is producing another podcast to add to the series.

Importantly, Anna's collection of audio files on reversing global warming ( ) has not only been recognized by the campus (she presented at the campus Climate Impact Teach-In and our International Podcast Day celebration this semester), she was part of a video interview with Senator Tom Killion and Representative Chris Quinn. Her podcast series has been promoted at the national level by the American Geophysical Union, and she was invited to record a live podcast at the NCSE conference in January. Most importantly, Anna has shown fellow students on campus how they can use their voices to communicate about Earth and the environment. A campus alum reached out and has offered to help lend his podcasting experience to help students grow their sustainability-themed podcasts. Anna is also working on generating at least one long-form podcast that documents Penn State Brandywine's history and current status as a Fair Trade University. If one goes and views the TED Talk by Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, she states that the most crucial step someone can do about climate change is talk about it. Anna has energized the campus and community to move towards listening, sharing, and creating messages about our planet to create a sustainable present and future for Pennsylvania residents and beyond.


Elijah DePaulis

DuBois, Undergraduate Student

Nominated by: Keely Roen

In the words of Elijah’s nominator … 

Eli Depaulis has almost singlehandedly spearheaded the effort to remove invasive plant species overwhelming a wetland located on the DuBois campus. In addition to the wetland serving its standard ecological functions, such as pollution filtration and flood control, the wetland on the DuBois campus has been the site of multiple research and teaching projects, from weekly bird banding to surveys for the shorthead garter snake (a locally abundant, but rare species statewide), for several decades. Although traditionally aged and only a sophomore, Eli earned his pesticide applicator license and wrote grants for community groups to tackle invasive species and promote native plants throughout the state. Upon seeing how much bush honeysuckle and teasel were in our wetlands, he developed an eradication and research plan, and secured funding and assistance. He spent well over a 100 summer and fall hours developing a protocol and advertising for volunteers - training them on vegetation and snake surveys and teaching them how to safely manually remove the invasive plant species. Although he is firmly immersed in that project, he recently developed a proposal to convert an unused space on campus into a seasonal tree nursery for sale and reforestation projects through the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Club. He drafted the proposal, estimated time and resources, helped with club fundraising, presented the idea to me (Club Advisor), and the SGA. He is currently in the process of scheduling a meeting with the Chancellor to seek approval. 

Eli’s work is directly related to three of the UN's Sustainable Development goals. First, he contributes to Goal 4: Quality Education by helping ensure our often first-generation, rural students get to experience a quality education. He not only commits himself to these projects, he educates others in the process. He has trained over a dozen student volunteers for his projects, and as a campus peer tutor has spent countless hours teaching students environmental topics from how to identify trees and animals to how to write habitat management plans. Both projects also directly tie into Goal 15: Life on Land by promoting wetland health and the sustainability of our local ecosystem and Goal 17: partnerships by seeking funding sources throughout the university and encouraging students, faculty, staff, and outside partners (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, NWTF) to participate in the invasive species removal and tree nursery.


Celeste Makay

Behrend, Undergraduate Student

Nominated by: Katie Chriest and Dr. Sherri "Sam" Mason

In the words of Celeste’s nominators … 

Celeste Makay has been an active student within the area of sustainability since the moment she stepped foot on campus. Her involvement started as a member of the Greener Behrend student group, of which she is now the president. Within this organization, she is very actively engaged via events like the weekly ‘Friday Nights Lights Out’ in which the students walk through all campus academic and administrative buildings on Friday nights (starting at 7 pm) and shut off unnecessary lights. As to the importance of this event (for which Celeste is the most consistently active participant), the Maintenance Supervisor recently commented, “The majority of janitorial workers clean Sunday – Thursday night. We have limited staff that works Friday and Saturday nights and they are focused on buildings busy with weekend events. The Friday Night Lights program was [created] to ensure energy conservation in those buildings and areas not cleaned on Friday and Saturday nights. With the limited resources and staffing of the Maintenance Department, the Greener Behrend students are a valuable asset in energy conservation on campus.”

Beyond her leadership in Greener Behrend, Celeste is the only Behrend student who has been part of our student garden since it was installed in 2016. For the last two summers, she has also worked with the Sustainable Food Systems Program (SFSP) on campus, and her continued presence has been invaluable, as any grower knows. Her devotion to the garden and the SFSP has made her an excellent campus ambassador, one we have all been grateful for.

As president of Greener Behrend, Celeste has invigorated this sustainability-minded club. Even when the club’s former advisor retired, leaving this role unfilled for six months, Celeste’s enthusiasm and vision for what the club could accomplish kept it going. Her leadership encourages the campus community toward systems thinking in terms of sustainability, and she is skilled at both recognizing and articulating often-overlooked “blind spots.” She is not one who’s going to organize an environmentally-themed event and then pass out bottled water, for instance. 

Celeste demands of herself a higher level of creativity in supporting ecological and social justice and inspires others to strive for the same. Her understanding of the broader implications of sustainability beyond the narrow view of the-environment-only has likewise proven priceless as we seek to extend that perspective across the campus and into our surrounding community. Her legacy once she graduates will remain in the commitment of students, faculty, and school children she’s inspired.


Rim Boujnah

Penn State Law, LLM Graduate Student

Nominated by: Abhipsa Dash

In the words of Rim’s nominator … 

The program was run for two years, where Rim acted as a trainer on capacity development and project management with 60 young people each year, aged between 16 and 25 years old. The initiative was aimed at empowering youth and develop their sense of involvement in their societies. The participants had to attend several training camps during the year to learn how to develop a social project idea, how to write a project, how to fund-raise and how to convince their communities to join in the implementation phase of the projects. Each year, the participants came up with 22 projects and implemented them. Their main focus was to reduce pollution, to engage minorities in society and to provide less fortunate people with access to food, learning and entertainment. 

Each of the projects made a certain group of people participate, which made the nexus larger. These initiatives drove people to make their initiatives and made the local authorities involved too. In their local communities, participants created sustainable and healthy green spaces, encouraged the usage of bicycles by launching a small social entrepreneurial project, etc. Now participants who have participated in the program are passing on their knowledge to other people.


Julio Diarte

University Park, Graduate Student

Nominated by: Jose Duarte

In the words of Julio’s nominator … 

Julio’s research addresses significant issues regarding the rapid growth of urban waste and housing deficit in developing parts of the world. The study started in Fall 2016, and its preliminary results estimate that reusing waste corrugated cardboard as a building material could help to regenerate its value. At the same time, this investigation can offer an alternative for people who cannot afford to build only with standard materials but have access to waste cardboard through informal collection methods. During a construction experiment held in Paraguay in August 2019, working with waste collectors, the researcher was able to reuse up to 80% of 1.2 tons of recovered material in the fabrication of building parts. Although that first experiment cannot be used to draw statistical conclusions or to scale up the project yet, it does suggest the potential impact of the initiative to revalue waste cardboard and the people that is part of its collection environment.

The research addresses the goals for creating sustainable cities and communities as well as enhancing the industry, innovation, and infrastructure. The research is being developed at Penn State University Campus, and it is focus on underserved communities in developed parts of the world that experience urban waste growth and housing deficit. 


Emily Sandall

University Park, Graduate Student

Nominated by: Autumn Busbee, Karen Wing

In the words of Emily’s nominators … 

Emily is the president of the PSU Community Garden, which is located below the Morning Star house. The garden is open to students, faculty, staff, and community members, all with varying levels of commitment to the effort. This is a tremendous undertaking. Emily coordinates every aspect of the garden, which requires meetings/communication with OPP, Parking, the Institute for Sustainability, among other areas. She plans educational programming for the gardeners, provides leadership on community workdays, organizes people and plots, manages the pollinator garden, does fundraising, is coordinating building a new shed, coordinated new water spigots to be installed, orders mulch and wood chips, organizes the compost, and countless other tasks. In addition, this year, she had a significant parking issue caused by the new parking policies implemented by the university, so that took additional hours of her time. She also ends up doing the tasks no one likes--picking up the trash that blows into the garden area after football tailgates, as well as removing the garbage from the area. 

Emily has made a lasting impact on the Penn State Community Garden. She volunteered to be the president beginning in January 2018, filling the role of chief liaison between community gardeners, the university, and the State College community. She oversees the operations of the 96 plots, pollinator garden, and equipment that is associated with the community garden. Emily has secured over $10,000 in investment in the community garden at Penn State, which has resulted in the installation of permanent water accessibility and the construction of a new shed. She has also established partnerships with Centre Moves, the Student Farm, and other local stakeholders. 

As a member organization of the Sustainability Experience Center, our garden has provided space and resources for hundreds of people in our community to learn about gardening and other activities. By giving space to grow and donating our extra produce going to other community partners, we work to fight food insecurity. Our mission actively addresses the Sustainable Development Goals of (2)zero hunger, (3)good health and well-being, (11)(12)responsible consumption and production, (15)life on land, and (17)establishing partnerships for the goals. Over the past decade, we have linked together individuals from nearly every college on campus with a space that enables each to grow individually and establish a community together. We also partner with other community gardens in the area to develop events like seed swaps, group potlucks, and workshops about gardening. 


Yumna Kurdi

University Park, Graduate Student

Nominated by: Andrew Gutberlet, Somayeh Asadi

In the words of Yumna’s nominators … 

The initiative is led by John Bechtel, assistant director of design and construction at Penn State, and it aims to evolve Penn State’s sustainability policy for design and construction. Yumna Kurdi, a doctoral student in the Architectural Engineering (AE) Department working under my supervision, received funding from the Office of Physical Plant to work on this initiative.

This initiative focuses on exploring and incorporating sustainability strategies in the design and construction process at Penn State beyond LEED requirements by exploring other sustainability rating systems such as WELL, Living Building Challenge, and Passive House. The initiative, through designing sustainability workshops and organizing sustainability guest lectures, engages students and faculty from both the AE and Architecture departments with the Office of Physical Plant to evolve Penn State sustainability policy for design and construction. The initiative also explores sustainability case studies and engage with sustainability professionals to learn from their experience of the challenges and the applicability of applying sustainability requirements in the design and construction process, to draw recommendations for Penn State. 

This program started 2.5 years ago. Some of the deliverables are as follows:

  • PSU LEED v4 Policy was the product of the first phase of this initiative: Link to the PSU LEED v4 Policy:
  • - Organizing several workshops and presentations to learn about sustainability for design and construction beyond LEED and to explore their applicability at Penn State. Engaging different teams at OPP, students, and faculties.
  • Working with several design teams of ongoing PSU projects to explore sustainability requirements beyond LEED. 

The initiative emphasized exploring sustainability opportunities across all new constructions and major renovations projects at the Penn State University campuses regardless of the economic and project constraints. The initiative emphasizes on preliminary analysis of various sustainability requirements, that are important to Penn State, in terms of their social, economic, and environmental impact on the life cycle of the building.

Some of the sustainability strategies, in the design and construction of the built environment that this initiative has been exploring:

  • Sustainability for the health and well-being of occupants, such as improving occupants’: 1- Social Well-Being (social engagement and sense of belonging), 2- Psychological Well-Being (productivity and happiness), 3- Physical Health (re-purposing corridors and stairs to be more active and more usable). 
  • Enhancing the building envelop design and construction (such as focusing on air-tightness, continuous insulation, high-performance windows) in order to provide high indoor thermal comfort even in extreme weather conditions. 
  • Moving toward net zero Energy, net zero Water and net zero Waste. 


Benjamin Lyman

University Park, Undergraduate Student

Nominated by: Peter Boger, Haley Stauffer, Bryn Wambaugh, Anastasia M Hale, Derek Kalp, Jamie Kennedy, Alexis Davison

In the words of Ben’s nominators … 

Ben has been a joint leader both in his work as co-president of the EcoAction student group and as an intern with the Sustainability Institute. In both roles, he has served with distinction in terms of developing engaging community events and promoting especially a connection between the arts and sustainability. From organizing the "Limits of the Imagination" film series (which has drawn more than 650 attendees over its first three films) to working with the State College Borough and local art teachers on an Earth Day community art project to working with the Sierra Club on its screening of "Elephant Path," Ben has worked to build community around sustainability through the arts.

Ben started as the secretary of Eco-Action last year and sent important emails each week to keep members updated on important sustainable events that not only our club hosts but also other sustainable events on campus and in the community. He was elected president in the spring semester and with the help of his co-president, planned our annual Earth Day event. This year he has helped plan events such as the climate march earlier in the year, and has helped our Food for Thought chair make contacts in the Sustainability Institute to secure the MorningStar Solar Home as the location for our semi-annual event encouraging eating local foods. As president he facilitates creativity on the exec board and makes sure that we can successfully bring our ideas to the club and make them a reality. In addition to being president of Eco-Action, Ben also maintains an internship at the Sustainability Institute where he organizes and puts on documentaries with sustainable focuses. Ben inspires me to continue being a steward for the environment and run for the position of Eco-Action president after he graduates.

Benjamin Lyman is a sustainability Institute intern who works on a film series which promotes the UN sustainable development goals. This film series uses the power of story to show how people are using the goals to better the world and how we can do so too. Benjamin's series brings hope to students and the community members while promoting sustainability and reflection on our actions and how they affect the world we live in. Benjamin is also the president of the Eco Action Club which brings awareness to issues such as climate change and also celebrates certain events on campus such as earth day and national recycling day. Finally, Benjamin is also an eco rep and works one on one with students in the residence halls to teach them about how their actions impact the environment and what they can do to make simple changes to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

The nominee’s passion for sustainability and promoting change resides at the core of all of his actions here at Penn State. Beginning freshman year, Mr. Lyman has been involved at educating and spreading awareness about the status of our world in regards to climate change, the environment, and sustainability. He has accomplished these efforts by leading through executive positions such as President of EcoAction, a Penn State undergraduate student initiative and organization, and EcoReps. Through both mediums he has organized events such as Food for Thought at the MorningStar Solar Home at PSU and educational events at East Halls with Freshmen. Through all of these countless endeavors, Mr. Lyman has always radiated enthusiasm and energy for the greater good of the Penn State community and the world. He truly exhibits care for the environment and for others. More importantly, Mr. Lyman does not stop once an event is over. Through my own friendship with Mr. Lyman, I have witnessed his daily examples of him living out the sustainability principles at the core of his teachings, and I have myself been influenced by conversing with him about topics I had never been previously informed about and by witnessing his lifestyle. He has transformed my own perspective about the environment and climate change, about what sustainability means for the ordinary citizen and the world, about consumption, and about what actions we can take to help the status of our world. 

Mr. Lyman has tremendously advanced sustainability by promoting the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals through his internship at the Sustainability Institute at PSU. He has organized a film series entitled, “Intersections: Limits of the Imagination.” Each film in this series promotes specific sustainability goals. This is apparent from watching the films but also emphasized from Mr. Lyman’s verbal introductions and hand-outs at each film. I have attended every film and can say that this medium of storytelling has educated me through captivating human emotion and has promoted action in my own daily life. If I have been affected, there is no doubt that anyone else attending this series has also been equally affected. There have been full audiences at each film ranging from 100-400 individuals at a single film. But the effects of this series does not end at the specific audiences at each film. A domino effect of conversation and thinking is inevitable. After each film, I have talked to numerous individuals conveying key principles I have learned from each invoking new perspectives and ideas of how I can implement new actions each day to promote sustainability. Consequently, I encourage this nomination for the John Doe Sustainability Award for Mr. Lyman because the impact he is having on the Penn State and State College communities is remarkable and incredible. He is embodying activism and promoting conversation, action, and change. 


Nick Unis

University Park, Graduate Student

Nominated by: Erik Foley

In the words of Nick’s nominator … 

Nick Unis, a finance and accounting major, is the CEO of sustainable fashion company UnisBrands whose first product is a shoe made of recycled plastic bottles, with zero water footprint (in the manufacturing process), and is itself recyclable. UnisBrands is developing a way to reward customers for returning shoes for recycling. 

Nick entered Penn State Altoona in the 2 + 2 program and then came to University Park. His original idea for 3D printed shoes was made into a business plan and entered into the Pechter Business Plan competition at Penn State Altoona. Today, Nick has been accepted into the Happy Valley LaunchBox FastTrack Accelerator.

Finally, it is worth noting that Nick has acknowledged the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability and needed to reach out to experts and partners in the College of Engineering, the Learning Factory, and PennTAP. 

The impact is primarily external to Penn State although the educational model it represents will inform and inspire similar work which will impact thousands of students.

The shoe industry is $55 billion and between 4 - 12 million metric tons of plastics enter the world's oceans every year. (Science. Feb 2015). The opportunity to make some dent in plastic pollution while producing shoes for this large market is substantial. This kind of work aligns most closely with SDG 12 "Responsible Consumption and Production" but also with SDG 14 "Life Below Water", SDG 15 "Life on Land", and SDG 17 "Partnerships to Achieve the Goal".

Beyond the particularities of this project, Nick's work demonstrates a larger engagement model to support responsible entrepreneurship working across colleges. Smeal's new Center for the Business of Sustainability is initiating a Social Venture Accelerator that aims to provide support for other enterprises like Unis, Brands that address ecological and social inequities. The Accelerator is currently raising additional private funds and has established relationships with LaunchBox and InventPennState.


Whitney Ashead

University Park, Graduate Student

Nominated by: Anna Sostarecz, Jessica Chou, Ilona Ballreich, Lydia Carey

In the words of Whitney’s nominators … 

Whitney has been the Sustainability Coordinator of Housing and Food Services for a couple years now. She has implemented Lean Path at the dining halls, which measures and communicates how much food is being wasted. Her work with HFS has made institutional changes on campus. This year, she put together local foods night event at Redifer, which featured locally sourced ingredients for the meal and had student speakers share about their experiences with food. Many students attended the event and learned from their peers how to reduce food waste, how to support local growers, and how to address food insecurity and access. 

She has also served on the executive board of the Student Farm Club since fall 2018 as the Campus Outreach Director. She has led partnerships with other organizations, such as EcoReps. She has led the grant writing process for the Student Farm to get more financial support for the Student Farm's mission to provide a living laboratory and food systems education for students. Whitney has been a strong leader in the organization, bringing together students each week for the Student Farm Club's weekly meetings. This fall she organized a trip to Dickinson College's BE.hive Climate Summit with other Student Farm Club members. In addition, she has led the Student Farm's strategic planning and visioning for the future of the farm.

For 2019 summer, she was a Drawdown REU Scholar, and she researched the effects of tilling cover crops on nitrous oxide emissions in Pennsylvania agriculture. Working under Heather Karsten and Armen Kemanian, she presented her research at the first international Drawdown Conference at the Penn Stater in September.

Her work with Housing and Food Services and the Student Farm addresses SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production. Her Lean Path initiative encourages students to only take and consume as much food that they can eat to reduce food waste. Whitney has also worked on the Student Farm site for fall 2019, and her work on the farm follows organic production practices.  Her formwork on the Student Farm supports SDG 2 Zero Hunger because she produces vegetables that are fed to students at the dining halls on campus. 

Her grant writing work for the Student Farm support SDG 4 Quality Education because it enables the Student Farm program to reach more students across interdisciplinary colleges, expand programming and student support around sustainability and food systems, and increase free events and workshops that students can attend to supplement their in-classroom experience. Her extracurricular work at Penn State overall support SDG 17 Partnership for the Goals. The work that she does with HFS and Student Farm rely on working with others and collaborating with different organizations on campus. 


We'd also like to recognize the following 2019 Award Nominees:

  • Karley Feather, Penn State Abington
  • Zelnnetta Clark, Penn State Abington
  • Elyse Richardson, Penn State Beaver
  • Students for Sustainability Club, Penn State Berks
  • Aydin Mitchell, Penn State Behrend
  • Sustainovation Club, Penn State Brandywine
  • Shawn Dainty, Penn State Greater Allegheny
  • Erica Hughes, Penn State Lehigh Valley
  • Shanie Mohamed, Penn State Scranton
  • Sam Perry, Penn State Shenango


Penn State University Park, Undergraduate 

  • Allysa Temple
  • Camryn Wilson
  • Danica Williams
  • Freddie Miller
  • Harman Singh
  • Harrison Brennan
  • ​Izaiah Bokunewicz
  • Jeffrey Buterbaugh
  • Jessica Chou
  • Jonathan Wong
  • Joshua Adams
  • Lydia Carey
  • Matthew Long
  • Mingrui Jia
  • Natalie Wynne
  • Noelle Burger
  • Nora Van Horn
  • Sophia Barbour

​Penn State University Park, Graduate 

  • Azadwinder Chahal
  • Sezin Sayin
  • Mina Rahimian
  • Orlando Acevedo Jr.
  • Taylor Hare