During spring break, her peers were most likely hitting the beach and tanning with a drink in hand. But Alex Harris, 20, had a different idea of fun in the sun.
During her sophomore year, the sustainability studies and journalism junior traded the opportunity to chug jungle juice for the actual jungle in Costa Rica.
With UF’s nine-day Global Renewable Energy Education Network (GREEN) program, Harris traveled with 16 other students to learn about the science, economics, technology, and politics behind renewable energy systems, take tours of commercial energy facility sites, and become more familiar with hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind power, and biomass fuels.
After her alternative spring break, the program hired her to come back for the summer to instruct future students, and she is currently interning for the program, too.
While in Costa Rica, she was also able to go swimming, hiking, and jumping off of waterfalls.
“When you combine them, it just makes a really memorable experience,” she said about the program’s educational, yet recreational, itinerary.
Harris said she is a thrill-seeker, adventurer, and outdoors-lover. But when she’s not enjoying what nature’s settings have to offer, she’s busy preserving it.
“I am personally making an effort to live a little lighter,” she said. “We live in a world with finite resources and treat it like it’s infinite. The choices we make here today may not seem like they affect us, but they do.”
Harris not only limits her own ecological footprint, but she encourages others to follow in her footsteps through her blog, Green Gator Girl, at greengatorgirl.wordpress.com and on UF’s sustainability website.
She writes weekly posts about sustainability issues and attempts to go beyond the simple guidelines, such as using reusable bags at grocery stores, she said. With topics like making a tailgate greener and listing helpful iPhone applications, her writing is meant to encourage small changes in daily routines, especially catering to college students.
“It’s not an overwhelming goal,” she said. “It’s something they can fit into their lives.
“I think ‘sustainability’ is a word that scares people, but it shouldn’t.”
Her blog and journalistic efforts focus on raising awareness. If she can influence even just one person to make a change, she said, she’s happy.
Eventually, she said she’d like to produce online media for organizations such as GRIST and TreeHugger. Environmental writing is also concentrated in Colorado and California, she said, so she is looking into the possibility of moving there in the future.
Until then, she said she is doing as much as possible to get personally involved, because “it all builds up.” She is also in charge of marketing for Solar Gators, a team of students that build a solar car.
She said solar power could be the next widespread breakthrough, and like other environmental contributions, she wants to be the one to cover it.
“For me, it’s about getting the word out,” she said. “I want to be the microphone.”