The state of Georgia doesn’t have a reputation for being a hotbed of environmental activism, but green initiatives are gaining momentum in the Peach State thanks in no small part to the outsized contributions of Furman alumni to the Georgia Conservancy.
The Conservancy is perhaps the most influential pro-environment organization in Georgia, and five of the 22 elected directors for Generation Green, its young professionals board, are former Paladins. Leah Dixon ’09, Will Kurz ’14, Mia El-Hamaki ’15, Emily Hays ’14 and Jenni Asman ’11 make up nearly a quarter of the members, which is a total coincidence except for the key fact that all discovered their passion for sustainability at Furman.
“The sustainability world in Atlanta is small in general, so to have a strong Furman group in (Gen Green) is really fun,” Hays, who majored in sustainability science, says.
El-Hamaki also majored in sustainability science, and she and Hays were two of the attendees at Gen Green’s first Next South conference in 2015. Next South is dedicated to inspiring future leaders seeking careers in sustainability and corporate responsibility, and Hays and El-Hamaki were inspired to the point that Hays is now an ORISE Research Fellow at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and El-Hamaki is the environmental sustainability analyst at Cox Enterprises, where she manages sustainability programs for 55,000 employees.
“It’s a really fun job, and I’m really thankful for it,” El-Hamaki says. “It was one of the reasons that I came to Furman – the fact that they offered the major and were involved and excited about sustainability. The reason I majored in it, though, was the introductory sustainability course I took my freshman year. I thought I was going to be an English major, but I absolutely fell in love with studying sustainability science and kept taking classes.”
Asman was a psychology major who is now the sustainability director at Georgia State University. She was the chair and central organizer of the 2018 Next South conference, which drew 12 Furman students to Atlanta on Feb. 23 to present their senior projects. That was the most ever, which was not a coincidence.
On the advice of Weston Dripps, executive director for the David E. Shi Center for Sustainability, she made a few changes to make New South more useful to students.
“I wanted to be the chair because I work in higher education, but also selfishly I wanted to have a reason to connect back with Furman folks,” she says. “He mentioned there was a need for a conference close by that would be cost-effective and where students could present their research. That tied the networking opportunity with sustainability.”
Shortly after Hays took her job with the CDC, she got to know someone on the board a Gen Green. She decided to join herself, which turned out to be the same year El-Hamaki and Kerr got involved. Then, “we get there, and there are two other Furman alums already on the board,” she says.
“For me it was really important to give back in that way – serving on the board created more opportunities for me to connect Furman students with possible positions,” El-Hamaki adds.
Asman thinks Furman’s reputation for sustainability helped all of them get jobs in a growing field, and the opportunity to work together for change is an added bonus.
“It’s really cool that so many Furman students who have been in the sustainability program have gravitated towards this board as a way for us to connect with one another in a professional space and really feel like we’re making a difference together outside of our normal day job,” she says.