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For the birds

Dressed as a mythical phoenix, Jake Gerardi's Wax Me for the Wings campaign to benefit Audubon was a success.

The HAVOC tradition at Furman University is a chance for students to tap their creativity toward raising funds for charities most meaningful to them. And when it comes to our feathered friends, Jake Gerardi ’22 pulled out all the stops for the Audubon Society during the Homecoming Week campaign kicked off by Furman Student Activities Board.

Jake Gerardi ’22 strikes a pose in front of Duke Library.

Gerardi, along with about 20 fellow HAVOC participants, slept in tents in the week runup to Homecoming, didn’t shower, and remained in character for the duration. For Gerardi, staying in character meant donning a costume of the mythical phoenix, in keeping with this year’s fairytale theme, HAVOC Tale – Once Upon A Din.

Those who broke HAVOC rules ran the risk of being voted out of the competition “Survivor”-style.

But Gerardi prevailed. Raising nearly $2,700 for the conservation group, he came up with what might be the most unusual means for drumming up support. He offered to hot wax selected body parts in exchange for donations to Audubon. The price list, “Wax Me for the Wings,” included upper arm for $10, lower back for $15, upper back/shoulder for $20, chest for $25, and a wax strip on the leg brought $30.

“I was practically begging people to do it,” he said about waxing for the cause. “I would love to do it again.”

Motivation for the crusade was high for Gerardi, architect and now president of South Carolina’s first campus chapter of the Audubon Society. Gerardi and Furman received official word of the chapter’s acceptance September 21, just a month before HAVOC. It came following an application process and a series of conversations between Furman representatives and those at Audubon, who took notice of Gerardi’s avian advocacy.

“We couldn’t be more proud and excited about the efforts going on at Furman,” said Bradley Williams, Audubon South Carolina campaign coordinator. “The core of Audubon’s mission is to stand up and be the voice for birds. Jake’s efforts to raise almost $2,700 and start the very first Audubon Campus Chapter in South Carolina exemplify that mission.”

For Gerardi, a biology major on the environmental and conservation track, supporting Audubon and having a campus chapter is his way of raising awareness among students about birds and their dwindling populations, and helping to safeguard the entire environment.

Over 3 billion birds have been lost in the last 40 years – a fact that is utterly devastating and will increase in our lifetime if we don’t act now,” he said. “Audubon not only fights to protect birds, but is also dedicated to combatting deforestation, pollution and climate change – all vital in saving the planet.”

While the Audubon chapter at Furman is only a fledgling, Gerardi has big ideas for the group.

“Our goal is to follow the path of the national organization while also educating students and just having fun,” he said. “Our plans for the chapter include going on morning bird walks, bringing in guest speakers, and completing at least one on-campus project by the end of the academic year.”

More broadly, Gerardi wants the group to work with other environmental organizations at Furman like the Environmental Action Group and Bartram Society to further push environmental change across campus.

The Tampa, Florida, native says he anticipates going to graduate school to focus on either wildlife or conservation biology. His research with John Quinn, an associate professor of biology at Furman, centers around landscape ecology and practices on private farmlands that affect bird populations.

“Jake’s research this past summer directly addressed the regional loss of birds,” Quinn said. “His community engagement with Audubon only increases the wider impact of his research by engaging with different members of the community.”

And while Gerardi’s heart lies in conservation, he isn’t quite ready to pigeonhole his future.

“I would be ecstatic to study any topic on any species anywhere I could go,” he said. “But I can’t lie – I’m partial to the birds.”

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