In her sophomore year, Raya Petrova ’21 collaborated with Sruti Bandlamuri ’21 on a project to provide free eco-friendly menstrual products in several busy women’s restrooms across campus.
With a Presidential Green Grant, the women pushed for menstrual justice, a concept that posits free menstrual products should take their place in public restrooms alongside soap and toilet paper. Studies have shown that many women often miss class time because they don’t have access to menstrual products or have difficulty affording menstrual supplies.
“Tampons and disposable pads are the most commonly used menstrual products,” said Petrova, a biomedical engineering student. “They also have the most damaging long-term environmental impacts. Menstrual products are also still viewed by many as a “luxury” that has created long-standing problems of equity and financial burden, affecting half, if not the world’s, average student population.”
The project continued into the junior year of the students. Then COVID struck. Petrova did a gap year and spent five months at the ICCAS institute at the University of Leipzig in Germany for a research internship before returning to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Back on campus for her senior year, Petrova is poised to continue her project with another Presidential Green Grant.
“My hope is to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the current global state of menstrual hygiene,” she said. “We want to paint a picture that the school can consider and consider continuing the initiative of providing free products of a most basic biological need to half of their student body and joining the Free the Period movement.”
Petrova’s project is among seven to receive a Presidential Green Grant this year. This includes five campus-related projects and two research proposals. The grants, which support green projects at Union, are open to faculty, staff and students. Since the initiative began 14 years ago, 149 projects across campus have received grants totaling nearly $188,000.
A committee consisting of Jeff Corbin, Professor of Biology, Richard Wilk, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Josh Dranoff, Union Sustainability Coordinator, selected this year’s winners.
The winners were honored Wednesday in a brief ceremony at the Nott Memorial with Professor of Biology Corbin and President David R. Harris.
“Today we celebrate projects that ensure campus water quality, reduce waste and conserve energy,” said Corbin, the initiative’s coordinator. He was the first to propose the idea of an incentive program for environmental protection.
“You will protect global health and provide menstrual justice. They will allow us to enjoy food grown right here on campus. These projects add to a long list of projects that have transformed campus and made the world a more sustainable place.”
Harris commended the winners for their commitment to addressing global challenges and building skills outside of the classroom, two important components of union education.
“I’m confident that because you’re doing these projects you’ll be better prepared over the long term to work on sustainability issues or anything else you work on because of what you’ve learned from pursuing these projects.”
Besides Petrova, the other Green Grant winners 2021-22 and their projects:
Eva Blashkevich ’22: In collaboration with Brad Bruno, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, she will conduct research to design and evaluate cleaner and more efficient biomass cookstoves. Every year nearly four million people die from complications related to smoke inhalation from open fires and inefficient cooking stoves – the primary cooking and heating methods for three billion people worldwide.
Bethany Costello ’22 and Sophia Anderson ’22: They will encourage composting of campus housing by providing 132 compost bins in 61 housing at Garnet Commons, Roger Hull Place, Seward Place and Park Place. They will also buy a thousand compostable bags to put in compost bins for easy transport from the apartments to the larger bin at Garnet Commons.
Andrew Nordell ’23 and Hugh Jenkins, Professor of English: The couple will expand on last year’s project of tapping maple trees on campus by completing a detailed tree inventory and purchasing additional tools and supplies.
Ethan Oswald ’22: He plans to convert some of the growing beds into raised beds in Octopus’s Garden, the Union’s organic community garden. This allows the introduction of new crops such as garlic and asparagus into the crop rotation.
Cam Ragland ’22 and Jodie Wright ’22: Working with geology professor John Garver, the two will use microbial source tracing to uncover the possible sources of the harmful bacteria in Hans Groot’s Kill, a creek that flows through Jackson’s Garden and other parts of campus before entering the Mohawk River empties.
Hailey Stoltenberg ’23: Their goal is to reduce energy and water consumption at the Ozone House by installing a high-efficiency dishwasher. The Ozone House at 1294 Lenox Road is one of Union’s 13 themed houses. Its residents promote environmental awareness while serving as an example of sustainable living.
Last fall, Union was once again recognized as one of the most environmentally conscious universities in the country The Princeton Review “Guide to Green Colleges.” Union is among the 420 schools featured in the 12th edition of the guide. The college was included in every issue.
The schools were selected based on data collected from 835 four-year colleges on their sustainability-related policies, practices and programs.
The college has received awards for its Presidential Green Grants program, the U-Sustain Committee, and other initiatives.