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Student environmental group at UCF turns activism into action

Photo: Photo by Aldrin Caplulong, License: N/A, Created: 2011:04:22 14:23:16

Photo by Aldrin Caplulong

IDEAS Guys - (from left) IDEAS vice president Sebastian Church and co-founders Chris Castro and Hank Harding have helped their organization branch out to other campuses and into the community

Take, for instance, the group's "ecosystem facilitation" projects. In early 2009, Zak Marimon, then an undergraduate studying environmental engineering, noticed that after herbicides were sprayed in the ponds at his condo complex in Waterford Lakes, the fish died off, and only weeks later, the excess algae that the copper-laden chemicals were supposed to combat had returned. Based on his research, Marimon came up with a more sustainable method: planting a diverse array of native plants around the shore, which would help breed microorganisms to control the lake's nutrient levels.

Marimon got the green light for his experiment from condo managers, as well as the St. John's River Water Management District, so he went to his friend, Hank Harding. Before long, a dozen people from IDEAS were wading in the two lakes near his home, pulling up weeds and planting duck potato, pickerelweed and softrush. The lake revitalization strategy was put in place at UCF's "Lake IDEAS" the following year, and before long, Marimon had created a small business venture called Agrarian Land and Pond LLC. "Without that help, I couldn't have gotten started," Marimon says. "I needed to prove that it worked."

Another successful initiative has been IDEAS for Education, led by Sebastian Church, the group's vice president. Church, an education minor, has orchestrated visits to Lake George Elementary, Discovery Middle and University High schools to discuss environmental issues with kids. Last semester, IDEAS members taught pre-schoolers at UCF's Creative School for Children about recycling with a hands-on demonstration on sorting paper, plastic and cans.

"The children really loved it," says Diahn Escue, a teacher at the school. "Now, [they] are constantly bringing in things to do recycled art projects."

Though IDEAS embraces scientific education, the group shies away from political discussion. "We're an active group, but we're not a group of activists," Church says.

For example, during the recent battle over the school's Arboretum - a patch of land that is home to a student-run vegetable garden on which the university has indicated it may build - IDEAS hasn't been involved in protests, though it endorsed the continued conservation of the area. "We're a very unbiased group," Castro says.

The group's membership is also diverse, as Castro will admit, and yields different opinions on the matter. "I think that in some cases we should take more of a stand in political issues," says Samantha Ruiz, IDEAS' president. "We are a group of people that want a better environment to live in, and right now, policy is the way to make that happen."

Ruiz' vision is already playing out, to some extent. Earlier this month, the group took a vegetable-oil-fueled school bus up to Power Shift, a politically charged conference of environmental organizers and activists in Washington, D.C. On April 20, the anniversary of the Gulf Oil spill disaster, IDEAS members visited BP stations and, harkening to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, advised drivers to "Never Forget." And during the most recent iteration of its Bikes Save Consequences rally, where students cycle, skate and jog around the UCF campus to promote alternative modes of transportation, students shouted "Don't be a fool! Ride your bike to school! Don't be an ass! Ride your bike to class!"

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