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6 Ways to Celebrate the Earth With the Wolfpack

Each April, Earth lovers around the globe commemorate Earth Month. For the Wolfpack, it’s the perfect time to remind ourselves of the many ways we can honor the planet we all call home.

A hand holds a clear globe up to a background of blue skies and green leaves, creating an effect that looks similar to the Earth from space.
Photo by Margot Richard on Unsplash.

At the dawn of the Space Age, when human beings first launched explorers beyond Earth’s atmosphere, some of our earliest astronauts returned home with a startling experience to report. Upon sighting our planet from orbit, they’d been struck with a sudden awe that eclipsed their individual selves and left them with a new appreciation for the blue-green marble below.

That feeling, dubbed the “overview effect,” was spurred by the sight of our world — the home we share with each other, and with all life as we know it — spinning through the dark expanse of space. But you don’t have to catch the next ride to the moon with Wolfpack alumna Christina Koch to nurture a similar reverence for our planet.

Here are six ways members of the Pack can celebrate the Earth beneath our feet, throughout April and all year round.

1. Enroll in an Earth-Based Course

Choosing courses that push toward global sustainability is one of the best ways students can show their love for the Earth at NC State. These courses cut across disciplines and can be found in every college throughout the university. Better yet, students can easily search for them using the Sustainable Development Goals Course Inventory, an online database that groups courses based on the United Nations’ 17 priorities for a sustainable planet.

“The inventory was helpful for me when I signed up for classes this semester,” said Chase McCrary, a junior majoring in leadership in the public sector with a minor in renewable energy assessment. “If there’s a specific priority that’s important to you, you can use the inventory to look for courses based on that. If you already have a course in mind, you can use it to see which priorities it aligns with.”

The Campus As A Classroom program, established by the University Sustainability Office, supports experiential learning for students through internships and class projects that advance NC State’s sustainability goals. McCrary and Nicole Garcia — a sophomore majoring in environmental sciences with a concentration in climate change studies — nourish their passions for the planet through the program.

At Garcia’s Campus As A Classroom internship, she leverages the plant science skills she’s gained from her classes to update and modernize digital catalogs of notable trees on NC State’s campus. The experience has helped give her clarity about the next steps she may take on her sustainability journey.

“I’ve learned more about trees than I have in my whole life,” said Garcia. “One of the best experiences was attending a convention in Winston-Salem for the Association of Southeastern Biologists. It exposed me to what the fields of plant biology and botany really look like, and helped me realize it’s the kind of thing I might like to pursue at the Ph.D. level.”

Dr. Steph Jeffries (left) teaches tree identification during a dendrology class outside Jordan Hall on a fall day, with leaves littering the ground nearby.
Students in a dendrology course learn techniques to differentiate tree species on a fall day at NC State. Similar Earth-centered courses prepared Nicole Garcia and Chase McCrary for success in their Campus As A Classroom internships.
Students study and use laptops on the Engineering Oval on Centennial Campus.
Spots like the Engineering Oval on Centennial Campus give students a variety of outdoor spaces to complement their studies.
A CALS student works with carp (fish) on Lake Mattamuskeet near the coast of North Carolina.
Students can opt for courses that put them in the middle of breathtaking natural scenery, like Lake Mattamuskeet in eastern North Carolina.

2. Connect With Other Earth Lovers

Students can also find a profusion of pathways to Earth-centered communities beyond the classroom. The Environmental Student Association — a student-led organization — and the Sustainability Stewards — a cadre of student leaders supported by the University Sustainability Office — give environmentally conscious students access to supportive ecosystems where they can build knowledge while promoting sustainable practices at NC State and in the community.

“The Sustainability Stewards are a great organization to get involved with if you have broad interests in sustainability,” said Kyle Wurtz, a graduate student pursuing a Master of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning who began his tenure with the Stewards last fall. “You have access to resources out of the University Sustainability Office and can get involved in projects and initiatives through that. It allows you to learn how other people are positioning themselves to work toward sustainability.”

A member of the Sustainability Stewards engages students at an on-campus event.
Sustainability Stewards welcome fellow Wolfpack students to a celebration of Park(ing) Day 2022, when people globally repurpose parking spaces into public gathering places to advocate for safer, greener streets.
Sustainability Stewards celebrate Park(ing) Day, when people worldwide repurpose parking spaces into public gathering places to advocate for safer, greener streets.
The SolarSpace pergola at Gardner Arboretum is a project of the Sustainability Stewards that gives NC State students a shaded place to study and socialize while charging devices with solar power.
The SolarSpace pergola on the edge of Gardner Arboretum is a project of the Sustainability Stewards that gives students a convenient place to study and socialize while charging devices with solar energy.

The Stewards meet weekly to plan and implement Earth-friendly initiatives on campus, like stream cleanups, sustainability workshops and installations of solar charging stations. Wurtz, a team coordinator for the Stewards’ Equity and Outreach working group, finds purpose in advancing conversations that enhance both ecological and social well-being for fellow members of the Pack.

“Every spring, our working group hosts an Environmental Justice Symposium, including lectures, panel discussions and film screenings to promote conversation and reflection on issues of social sustainability,” said Wurtz.

3. Get Your Hands Dirty

For those who pride themselves on their green thumbs (or those aiming to cultivate one), NC State offers plenty of opportunities to connect with the Earth through horticulture. The Agroecology Education Farm — located at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory and managed by the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences — grounds students and community members in sustainable food practices through hands-on learning.

“I know a lot of people who have been involved with the Agroecology Education Farm,” said Wurtz. “The farm often has work days where they invite students out to weed the plants. It’s a great way to feel connected to the Earth and get involved in sustainability.”

Aerial view of Lake Wheeler Field Labs with the downtown Raleigh skyline showing in the upper background.-
The Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory houses the Agroecology Education Farm, which immerses students and community members in sustainable food practices.
A student works to pick tomatoes at the CALS Agroecology farm off Lake Wheeler Road, while a closeup of tomatoes on the vine shows in the foreground.
Tomatoes ripen on a vine at the Agroecology Education Farm, where experiential learning leads to fresh produce for dining halls across NC State’s campus.

In 2021, the Sustainability Stewards collaborated with NC State Grounds Services to bring the Learning Garden to Central Campus. Tucked along Rocky Branch Trail, the Learning Garden gives students an accessible spot to learn about North Carolina-native plants and their importance to local ecosystems.

Three smiling students kneel close together while working at the Learning Gardens on NC State's main campus near Rocky Branch Trail.
Sustainability Stewards enjoy horticultural fellowship at the Learning Garden, located along Rocky Branch Trail near Carmichael Gym’s outdoor basketball courts.

“It was the experience of getting my hands dirty and participating in food production that galvanized my interests in looking at other ways to have an impact on sustainability and ecological resilience,” said Wurtz, recalling his time spent volunteering at an organic community garden before he started his graduate studies.

Kyle Wurtz, a graduate student pursuing a Master in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, serves his peers as a Sustainability Steward.
“To celebrate the Earth, I’d define that as just being present in outdoor spaces, to hear the birds singing or the wind rustling through the trees — just experiencing those systems that allow us to have the quality of life we enjoy.” — Kyle Wurtz
“To celebrate the Earth, to me, means taking time to appreciate everything the Earth can do for you — not just physically, but mentally, too.” — Nicole Garcia

“For me, celebrating the Earth means spending as much time outside as possible. I’m a big fan of walking in general, whether that’s for exercise or transportation.” — Chase McCrary

4. Unleash Your Wild Side

Those seeking a truly immersive nature experience will find no trouble getting off the beaten path without straying too far from campus. From the Triangle’s Umstead State Park to the 70-mile stretch of barrier islands comprising Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the shady coves and windy peaks of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, our state boasts a diversity of wild spaces that can strengthen your acquaintance with the Earth and its many wonders.

During a gap year between his high school graduation and his arrival at NC State, McCrary spent five months through-hiking the famed Appalachian Trail, which winds through southwestern North Carolina for about 95 miles before angling northeastward along the Tennessee border for several hundred more.

“It was the best experience I’ve had in my whole life,” said McCrary. “It’s a big driver of what makes me want to stay connected to the Earth and introduce other people to the outdoors and sustainability. I’ve really appreciated being able to share that experience with others.”

Grandfather Mountain looms in the distance at dusk, with anthropomorphic features that appear to stare stoically up at a pink and blue, cloud-wisped sky.
A view of Grandfather Mountain at dusk showcases the natural beauty Earth lovers can expect throughout western North Carolina’s expansive highlands. 
A boardwalk stretches ahead above marshy wetlands at the Eastern 4-H Camp along Albemarle Sound.
Wetlands are just one of our state’s many habitat types offering diverse Earth-based experiences, like this boardwalk hike along Albemarle Sound.
Sea oats rustle in the Outer Banks breeze on a cool spring morning.
Sea oats rustle in an Outer Banks breeze at one of countless places along our state’s thousands of coastal miles that give the Wolfpack access to saltwater solace.

Student groups that support outdoor adventuring include the National Parks Club, the Adventure Club and Hike More, Worry Less, a club that promotes mental health through hiking. Numerous academic pathways and various clubs — like the Turtle Rescue Team, the Beekeepers Club and the Herpetology Club — give eager members of the Pack exposure to our region’s wildlife and the chance to kindle bonds with the beings who share our Earth.

“One of my close friends is double majoring in environmental sciences and zoology,” said Garcia. “She gets to work closely with all kinds of animals as part of her degree — she loves it.”

Bees buzz around a hive at NC State's Agroecology Farm.
The Beekeepers Club gives students of all experience levels an outlet for organizing around the enriching activity of beekeeping.
A lizard suns itself while lounging on a log along the banks of Lake Raleigh on Centennial Campus.
Students interested in promoting the ecological importance of reptiles and amphibians can find kindred spirits in NC State’s Herpetology Club.

5. Practice Active Planetary Stewardship

Taking meaningful steps to reduce the ecological impacts of our activities is another great way we can put our love for the Earth into practice. Joining a student-led cleanup activity — like the stream restoration projects the Sustainability Stewards organize at Rocky Branch Creek — is an easy way to get your feet wet.

“Working to restore outdoor spaces helps you to think more about where the resources you’re benefiting from come from and where they go,” said Wurtz.

The Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling provides useful resources for anyone looking to downsize their earthly footprint, including guides for proper recycling and composting around campus. The office also supports the Zero Waste Wolves, a student-led group committed to advancing sustainable waste management at NC State and in the community.

Water tumbles down a low dropoff at Rocky Branch Creek on NC State's campus.
Water tumbles over a ledge along Rocky Branch Creek, where NC State’s Sustainability Stewards lead their peers in regular cleanup activities.

Members of the Wolfpack can also plug into a vast spectrum of clean energy activities at NC State, from powering devices at on-campus solar charging spaces — like the 16-foot-tall Centennial Campus Solar Structure — to engaging with the Energy Collaborative, a nexus of research and scholastic synergy wound around the future of energy.

“Taking classes through my renewable energy assessment minor has made me more conscious of my own energy consumption,” said McCrary. “I’m more conscious of how much I’m driving my car, how often I’m keeping my lights on and how much water I’m using. It all plays into gradually learning and adapting to be more sustainable.”

6. Breathe the Fresh Air

There’s perhaps no better — or simpler — way to build a lasting bond with the Earth than by taking time to incorporate the great outdoors into our everyday lives. Whether you’re into walking, biking, meditating or just soaking in what nature’s offering up, the perfect spot is never far from wherever you are at NC State.

Gardner Arboretum is amazing,” said Wurtz. “It’s lushly planted, there are nooks to sit in, and a project of the Sustainability Stewards — the SolarSpace pergola — is sitting on its edge. It’s a great place to clear your mind between classes.”

Spring flowers bloom in front of Leazar Hall on a warm, spring day on main campus., as a student rests on a low brick wall in the background.
Colorful blooms in front of Leazar Hall invite students to enjoy the spring sunshine.
A student strolls along a pathway on NC State's Court of North Carolina on main campus during a fall day.
A student strolls through the Court of North Carolina, a favorite on-campus green space for the Wolfpack.

“The Walnut Creek Trail goes through Centennial Campus and around Lake Raleigh, and it’s easy to hop on for walking or biking,” said McCrary, whose love for mountain biking sprung from a course he took in his first year at NC State. “Off campus, there’s Lake Crabtree, which also has some really awesome trails.”

Bicyclists ride along paved trails near Lake Raleigh, which offers an ideal spot for outdoor recreation on NC State's Centennial Campus.
Bicyclists enjoy the trails around Lake Raleigh, an ideal space for outdoor exercise on Centennial Campus.
Fall leaves litter the open space between Turlington and Alexander residence halls on NC State's campus.
Leaves cover the ground between Turlington and Alexander residence halls, a sure sign that lovers of fall will be out reveling in the crisp autumn air.
An aerial view of Raleigh's Pullen Park, which sits adjacent to NC State's campus.
With its shaded avenues, iconic carousel and paddleboats, Raleigh’s Pullen Park — adjacent to NC State’s campus — is a popular choice for outdoor getaways.

Other popular picks for a quick dose of the outdoors include Rocky Branch Trail, Wolf Plaza, the Court of North Carolina, the JC Raulston Arboretum and the nearby trails at the North Carolina Museum of Art. For Garcia — whose favored spot is hidden somewhere along Rocky Branch Creek, not far from Pullen Park — quality time with Mother Earth is practically medicinal.

“The Earth can be a source of healing,” said Garcia. “Put your palms on the ground, close your eyes for a few seconds, feel your mind go blank, feel all negativity being absorbed through your hands and then open your eyes — and the negativity’s gone.”

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