Gilchrist Environmental Fellowships Focus on Cultivating Local and Native Resources

Two student environmental projects are starting to display the fruits of the students’ labors as the summer break begins and the growing season advances on the Island.

The projects, a tea garden and the reintroduction of native plant species in an area of the campus, were among seven projects funded by Gilchrist Environmental Fellowships this year. While the other projects were completed during the school year, the two planting endeavors, by necessity, could not produce results until the late spring.

Chamomile buds, lemon balm, and lavender flowers are emerging in the tea gardens that juniors Lillie Szemraj and Ellen Olender are cultivating near the school’s Greenhouse. The girls plan to dehydrate the herbs and blend them into Pelican Tea, which they hope to share with the community in the fall in custom packaging that they designed together. They have begun experimenting with the dehydrator and are trying out various flavor combinations to find the ideal herbal tea blend. Most of the harvesting and dehydrating will need to occur over the summer when the tea ingredients are ready.

Meanwhile, in an area surrounding the school’s Solar Energy Field, native meadow plants are taking hold where invasive species had previously dominated the landscape. Junior Khushi Mahajan reintroduced these plants for her Gilchrist Environmental Fellowship.  Invasive plants previously made their way into the area, and they often crowd out native plants, which are more beneficial to local wildlife and to bees and help retain the soil. Khushi chose a variety of plants, including rose swamp mallow, New England aster, and Canada lily, among many others,  because they bloom at different times during spring, summer, and fall. She also made signs for the plants with repurposed slate shingles that had been removed from the roofs of campus buildings. Using equipment in the Pearse Hub for Innovation, Khushi etched the slates with the plant names.  Her goal is to expand the project and plant more in the fall.

Gilchrist Environmental Fellowships provide funding for projects that “continue to build upon the initial successes of the Sustainability Committee and discover new opportunities for education and action in the philosophy of environmental stewardship and sustainability," according to the program’s mission statement. The fellowships are available to all students, faculty and staff and are selected each winter from submitted applications. Community members who are interested in applying should look for announcements for the next round in the fall.

Administered by the Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies, the fellowships have been granted every year since 2012. The seven fellowships awarded in January included funding for four student Guided Environmental Research Projects during the school year and a student-run maple sugaring operation on campus in the winter and spring. The maple sugaring project yielded enough maple syrup to allow seniors Alejandro Rincón and Thierno Diallo to host a well-attended Pancake Society breakfast this spring and to share bottled syrup with faculty, staff, and classmates.