UAlbany Announces Annual Terra Awards for Commitment to Sustainability

Three women pose for a portrait holding certificates next to a poster board that says "2024 Terra Awards"
Aviva Bower and Nyssa Knvarik accepte their staff Terra Awards from Mary Ellen Mallia. (Photo by Liliana Cifuentes)

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 23, 2024) — The annual Terra Awards, which honor students, faculty and staff who have demonstrated a commitment to sustainability on campus, were handed out Monday in the sun-filled atrium of the Science Library. Monday was Earth Day, and the event included informational tables, games and giveaways — including potted pansies from the University Libraries.

Aviva Bower and Nyssa Knvarik, both instructional consultants at UAlbany’s Center for Advancing Teaching, Learning and On-line Education (CATLOE), won the staff Terra Award for their work developing and supporting faculty reading circles around the book A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety.

Two people stand smiling, one holding an award
Olivia Dirla accepts a student Terra Award from Mary Ellen Mallia. (Photo by Liliana Cifuentes)

Director of Sustainability Mary Ellen Mallia, who was announcing the awards, explained that she had chosen the book to encourage discussion around ways to deal with the issue of students’ growing fears and feelings of hopelessness about climate change. Too many people were interested for one reading group.

That’s when Bower and Knarvik stepped in to help. They ran three separate reading groups over eight weeks, with discussions on each chapter of the book and resources for faculty on teaching sensitive subjects without increasing anxiety. Meetings also demonstrated sustainable practices by including local foods served on reusable dishware.

“Aviva and Nyssa took care that the program not only provided pathways to sustainable actions for faculty and students but also modeled sustainable practices,” Mallia said. “This program was extremely impactful on its attendees and will have an effect on our curricular efforts. Participants were able to think about their teaching and the content of their courses in a new way and felt empowered by the resources provided. One long-time faculty member called it the most impactful development activity they have engaged in over their 30-year career.”

Other nominees for the staff Terra Award were Bridget Collins, a sustainability coordinator and the administrative manager of the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security Cybersecurity (CEHC), and Erik Dubb of the Vehicle Operations Center and a winner of the President’s Excellence Award and SUNY Chancellor Award.

The Terra Award for faculty went to Associate Professor Xiaobo Xue Romeiko from the Department of Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health.

Romeiko was honored for her teaching and research, which includes a range of state and federally funded projects focusing on advanced computational methods for assessing environmental sustainability coupled with health risk and social behavior analysis.

“Dr. Romeiko has created a new course, ‘Sustainability, green design and public health’ that attracted students from various disciplines such as public health, engineering, policy, biology and geography,” Mallia said. “This course trains the next generation of scientists, engineers and practitioners from UAlbany for advancing sustainability.” 

Mallia noted that Romeiko’s research grants help fund graduate students from across campus, including students in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, the Department of Environmental and Sustainable Engineering, the Department of Mathematics, and the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics. 

Other faculty nominees were Cassie Andrusz-Ho Ching, an academic advisor, advisor to Grow Green, and a sustainability coordinator; David Banks, lecturer and globalization studies program director in the Department of Geography and Planning, College of Arts and Sciences; Paul Millard, professor of practice and director of new program development in Environmental and Sustainable Engineering, CEHC.

The student winners were Erica Strand, a senior majoring in public policy, communication and political science, and Olivia Dirla, a senior majoring in human development.

Strand leads the Office of Sustainability engagement efforts, heading programming, representing the office with Residential Live, coordinating special events and mentoring students. She has served on the Student Association as director of health and sustainability and is now director of health and disability. She is also a student representative to the University Auxiliary Services Board of Directors. She has received the President’s Leadership Award for Sustainability, the Rod and Carolyn Hart Memorial Award and the Outstanding Senior Award.

“Her efforts have influenced hundreds of students to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and provided them with access to health services,” Mallia said.

Dirla is the operational manager in the Office of Sustainability Operations team, and has taken on lead roles in the heritage garden and the office composting program. She completed the Clean Energy Conservation Corps training and participates in Weatherize. For the heritage garden, Dirla oversaw the inclusion of a Catherine Violet Hubbard Kindness garden in one of the beds, conducted three class presentations and mentors the Grow Green group.

Dirla headed the campus maple tree tapping project this year, conducting tapping demonstrations for classes, collecting sap and making videos demonstrating how to cook it into maple syrup. She collaborated with the French Club and Multiculture Food Club on the end of project dessert night which features maple syrup products. For her efforts, she received the President’s Leadership Award for Sustainability this year.

Also nominated were Joleen Chen, Melanie Contreras, James Cuddy, Madison Jachim, Shannon Johnson, Carmen Munoz-Medrano and Lindsay Solomon.