Meet Derek, one of the co-presidents of the UI Gardeners!
(We’d also love for you to meet Olivia, the other co-president! You can check out her student profile as a Hawkeye Service Break leader Here )
Hometown: Mason City, Iowa
Year in School: Fourth Year
Major: Double majoring in Journalism and Geography
What organizations are you involved with on campus and in the community?
Primarily, I’m a member of the UI Gardeners, but I also play baritone in the Hawkeye Marching Band and I am a member of KRUI, which is the University of Iowa’s student run radio station. I am also a communications intern for the Center for Health Effects and Environmental Contamination, or CHEEC, which is a multidisciplinary environmental health research center comprised of faculty and researchers from the colleges of Public Health, Engineering and Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Could you describe some of these organizations for aspiring volunteers?
The UI Gardeners has been operating out of a one-third acre plot of land near the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex since 2011. Our organization is promoted to the ideals of sustainability and organic food production. We grow thousands of pounds of produce each semester and donate it to food banks throughout the community! The garden is open to any University student who would like to volunteer and grow their own vegetables at any time! We also host meetings where we discuss general issues regarding food justice and environmental issues impacting the nation today. Our main goal for volunteers is to promote the idea that anyone can garden, and we encourage everyone to come out and grow their own food, regardless of their knowledge level!
How did you get involved in these organizations? What drew you to these specific organizations?
I found out about the UI Gardeners during my freshman year on campus. I was taking Introduction to Environmental Science, and we had to have a specific number of volunteering hours. The UI Gardeners were one of the partner organizations of the class, and what started as ‘just a class requirement’ quickly turned into a welcome commitment. You never know what might come out of volunteering hours through your classes, and in this case I was super grateful for those hours! I always had an interest in being outside and helping the environment, and I fell in love with the idea of providing freshly grown food to people in need in the community and bonding with people who had a similar passion. Everyone involved was interested in gardening, but no one was an expert and we all learned together.
With regards to CHEEC, I felt as though I could combine what I knew about journalism with my interest in environmental science and health. For instance, I am currently involved in a study that is showing that people are getting sick from chemicals in tap water in Iowa. This directly allows me to provide a direct civic benefit to the people of the state.
How has serving in the community furthered your professional or personal goals?
I’ve definitely managed to gain more experience in being a leader and learning how to reach out to people in the community who may be stakeholders or agents in the issues you are trying to impact through your organization. Before I started volunteering and interning, I would have had no idea how to reach out to these individuals or organizations. Professionally, I’ve gained insights into environmental justice and food production that will help me with my interests in my future career.
What has been your favorite memory of being in these organizations? What are you most proud of?
Every year, we have a fall open house where we invite everyone in the community to view the garden. Last year, so many people came out, and people we had never even meet before were supportive of the garden and wanted to help grow (and eat!) the food we had produced. Seeing the community so engaged was heartwarming, and I felt very proud that we had made such an impact on so many people.
What advice would you have for aspiring student leaders who may be questioning how to best apply their talents?
There are always opportunities nearby in any area that you are interested in! Make sure to check out your resources on campus, such as the student org fair each semester, and check out the University websites to find what speaks to you! It is very important to pay something forward in order to make your community a better place in whatever ways you can.