Academics People and Community

Rethinking how we live

As the ECO Agency kicks off Earth Month, student leaders reflect on the future and the importance of adopting sustainability into our everyday lives.
Rethinking how we live
Ainsley Hilliard, ECO Agency president. Photos: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami

As an incoming student at the University of Miami in fall 2020, Ainsley Hilliard knew she wanted to study chemistry but struggled with exactly where her interests would take her future career.

Soon after starting classes as a chemistry major in the College of Arts and Sciences, she joined the Student Government Environment and Conservation Organization (ECO Agency) to learn more about sustainability efforts on campus. Now, four years later, as the incumbent president of the ECO Agency, Hilliard credits her involvement in the group as the determining factor that provided the career direction she needed.

“When I came to Miami, I didn’t know how chemistry would transfer to a career,” she said. “My involvement with the ECO Agency made me rethink everything from materials science to water chemistry and infrastructure and composting versus fertilizer.”

As part of her work with ECO, Hilliard shared that some of the group’s greatest accomplishments are centered around collaborations with University leaders and administration. This semester the student organization partnered with Mahoney Residential College and Pearson Residential College and the Division of Facilities Operations and Planning to install additional water fountains—saving over 7,000 plastic bottles to date.

“ECO Agency has built a legacy by leading impactful campus initiatives that create positive change locally and globally. Many of the University’s sustainability goals have been established in response to student-led campaigns and conversations,” said Teddy L’Houtellier, the University’s sustainability director.

Next week Hilliard’s tenure as president ends, and as she prepares for graduation in May, she plans to leverage her experience to pursue a path in analytical, environmental, or materials chemistry. “My time with ECO has massively impacted my career plans,” she added.

Ryan McMullen, the 2024-2025 president-elect and a junior at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, joined the organization as a first-year student to better understand how he could make a difference in his campus community and lessen the University’s environmental impact. Over the last three years, his involvement has proved to be influential to life on and off campus.

Ryan McMullen
Ryan McMullen, 2024-2025 ECO Agency president-elect.

“ECO has encouraged me to embody sustainability more in my own life, but more importantly, it has taught me how to lead others to create change in their lives,” said McMullen. “It has shown me how meaningful it is to share my passion with others, and that the foundation of a unified and resilient community is stewardship and service for our shared spaces. In this way, I feel prepared to become an engaged and contributing member of any other community I am a part of.”

Like Hilliard, he agreed his involvement with ECO has influenced his future career and academic goals, and that sustainability is a concept that is here to stay.

“Regardless of field of study, sustainability will inevitably become more important as it increasingly impacts our social, economic, and political infrastructure. Embracing sustainability ensures you have the skills and experience to apply to larger, more complex problems post-graduation,” he said.

As the leaders behind Earth Month 2024 initiatives and activities, Hilliard, McMullen, and the ECO Agency team encourage the University community to take even the smallest steps to incorporate sustainable practices into their everyday lives.

“Even if you are just changing one habit, it can have a huge impact and lay the foundation for future change,” said McMullen.

“We don't need one person living a perfectly sustainable life, we need 100 people doing one-to-two sustainable habits long term,” added Hilliard.

There are countless opportunities to engage with the ECO Agency throughout Earth Month. Review the calendar of events for more information, and read more about the University’s commitment to climate resilience from faculty experts and student researchers throughout April in News@TheU.