Create change on your campus with bees, trees, and the human spirit

A bee is perched on a light purple flower with a green stem.

(Hillsboro Parks & Recreation/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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This podcast is about finding and cultivating passion for environmental activism on a given school’s campus. I focus on interviews with Sue Fassler, and Molly Jacobson, who are heads of the Bee Campus Committee at SUNY-ESF, an environmentally focused university located in Syracuse, New York. They have been working over the course of the last year to become program affiliates and improve both the aesthetic of SUNY-ESF, as well as its biodiversity.

A group of people on a university campus watch a person as they plant a small plant into a garden with a shovel and bag of soil nearby.
(Eden Gardner/SUNY-ESF)

Fassler and Jacobson provide insights into how the program began, how they worked together to combine their different skill sets, and offer advice to other individuals interested in supporting bees in their local environment. Their work is a motivational example, providing an illustrative template showing how real change can be accomplished on campuses across the country. 

Full transcript below:

Eden Gardner:  Let me ask you a question: Have you ever eaten a vegetable? I hope the answer is yes. And if so, you’ve probably profited from the work of bees, who are some of the world’s most important pollinators. Scientists estimate that plants produce one-third of the global food supply and almost all of these plants need to be pollinated in someway or another.

Hello everyone. My name is Eden Gardner and welcome to Bees, Trees, and the Human Spirit. In this podcast, we will be exploring the work of Sue Fassler and Molly Jacobson, two staff members at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, located in Syracuse New York, who have worked diligently to help the school become partners with Bee Campus USA, a nonprofit working with the Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation in order to promote biodiversity and environmental awareness on campus. Their strong work ethics and enthusiasm do not just extend to the program, however, as their methodologies and different strengths can be applied to just about any problem.

Trying to bring about change is hard, whether it be big or small, in your life or someone else’s. People have a tendency to resist it in anyway possible. The reason behind this is that change can be scary. People tend to want to do what is easiest and that often means keeping things just the way that they are. Yet, as we know, human progress cannot be achieved without change, which is why possessing a strong will and being able to push through adversity are such important qualities and people. These qualities have been mastered by Sue Fassler and Molly Jacobson, chairpersons of the SUNY-ESF Bee Campus program. Our story begins with Molly, native plant ecologist on staff at SUNY-ESF. 

Molly Jacobson: Bee Campus USA is a program that I’ve already been aware of because the Xerxes society for Invertebrate Concervation is a major nonprofit for pollinator conservation work in North America. So that’s something, it’s a resource that I’ve always worked with very closely and used a lot. So I was well aware of the program before that. Really, the inception of it was, I mean, I only started this position last year in in August.

And, very quickly, having been a grad student here for a couple of years, I was familiar with the campus and I knew how great we’ve been doing with native plantings on this campus, but also how much more that we could do and how, from talking to people, I realized that we’ve never really had any of these plantings put in with pollinators in mind.

So I kind of just approached that from, I sort of thought of Bee Campus as a way to cheat the goal of getting more native plants put in on the campus that will then serve a number of different purposes, both for pollinators and wildlife as well as making it a cooler place for students and visitors to hang out, serving different sorts of rolls like bio cultural roles in terms of increasing foraging opportunities on the campus for people who like to do that, or education opportunities for traditional Haudenosaunee land uses, all sorts of different elements that play into all of this.

And having these resources available for classes to go out like dendrology classes. So all these different aspects sort of that gets folded into… You know Bee Campus is sort of the driving mechanism for us to be able to put all these native plants under this umbrella and then have it serve all of these different uses. So it wasn’t so much that anyone reached out to me or I reached out to them, but I already knew about this and I thought that it would be such a great way to accomplish something like that on the campus. All that basically turned into just getting this committee together and working on our application and that was sort of all of what happened through 2021 and early 2022.  And by the spring of 2022 we were able to go forward and actually submit that application in and get certified.

EG: But this wasn’t a one person job. Molly recruited the help of Sue Fassler, grounds manager at ESF, who is able to take care of the logistical side of planning the affiliation. Together, they made the objective of becoming Bee Campus affiliates easy as cake. When I asked Sue about Molly, this is what she had to say:

Sue Fassler: She is the galvanizing force behind the entire effort. She works really closely with Don Leopold who is an incredible professor here at the college.  And Don and Molly had reached out about a year ago, I think at this time, saying, ‘There’s this initiative put on by the Xerxes Society, it’s called the Bee Campus Affiliate.  It’s a rather low lift because we’re already doing a lot of these things as a college, but let’s formalize it.” I don’t know if they were expecting such an easy ‘yes’ from myself and the grounds crew but that same day, we were like, OK we’re in.

So from that moment, it was that easy, we just decided to work together. Because for us, we don’t necessarily- even though, as the grounds crew, and even though I do have expertise in sustainability- sustainability is so broad.  My area is not landscaping per se and it is not native pollinator ecology. So we have these experts coming to us saying, ‘We can give you what you are lacking and you have what we are lacking: the the person power to make changes and get things done. So it was just kind of a perfect match.

EG: Their work is indicative of what the combination of specialized individuals can achieve, especially if they’re both focused on, and dedicated to, a single goal. But what can one do to fight for change on their campus without experienced individuals like Molly and Sue?  Well I asked them and here’s what they had to say:

SF: So if you don’t have a Molly Jacobson on your campus, I would say: The folks they are going to have to do more research. But the beauty is that the information out there. Especially- so ESF has a lot of public facing information about how to create meadows, about native pollinators. Through Molly’s program, she has to provide that information in a public facing way, I do believe as part of her funding source. I know there’s a lot of other sources out there beyond ESF.

Knowing Molly like I do, if another campus reached out and was like, ‘Hey, I’d like to become a Bee Campus Affiliate. Where do I start?” You’re going to get a really, really long email, loaded with the best information and all the links. Like, yes, it will take some research on your part, but there are so many people out there that, if you find the person with a spark like Molly, who has this passion and this is their life’s work, they’re going to wanna talk about it. Like my realm is zero waste, anti-consumption, anti-plastics. If I get an email from someone who wants to talk about that, I will talk to her ear off. So it’s just about finding the people that are are willing and excited to have those conversations. Thank you very much for making the space and hopefully we’re gonna see a lot more change on campus.

EG: When I asked Molly the same question, this is what she had to say:

MJ: I’d say a good number, if not most of the campuses that are affiliated with Bee Campus don’t have an on-staff pollinator ecologist. It is largely student-led on a lot of these campuses. So, certainly a ‘me’ is not a requirement. It’s a cool bonus, but certainly these things are grassroots in a lot on a lot of campuses. And all it takes is interest and enthusiasm and luckily we are in an age where so many of these resources are being made available.

EG: The fight to make the world a better place, whether it be through environmental means or otherwise, will always be a challenging one. But hopefully with the collaborative efforts of like-minded individuals like Molly and Sue, we can strive for a better future together. Thank you.

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