Wendy Chappell-Dick leads a tour to a locally-owned organic grocery store during the Sustainability Alumni Network's fall retreat in Bluffton, Ohio. The group is open to current students and alumni of Anabaptist-affiliated colleges to support sustainability advocacy and projects, (Photo by Danielle Corbin)

Alumni-founded network fosters sustainability initiatives

This past fall break, three Eastern Mennonite University students and a community member piled into a car for an eight-hour road trip to go see – weeds.

Not just any weeds, mind you, but a wild edible garden that the students visited on a “sustainability tour” around Bluffton, Ohio. 

Robert Antibus, professor emeritus of biology at Bluffton University, leads an educational tour through a nature preserve. (Photo by Danielle Corbin)

“These weeds are what will save the world …They have all the nutritional value you need,” senior Luke Hertzler said, recounting the words of their tour guide. 

He organized the EMU contingent, which joined with students and alumni from other Anabaptist-affiliated colleges and universities for the Sustainability Alumni Network’s fall retreat. The attendees visited local farm-to-table businesses, went on an educational meadow walk, and discussed how to include environmental sustainability into their life’s vocation.

Hertzler felt “thankfulness that we were all able to gather together from our various communities, and share together, and commune together and converse together.” He especially valued the ideas generated for including sustainability principles in his future career in ministry.

The Sustainability Alumni Network hosts a retreat each semester at rotating locations – it was in Harrisonburg last spring. EMU alum Harrison Horst ‘18 co-founded the group with Goshen College graduate Cecilia Lapp Stoltzfus in 2017.

Jeremiah Yoder (left) and Luke Hertzler, organizer of the EMU group, with a young friend in a wild edible garden, one stop in a sustainability tour in Bluffton, Ohio. Hertzler’s grandfather instilled in him a passion for outdoorsmanship through childhood trips to Shenandoah National Park. After attending the fall break trip, he hopes to channel that love of nature into his future career in ministry. (Photo by Danielle Corbin)  

“We had collaborated before on fossil fuel divestment [at our respective institutions] and were hopeful that establishing some sort of network could lead to further conversations, future collaborations, and real advocacy work,” Horst said. 

Currently, the network includes graduates of EMU, Goshen College, Bluffton University, Fresno Pacific University, Hesston College, and Canadian Mennonite University. Their goal is to support one another and current students in building community around climate advocacy and environmental sustainability.

“One of my initial hopes was that SAN could provide resources to sustainability club leadership at our alma maters, thereby creating a channel for institutional wisdom,” Horst said. “Cecilia and I both felt like the connections and skills we developed during our time in college should be put to use rather than simply left behind.”

Besides the biannual meetups, SAN also puts out a quarterly newsletter and holds monthly video conferences, which Horst joins from his current post as a teaching intern at China West Normal University in Nanchong, China. 

Recently, the network established the SAN Investing Collective LLC, “which will allow us to pool our money and collectively invest in sustainability projects of our choice,” Horst said. Their first project in the works is a solar panel installation planned for the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

EMU alumni Harrison Horst, Michaela Mast and Eric King at the Sustainability Alumni Network’s spring 2019 retreat in Harrisonburg, Horst is a co-founder of the network. (Photo provided by Ryan Johnson-Evers)