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Finding Your Wolfpack: Flourish With Sustainability

Benjamin Helms didn’t know many people at NC State when he transferred here as a sophomore, but he knew he had a passion for sustainability: tackling some of the world’s complex challenges with solutions that are economically, environmentally and socially viable. He joined the EcoVillage, a living and learning housing community on campus that nurtures a sustainable lifestyle, and he thrived. 

“Because I didn’t know anyone when I transferred, EcoVillage formed my main body of social interaction,” said Helms, now a junior majoring in sustainable materials and technology. “I was living with other like-minded people. We took trips to the mountains to study streams. That helped me make connections with my peers, and that helped me form friendships.”

With dozens of sustainability-focused opportunities, students can make real change on campus and foster meaningful relationships.

“There is a lot of variety in our sustainability campus communities,” said Martina Gonzalez Bertello, a senior studying environmental technology and management. “From waste reduction to environmental justice to clean energy and agroecology, you can find an organization at NC State on almost any sustainability topic you can think of.”

Both Helms and Gonzalez Bertello are members of the NC State Stewards, a group of student leaders promoting sustainable practices on campus and throughout the community. The Stewards host events and take on purposeful projects, like SolarSpace, an area at Gardner Arboretum for students to study, socialize, charge their devices and learn about renewable energy. The project should be finished by June 2021. 

“Stewards really want to make as much progress for the time they’re in the club as possible,” Helms said. “There’s always a plethora of projects. It’s a very passionate group filled with intrinsic motivation. We’re not here just to build our resumes.”

Stewards is just one of nearly 50 sustainability-focused student organizations on campus. Beekeeping, food recovery, marine science and vertical farming are just a handful of those groups’ focal points. And lessons about sustainability can be found anywhere at NC State.


Students learn about water quality during an outside class through the Environmental First Year Program.
The Environmental First Year Program allows students to examine real-world environmental challenges on campus and throughout Raleigh.
The NC State Stewards held their spring 2021 retreat outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NC State Stewards held their spring 2021 retreat outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A student team discusses their solution to a sustainability challenge during Make-A-Thon
During the 2020 Make-A-Thon, student teams competed to design and create solutions to sustainability problems.
The Facilities Division and EcoVillage residents worked together to install arainwater cistern and pollinator garden inParents Park.
The Facilities Division and EcoVillage residents worked together to install a rainwater cistern and pollinator garden in Parents Park in 2018.

“There’s an academic tie to sustainability in just about any discipline,” said Oppong Hemeng, a program specialist at the University Sustainability Office. “We’ve worked with faculty to identify courses in every college that directly tie to sustainability.” As a land-grant university, the university is home to a network of institutes, facilities and resources about sustainable living, including NC State Extension.

For any student interested in pursuing sustainability efforts — whether it be through a student group, a class or a job — Gonzalez Bertello recommends signing up for campus email newsletters. 

“I’ve signed up to one specific to my department, one for sustainability and one for civic action,” she said. “I highly encourage students to try and find ones specific to their interests because they have led me to my current organizations and even helped land my sophomore research job. They’re usually chock full of job opportunities, campus highlights and organizations to join.”

Hemeng added that any Steward or staff member at the University Sustainability Office is happy to help students get connected.

“Sustainability is so broad on our campus, so the best thing to do is dive in,” Hemeng said. “Come to an event. Join an organization. That’s how you create community.”