In her sophomore year, Raya Petrova ’21 teamed up with Sruti Bandlamuri ’21 on a project to offer free environmentally friendly menstrual products in several high-traffic women’s bathrooms across campus.
Using a Presidential Green Grant, the women pushed for menstrual equity, a concept that believes that free menstrual products should take their place alongside soap and toilet paper in public restrooms. Studies have shown that many women often miss class time because they do not have access to period products or struggle to afford menstrual supplies.
“Tampons and disposable pads are the most commonly used menstrual products,” said Petrova, a biomedical engineering major. “They also pose the most detrimental long-term environmental effects. Menstrual products are also still considered by many as a ‘luxury’ that has created long lasting issues of equity and financial burden, impacting half of the average student population, if not the world's population.”
The project carried over into the students’ junior year. Then COVID hit. Petrova took a gap year and spent five months at ICCAS Institute at University of Leipzig in Germany on a research internship before returning home to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Back on campus for her senior year, Petrova is ready to resume her project with another Presidential Green Grant.
“My hope is to raise an awareness on the issues surrounding the current worldwide state of menstrual hygiene,” she said. “We want to paint a picture for the school to consider and look into continuing the initiative of providing free products of a most basic biological need to half of their student population and join the Free the Period movement.”
Petrova’s project is among seven awarded a Presidential Green Grant this year. This includes five campus-related projects and two research proposals. The grants, which support environmentally sustainable projects at Union, are open to faculty, staff and students. Since the initiative was launched 14 years ago, grants totaling nearly $188,000 have supported 149 projects across campus.
A committee consisting of Jeff Corbin, professor of biology, Richard Wilk, professor of mechanical engineering, and Josh Dranoff, Union’s sustainability coordinator, selected this year’s winners.
Winners were honored during a brief ceremony in the Nott Memorial Wednesday with Corbin, professor of biology, and President David R. Harris.
“Today, we celebrate projects that will safeguard campus water quality, reduce waste and conserve energy,” said Corbin, the coordinator of the initiative. He was the first to suggest the idea of an incentive program for environmental advocacy.
“They will safeguard global health and address menstrual equity. They will enable us to enjoy food grown right here on campus. These projects join a long list of projects that have transformed campus and made the world a more sustainable place.”
Harris praised the winners for being engaged with global challenges and gaining competencies outside the classroom, two important components of a Union education.
“I’m confident that because you do these projects, you will be better prepared in the long term to work on issues of sustainability or anything else you are working on because of what you have learned as you pursued these projects.”
In addition to Petrova, the other 2021-22 Green Grant winners and their projects:
Eva Blashkevich ’22: Working with Brad Bruno, professor of mechanical engineering, she will conduct research to design and evaluate cleaner and more efficient biomass cookstoves. Each year, almost four million people die from complications relating to smoke inhalation from open fires and inefficient cookstoves – the main cooking and heating methods for three billion people globally.
Bethany Costello ’22 and Sophia Anderson ’22: They will encourage campus apartment composting by supplying 132 composting bins in 61 residences in Garnet Commons, Roger Hull Place, Seward Place and Park Place. They will also purchase a thousand compostable bags to put in compost bins for easy transportation from apartments to the larger deposit bin at Garnet Commons.
Andrew Nordell ’23 and Hugh Jenkins, professor of English: The pair will expand their project last year of tapping maple trees on campus by completing a detailed tree inventory and purchasing additional tools and supplies.
Ethan Oswald ’22: He plans to update some of the growing beds to raised beds in Octopus's Garden, Union's organic community garden. This will allow for the introduction of new crops, such as garlic and asparagus, to the rotation.
Cam Ragland ’22 and Jodie Wright ’22: Working with John Garver, professor of geology, the pair will use microbial source tracking to uncover the possible sources of the harmful bacteria in the Hans Groot’s Kill, a stream that runs through Jackson’s Garden and other parts of campus before feeding into the Mohawk River.
Hailey Stoltenberg ’23: Her goal is to reduce energy and water consumption in Ozone House by installing a high efficiency dishwasher. Ozone House, at 1294 Lenox Road, is one of Union’s 13 theme houses. Its residents promote environmental awareness while serving as an example of sustainable living.
Last fall, Union was again named one of the country’s most environmentally responsible colleges, according to The Princeton Review’s “Guide to Green Colleges.” Union is among 420 schools profiled in the 12th edition of the guide. The College has been included in each edition.
Schools were chosen based on data collected from 835 four-year colleges on their sustainability-related policies, practices and programs.
The College has garnered accolades for its Presidential Green Grants program, the U-Sustain committee and other initiatives.