An anthropology student at NIU, Sterling returned to school after working 17 years as a union carpenter. Two and a half years ago, he took his first anthropology class and fell in love with the program. After he learned about an organization called Roots and Shoots started by Jane Goodall, he knew he wanted to be a part of it. Finding no group like it on campus, he decided to start his own.
After consulting with several Anthropology professors, Sterling discovered that, as a student, he could create a group. In 2010, Green Paws Environmental Alliance (Green P.E.A.s) was officially created. Initially, the group thought they would name it after Goodall’s organization, but after some discussion, they voted for a unique name. The group began with about 15 core members.
Their focus was creating an alliance among not only the other activist groups on campus, but also the other environmentally minded groups in the DeKalb community.
There was some resistance when the group tried to connect to like-minded organizations on campus because other groups were concerned that this new group would lure their members away. Sterling’s goal, however, was to recruit more members for every organization and to connect a seemingly disconnected network of people who were all working toward the same goals but doing it independently.
“We didn’t want it to be our little clique group who has a bake sale and only talks to each other,” Sterling said. That alliance initiative was a very special part of Green P.E.A.s.
Green P.E.A.s quickly began putting on events, including campus clean up and ReUse-A-Palooza, which would go on to become an annual event with a different focus each year. The focus of ReUse-A-Palooza 1 was to reducing e-waste on campus. For that event, the group collected computers, batteries, cell phones, printer cartridges and other items for recycling.
ReUse-A-Palooza 1 successfully collected old cell phones and donated them to Safe Passage, an organization that helps victims of domestic violence in DeKalb.
Also, the group influenced NIU’s procurement office to do a better job of following their electronic supply chain to ensure that what NIU buys isn’t unknowingly supporting the war in the Congo.
For ReUse-A-Palooza 2, the group further promoted the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle, and they created a bike lane petition for the campus that resulted in NIU President John Peters to respond with a letter proposing to amend the 2020 initiative to include bike lanes funding. The group also paired with local organization Feed ‘em Soup, and included a can drive and other events to raise awareness about the hunger issues in DeKalb and Northern Illinois.
For ReUse-A-Palooza 3, the focus was on banning plastic bottles on the NIU campus, a movement that is gaining momentum on other campuses as well as NIU.
As Sterling starts his graduate work in Fall 2013, he will step back and be an adviser to the new leadership and members in hopes that the momentum continues pushing the next generation toward activism, environmental mindedness and connection to community. He urges members to figure out what they are really passionate about, then go after it forming a committee and recruiting others to join in whatever cause is important to them.
Green Paws leaped off the ground quickly with a good amount of support, and made connections both on campus and in the community. The only drawback seems to be the same obstacle other college groups face—the members have the nerve to leave following graduation.