To learn as much as possible about sustainable development and design, Sheena Zhang has traveled to some pretty exotic locales, touching down in Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, and China. But she’s also explored her area of interest in Illinois, Arizona, and even Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, a tiny community in extreme Northwest Georgia.
In 2008, she went to the country where new buildings seemingly sprout from the ground – China – where it is expected that by 2015 more than half of the world’s new construction will occur.
A recent UGA graduate with degrees in ecology and biology, along with an Honors Interdisciplinary Studies major in sustainable design, Sheena is now pursuing a master’s degree in architecture from Yale with plans to one day return to China as a “green architect” to promote building and infrastructure development beneficial to the environment.
During the summer of her sophomore year, Sheena enrolled in a National Science Foundation-funded study abroad program in China and then spent a month interning with the nonprofit Joint U.S.-China Cooperation on Clean Energy (JUCCCE) in Shanghai. She found the attitudinal differences on the environment between the two countries to be striking.
"I think, in the United States, environmentalism is a highly political issue, whereas in China, it’s more about economics,” said Sheena, a Certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate and a member of USA Today’s 2010 All-USA College Academic Team. “The Chinese government has put forth several different mandates for green energy and green building. They were able to implement a plastic bag ban in grocery stores almost overnight, and everyone started bringing their own shopping bags. However, China has difficulties enforcing their mandates consistently, and the United States has a much larger culture of going green."
Sheena’s travels have taken her to an architecture and urban planning firm in Chicago, to the Ecosa Institute in Arizona, and to a leadership training program offered by the Sierra Club Student Coalition at Cloudland Canyon State Park.
And while she’s racked up the miles in her pursuit of finding efficient ways to accommodate both the human race and Mother Nature, Sheena has been even more active closer to home with leadership and participation in myriad campus and community initiatives, including the Go Green Alliance, Green Life Expo, Students for Environmental Action, Athens-Clarke County Green Building Committee, Ecology Club Game Day Recycling and the UGA Sustainability Tour.
But the community service closest to her heart is UGA Beyond Coal, a movement to support the university in reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and developing sustainable options to power the campus. Sheena was quick to point out that her activism maintained a tone of cooperation.
“We did a lot of research into alternative energy options because the coal-fired steam plant is reaching the end of its life. The administration was looking for viable options, and we wanted to offer a highly-informed and pragmatic student perspective,” said Sheena, who received the Sustainable UGA Outstanding Student Award for her efforts.
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