Waste Warrior

July 19, 2018

By Audrey St. Clair ’03

Morgan Laner ’18
Photo by Scott Cook.

From her first day at Rollins, Morgan Laner ’18 endeavored not only to get involved with lessening Rollins’ carbon footprint, but to revolutionize how it was done.

Morgan Laner ’18 has never been satisfied with the status quo—whether it was being a voice for the environment as a sophomore in a conservative Dallas high school or mobilizing the Rollins community to do things differently—and her role in changing it has become clear: to lead the charge.

Laner’s path to leadership started her first year when she joined EcoRollins, a student organization committed to promoting environmental awareness and effecting real change on campus. Laner quickly rose through the ranks, serving as president of the organization her junior and senior years—just one in a long list of the ways she engages proactively and intently with the issues she’s bound and determined to tackle.

“The opportunities I’ve had at Rollins have set a great precedent for how to make change in the bigger world,” says Laner, an environmental studies major with a minor in sociology. “Rollins has prepared me to work hard, connect with people, keep an open mind, and perhaps most importantly, keep a detailed planner.”

Morgan Laner ’18 likes to talk trash ... the recycling kind, that is. Here, she gets up close and personal with some of the old electronics collected as part of the E-Waste Drive she organized through Rollins’ Sustainability Program
Morgan Laner ’18 likes to talk trash ... the recycling kind, that is. Here, she gets up close and personal with some of the old electronics collected as part of the E-Waste Drive she organized through Rollins’ Sustainability ProgramPhoto by Scott Cook.

After learning about the zero-waste movement while studying abroad for a semester in Australia, Laner came back to Rollins laser-focused on waste management in the U.S., and she didn’t waste any time. Through the Sustainability Program, she worked closely with dining services and facilities to revamp the campus’ recycling program and implemented effective ways to educate her fellow students and get them involved.

Her newfound call led to an internship at the Post Landfill Action Network, a young nonprofit that works with college students on campus to work toward zero waste, and to her honors thesis, “It’s Not Easy Being Green: Predictors of Pro-Environmental Behaviors Among College Students.” Laner examined what motivates and influences Rollins students to engage or not engage in different environmental behaviors. The result? A top 10 list of recommendations for the College to improve its sustainability footprint.

Laner recently accepted a fellowship with the Center for EcoTechnology in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she’ll serve as a program operations fellow working with businesses, schools, and other institutions on reducing waste. She also plans to apply for a Fulbright scholarship in Australia. It’s clear that this go-getter is just getting started on not only being—but leading—the change she wants to see in the world.

Morgan Laner ’18
Photo by Scott Cook.

Why study environmental studies at Rollins? “I knew I wanted to pursue an environmental studies major, so I spent a lot of time evaluating programs across the country. What stood out about Rollins was the truly interdisciplinary aspect and international perspective. The fact that the major actually requires you to do a field study to apply what you are learning to a real-world problem is unique. Upon entrance to Rollins, I didn’t know what within the realm of environmental studies I wanted to focus on, so I appreciated that the degree touched on a variety of industries and topics, from urban planning to field conservation to sustainable development.”

What kind of relationships were you able to build with your professors? “I think my biggest academic partnership was for my honors thesis with sociology professor Amy Armenia, who served as my advisor. We had weekly meetings and balanced each other out, talking about the notes and concepts we needed to cover but also about broader things like my post-Rollins opportunities and other classes. She took me to the Eastern Sociological Society conference in Baltimore last February to present my thesis, which I would have never done without her encouragement.”

Why has the Sustainability Program been so important to you? How does it differ from EcoRollins? “The Sustainability Program is a campus-wide initiative that’s more focused on infrastructure whereas EcoRollins is student-focused and predominantly event-based. Through Sustainability, we do the bike-share program, the urban farm, marketing for the recycling program, the OZZI containers, etc. I’ve maintained a leadership role working closely with Ann Francis from the environmental studies department, and this year we accomplished what we hope will be some long-lasting changes, especially in dining services.”

Why did you choose to minor in sociology? “I took Introduction to Sociology with Dr. Amy Armenia my freshman year and fell in love with it. I thought it was be a great complement to my environmental studies major in order to understand how race, gender, socioeconomics, etc. affect your ability to engage in things like recycling. It really changed my framework of thinking and informed my honors thesis, which examined people’s attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. I want to put my efforts on changing people’s mindsets as well as making recycling more accessible and efficient.”

You mentioned that studying in Australia was one of your top college highlights. Tell us more about that experience. “I did an SIT [School for International Training] program focused on sustainability and environmental actions, so the program actually mirrored the Rollins environmental studies major a lot. I conducted a five-week independent study project on the zero-waste movement in Adelaide, South Australia, an initiative whose goal is not to send anything to a landfill or incinerator. Adelaide has an entire government branch dedicated to zero waste. It was interesting to see how in Australia it appeared that their dedication to environmental issues was irrespective of their political beliefs. This project exposed me to a field that I would learn to love and also made my thesis seem a lot less scary.”

From organizing e-waste drives to creating and implementing new campus-wide recycling programs to raising awareness about farmworkers, Morgan Laner ’18 has made an indelible impact during her four years at Rollins. Photos by Scott Cook.

What has being an Alfond Scholar meant to you? “This amazing opportunity has surrounded me with passionate, intelligent, and driven students throughout my college experience. My cohort are some of my best friends, and I know I will stay in touch with them for a long time. The program opened the door to lots of opportunities, and I really hope the scholarship donors realize the impact they make on so many students at Rollins. Not having to worry about finances allowed me to focus on growing as an individual.”

What advice do you have for incoming first-year students? “I would encourage them to get involved right from the start. I know it’s overwhelming, but doing that is what connected me to upperclassmen who were able to guide me over the next few years and encourage me to apply for the variety of opportunities that exist at Rollins. I would also strongly recommend looking into the Emerging Leadership Institute that the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement puts on in October.”

You’re certainly leaving campus better than you found it. What recent projects are you most proud of? “I planned the Weigh the Waste event back in April with dining services, and we collected over 70 pounds of food scraps from guests’ plates. I feel confident this will help drive the conversation forward on composting on campus. I’ve also focused a lot of my last year on the new volunteer, peer-to-peer recycling education I started called EcoReps as well as creating new recycling signage that will hopefully be spread throughout campus next year. My last endeavor will be a final pilot with housekeeping that focuses on the physical recycling infrastructure, so I’m trying to tie up as many loose ends as I can while still making an impact.”

Students wearing caps and gowns walk to a commencement ceremony on Rollins College’s campus.

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