Beeka Quesnell Sums Up Her Environmental Justice Internship in Southwest VA , Summer 2014

Beeka Q cropThis guest post is by RU undergraduate student and SUST major Beeka Quesnell, who worked as an intern at the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) in the coal-mining mountain region of southwest Virginia this summer. Back in Chicago, Beeka is an environmental sustainability associate with the Physical Resources Department at Roosevelt, an intern in the bird division of Field Museum of Natural History, and a student activist for environmental and social justice.

This post recounts my activities and reflections on the last few weeks of my summer internship in Virginia. On Tuesday, July 15th, eight individuals involved with SAMS, as well as myself, went to a planning meeting of Wise County, VA, one meant to get public input on the planning for Wise County for the next 15 or so years. We were under the impression that the meeting was going to be in a “public hearing” format; however, we essentially sat through a 1 ½ hour lecture on “how to plan” and only then did attendees start to ask questions. To put it simply, the meeting was taken over by the community!

Photo: R. Quesnell, 2014

Photo: R. Quesnell

Those conducting the meeting stated, on several occasions, that they wanted public input but then kept putting that off until the very end of the meeting, when there would hardly be time to make comments or ask questions. Another downfall with the meeting included note-taking. The vice president of SAMS asked the community board if notes were being taken on input during the meeting and a man stated that he was; but after looking over several times during the meeting, we observed that he was not taking notes at all. On a brighter note, the best part of the meeting is that everyone who attended from the community seemed to be on the same page in demanding the same things be a part of the plan.

Later in the week, I attended an informal conference in Dunbar, a coal community in Wise County, VA. The informal conference was centered on a coal permit renewal in the community and it was open to the public. Six individuals from SAMS, including three interns, attended this informal conference, and three long-standing community members as well as three SAMS members spoke at the proceedings.

The three community members heavily emphasized the coal dust that settles upon their properties due to the mining operations and they also mentioned truck traffic and health impacts that their friends face. The SAMS members spoke a lot about how their personal lives would be affected if the permit were to be renewed. Aside from their recreational activities being affected, they also stressed the watershed impacts from mining, something that could lead to lasting damage to the area’s water resources. In contrast, the individual representing the coal company pursuing the coal mining permit renewal handed in a letter instead of speaking in front of us all. Whenever that happens, SAMS has to send in a Freedom of Information Act Request in order to get the documentation. Overall, the conference went well and it was great that members from the community came out and voiced their opinions on the permit and spoke out against it due to impacts they are directly feeling.

Later on Saturday, July 19th, SAMS held the second and final part of its annual strategic planning meeting. During this meeting — which was again, held at a neutral location with a facilitator — we went over past wins, discussed current campaigns and projects, and planned out the next eight months of those campaigns and projects. Planning out the campaigns and projects included writing out the goals, figuring out who was on the team, and discussing ongoing activities, upcoming events and deadlines up until February.

This meeting was very productive in getting a sense of where SAMS is as an organization, and where they are headed into the coming year. Current campaigns and projects include: the Water Campaign, Alliance Federal Strategy, Alliance for Economic Transition, Coalfields Expressway (CFX), Justice to Justice, AppalCEED, Wise Energy for Virginia, Doe Branch, RRENEW, and Mountain Justice. The tactics used in each campaign can vary. The Water Campaign uses water testing and the law to sue coal companies and hold organizations such as the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy accountable. In a complimentary fashion, the Justice to Justice Campaign uses direct actions and a specific target to show the “True Cost of Coal” with the help of the Beehive Collective and other organizations, and build regional support against coal baron Jim Justice. Essentially, using different tactics, each campaign is able to accomplish a part of the SAMS mission.

Photo: R. Quesnell, 2014

Photo: R. Quesnell, 2014

The following week, I had my last AppalCEED meeting which involved eating out while also taking care of business. AppalCEED stands for Appalachian Communities Encouraging Economic Diversity, and the group works on building sustainable communities. I have been attending AppalCEED meetings all summer now, and I have really grown to appreciate what AppalCEED is working on accomplishing.

Right now, we are trying to get a community kitchen in Wise County, Virginia. This community kitchen would be open to everyone and for many purposes as well- people can use it to prepare and can foods for resale, and people could also use it as a communal space for cooking. This project will require partnership with another organization and will need support from the Wise County Board of Supervisors. Additionally, this project is more than likely going to be a five-year process, which is why AppalCEED wants a full time, paid staff person working on this, as well as partnership with another organization with greater capacity, and/ or the county’s support. Acquiring funds may be tough; it would be ideal for AppalCEED to find a grant that will provide half of the individual’s salary, while requiring funds from Americorps for the other half. We are optimistic that this is feasible.

Photo: R. Quesnell, 2014

Photo: R. Quesnell, 2014

To sum up my time in Virginia, I luckily had the pleasure to be present for the Ison Rock Ridge formal conference! This formal conference was held at the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy and it was a formal appeal in denying A & G Coal’s permit application for mining operations on the ridge. SAMS has been fighting this coal mining permit application since 2007 and has been holding on each year, even when the coal company appeals.

This particular conference was different from all the other ones I was at over the course of the summer and of interning with SAMS. The only way I can put it simply, is that it was “court style.” There were three sides: The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy; A & G Coal; and our side, in which the lawyer was technically there on behalf of the Sierra Club. There were witnesses, and the whole works. Essentially, this formal conference was held because A & G coal appealed the DMME’s decision on denying the permit. We don’t know that outcome yet, but should know within the coming months. I have my fingers crossed, because I have faith that SAMS can continue to win this battle!

Overall, I can honestly say that I have learned a lot this summer. I met amazing people doing amazing things in far southwest Virginia, and I am so happy for that experience! I lived in a communal space with three other people and we grew some of our own food, harvesting as we could and making home cooked meals as we could. I have learned a great deal not only about what grassroots organizations are doing and winning, but I have also learned a lot about myself. It was a big step for me to move away for a summer to a place that I have never been, with people I have never met. Now I know I can do that, again even, and I know that I really enjoyed the work I did this summer, the exploring and experiences I had, and the people I met!

Beeka Quesnell, submitted 14 August 2014

Posted in conservation, education, internships, parks and public land, policy, Roosevelt, service, social justice, students

SETF Offers Waste, Recycling, and Landfills Tour this Saturday, August 9th

Visit waste, recycling, and landfill operations and related sites of environmental interest on Chicago’s far South Side with the Southeast Environmental Task Force this weekend on Saturday, August 9th. Learn how Chicago’s solid waste does (and does not) get recycled, and explore the various ways waste and recycling connect to environmental justice in urban neighborhoods.

See the image below for details! Registration runs through today, Thursday August 7th, and the cost is $25 (which covers transportation from the Loop and a guided tour). Register here online or call the SETF at 773-646-0436 for more info!

SETF Brown Bag Eco Tours 2014-08-09

Posted in cities, ecology, events, field trips, pollution, recycling, social justice, waste

Microcosm Heads to the San Juan Islands in Washington State

This summer the adventure into the microscopic universe with the ocean continues as SUST Adjunct Professor of Sustainability Studies Michele Hoffman Trotter and crew hit the road to pursue more interviews and information for her upcoming documentary Microcosm.  Michele and her team have headed to the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Lab in the beautiful San Juan Islands of Washington State.

Hoffman portraitWhile there, Michele (pictured at right) will interview leading researchers studying the impacts of ocean acidification, evolutionary biology, and food web interactions as it relates to the base of the food web. In addition, she will visit a local shellfish farm to film the very sustainably grown oysters and clams feeding on the microcosm as they naturally filter the waters of the Puget Sound (she plans to bring Tabasco sauce).

A trip to the San Juan Islands would not be complete without an attempt to see the endangered killer whales, so Michele and crew plan to voyage out for three days by kayak in the hopes of a life altering encounter. Be sure to follow the Microcosm travel blog here!

Posted in arts, biodiversity, ecology, education, faculty, Roosevelt, science, water

NSF-STEP Summer Undergraduate Science & Math Research Symposium at RU on July 30

Here at Roosevelt next week, a science research symposium highlighting the work of 17 undergraduate researchers who have been participating in the NSF-STEP Summer Research Experience will take place Wednesday, July 30th, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in WB 1015 at RU’s Chicago Campus. Students will be presenting posters and short talks in the areas of biology, ecology, chemistry, environmental science, math, and pharmacy. All are welcome to attend for some or part of the afternoon. This is a great opportunity to get a glimpse of some of the research taking place in the math and science departments at RU and to support the accomplishments of the students.

For more details contact Thea Wilson, Visiting Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow and Coordinator of Science Initiatives (

Posted in conferences, education, events, research, Roosevelt, science, students

Environmental Justice and Sustainability in Appalachia; Beeka Quesnell Reports from Southwest VA

Beeka Q cropThis guest post is by RU undergraduate student and SUST major Beeka Quesnell, who is working as an intern at the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) in the coal-mining mountain region of southwest Virginia this summer. Back in Chicago, Beeka is an environmental sustainability associate with the Physical Resources Department at Roosevelt, an intern in the bird division of Field Museum of Natural History, and a student activist for environmental and social justice.

The past two weeks of interning in Virginia has brought on a lot! During the Fourth of July week the vice president of SAMS, a fellow intern, and I took a 3½ hour trip to West Virginia — more specifically, to White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. There, we participated in a civil protest during the Greenbrier Classic, which is a part of the PGA Tour — an event supported and attended by Jim Justice, the coal baron that I mentioned in my previous post. Many people in that area see Mr. Justice as a very nice man and great community member mainly because he hosts events such as the Greenbrier, coaches the high school girls’ basketball team, and so on. They don’t, however, see that he is tearing up land in the coalfields and leaving the area in shambles when he leaves.

Beeka Quesnell in White Sulfur Springs WVaFor the protest a group of around 20 of us marched up and down the sidewalks near the event (essentially, we did a picket), held a candle-light vigil for all those who have lost their lives to coal mining, and did some small group presentations in the local library to try and get community members involved. All in all, the event was extremely empowering, mostly because it was a form of direct action and it also helped to get a couple of community members involved. For more info on the picket, check out the Justice to Justice website at!

Then, this past Tuesday (July 8th) I worked a table at a local farmer’s market as a part of AppalCEED — Appalachian Communities Encouraging Economic Diversity — which is a part of SAMS. To put it in simple terms, AppalCEED works on the part of SAMS’ mission statement to “help rebuild sustainable communities,” which is a very crucial step in helping communities prosper in the coalfields.

Right now we are trying to get support for a community kitchen in our county. This kitchen would allow farmers, entrepreneurs, and other individuals an area where they can prepare foods for resell. At the farmer’s market we handed out samples of cooked Pokeweed — a weed-like green that grows in this area, and that has a similar texture and taste to cooked spinach – and encouraged community members to sign our petition asking for county support for this community kitchen. Our petition was successful and so far we have gotten about 50 signatures.

Dead Hemlock

Dead hemlock (photo: B. Quesnell, 2014)

I have also had the opportunity to help with some trail clearing on the Roaring Branch Trail right outside the town I am staying in. I hiked this particular trail about a month ago and although there was some brush and a couple of trees down on the trail, it was still walkable. However, within the past couple of weeks several hemlocks have fallen onto the trail and a section has become impassable.

I was extremely surprised that this happened in such a short amount of time, but after talking to a local SAMS member it turns out that there is an invasive species called the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid that has invaded this area. This invasive species essentially sucks the “blood” of these trees, like a tick or mosquito would suck the blood of its host. Even worse, these hemlocks are some of the only ones left in this part of Appalachia. The rings were counted on one dead hemlock and the tree was nearly 300 years old. It was a really sad sight, but interesting to learn about at the same time. Overall, it was great to see all the biodiversity that was around me on that trail and to learn how one species relates and interconnects to many more in the area. To learn about this trail a little more, visit and search for “Roaring Branch Trail.”

Moth on the Trail

A moth found along the trail (photo: B. Quesnell, 2014)

The last part of my week involved the SAMS Strategic Planning Meeting. It was a six-hour meeting this past Saturday and we got a lot done as an organization. We had an outside facilitator conduct the meeting and we did it in a neutral space. Just under 15 of us attended the meeting and that included three interns, community members involved with SAMS, and also those who are a part of SAMS but not initially from this area. The purpose of this meeting (which has its second part on July 19th) is to plan for the next year. This includes going over SAMS’ funds, campaigns, and meetings. We got a lot accomplished and I expect that this next year is going to be busy and exciting all at once.

Overall, I had a couple of great opportunities to get out and about these past two weeks, and I am hoping to have that same luxury in these coming weeks, which will be my last few in Appalachia. I know that next week will consist of a few meetings and possibly a public hearing as well as possible trail clearing again. I will also be working on researching some grants that AppalCEED can apply for so that we can make this community kitchen a reality!

Beeka Quesnell, submitted 14 July 2014

Posted in conservation, education, internships, parks and public land, policy, Roosevelt, service, social justice, students

Fall 2014 Course Preview for SUST 330 Biodiversity at the Field Museum

This coming Fall 2014 semester the Sustainability Studies program will offer a special section of SUST 330 Biodiversity that will meet at the Field Museum of Natural History on Thursdays from 9am to 1pm.

Overview of SUST 330 at the Field Museum

Taught by Dr. Julian Kerbis Peterhans, professor of natural science at RU and adjunct curator of mammals at the FMNH, this course is an exceptional opportunity to learn about biodiversity, conservation, and sustainability at one of the world’s foremost natural history research museums.

The Field Museum is actually a “Library of Biodiversity” as it has been documenting plant, animal and fossil species of the world for 125 years. As Dr. Kerbis Peterhans notes, “Come join the team at the museum where you will work on these specimens: either sorting, cataloguing, photographing, drawing, databasing, or counting. Let us know if there are a particular group of plants or animals that you are interested in and we will see if we can find you a position.”

SUST major Amanda Zeigler working in the Mammals Department at the Field Museum, spring 2011

SUST alum (BPS ’12) Amanda Zeigler working in the Mammals Department at the Field Museum in the spring of 2011

SUST 330 includes weekly seminar-style class meetings where students discuss readings and hear from scientists working on biodiversity research in a variety of fields. They then work individually with a scientist in one of the many laboratories/collection departments of the museum, based on their individual interests. Several RU students have secured short-term paid positions following their successful experiences in this course, and two are currently employed on a year-round basis.

For additional information about SUST 330 at the Field Museum, please contact Dr. Kerbis Peterhans (

Course Registration Information

  • Title/number: SUST 330 Biodiversity (section 01)
  • Semester offered: Fall 2014
  • Location: Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (map here)
  • Day/time: Thursday 9am-1pm
  • Start date: 28 Aug 2014
  • Pre-req: UWR

SUST majors and minors may take this class to fulfill an upper-level SUST requirement, but 330 also is open to students at large who need a general education course or desire elective credit. It also counts toward the Environmental Science minor for BIOL and CHEM majors.


Posted in biodiversity, conservation, courses, education, faculty, museums, research, Roosevelt, science, students

Student Interns in Environmental Sustainability Install Drip Irrigation System at RU’s Community Garden

As reported here by SUST major Mary Beth Radeck on the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future blog, students and staff at RU’s Schaumburg Campus installed a drip irrigation system in late June for the RU Community Garden, now in its third growing season. Students working as paid environmental sustainability interns with the university Physical Resources and Operations department, under the supervision of Assistant VP Paul Matthews, planned this system over the last two years and installed it with the help of Pedro Perez, chief engineer at the Schaumburg Campus.

Kudos to sustainability interns Mary Beth Radeck, Mary Rasic, and Kevin Matthews for their great work on this cool project!

Drip irrigation system at the RU Community Garden, awaiting tubing to deliver water directly to plants (photo: M. Radeck)

Drip irrigation system at the RU Community Garden, awaiting tubing to deliver water directly to plants (photo: M. Radeck)

Posted in agriculture, education, green design, internships, news, Roosevelt, students, suburbs, water