CLEMSON — Second-year Clemson University graduate assistant Cyndel Brunell has been named the 2018 Champion of Sustainability by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA). The award will be presented at the organization’s annual convention on March 12 in Houston, Texas.
“Cyndel has had a passion for environmental justice throughout her life,” said Suzanne Price, who supervises Brunell as part of residential learning under the University Housing & Dining umbrella. “Her understanding of sustainability and the environment was shaped dramatically at the University of North Carolina as an undergraduate. Now as a master’s student at Clemson, she has been able to bring together her love for student development and housing with sustainability.”
Brunell, who has a bachelor’s degree in global studies, has taken on several initiatives related to sustainability. She advises Clemson’s EcoReps, a student organization made up of more than 20 residential leaders who are charged with educating community members as it relates to sustainability.
EcoReps and many other dedicated volunteers and employees were instrumental in Clemson winning the 2017 Gameday Recycling Challenge national championship with 98,521 pounds of waste recycled.
“The students volunteered to sort trash for three or four home game weekends,” she said. “The waste is all collected and sorted. We put food into the compost, recyclable materials into one pile and non-recyclable materials marked for the landfill. It’s a major undertaking each fall, but it’s also very impactful.”
Brunell has also played a big role in assisting Clemson Outdoor Recreation and Education (CORE) facilitate housing trips and has collaborated with numerous groups across campus — including National Residence Hall Honorary, Residence Hall Association, Solid Green and Students for Environmental Action — in an effort to increase sustainability education and engagement.
Brunell discovered a passion for sustainability and environmental protection from an early age. She was enthralled with television programs on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. But she is quick to credit a residential community director at North Carolina — Clemson graduate Maureen Rodgers — for shaping her current interests in the field.
“Maureen was amazing and I aspire to be like her,” she said. “But I didn’t understand the opportunities in sustainability as it related to higher education until this role became available.”
Brunell was surprised when initially contacted by ACPA Sustainability Advisory Committee chair Jim Tweedy, who informed her she would be receiving the organization’s award next month.
“I’m grateful for this experience,” she said. “Working in your passion area is rewarding. We think of sustainability as a holistic approach, which includes social and economic aspects. It all works together and there is validation every day in why it’s needed.”