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Senior who started Spartans for Sustainability eyes impact beyond college

Ashley with Save the Whales exhibit on campus

Ashley Ardinger can’t go back. She’d always been somewhat environmentally conscious. Growing up, she’d take quick showers and turn off unnecessary lights. Now, even the thought of walking into a coffee shop without a reusable cup horrifies her.

It was the dire warnings coming out of the United Nations Climate Change Summit two years ago that opened her eyes to how serious the problem was. “You can’t un-see what we’re doing to the world,” she says. And because she can’t un-see it, she’s doing something about it.

Spartans for Sustainability

Ashley founded Spartans for Sustainability when she was a sophomore at York College of Pennsylvania. The club is dedicated to bringing environmental change to the school and to raise student awareness. “Especially as college students, I think we’re really motivated to make a difference in the world,” she says.

They’ve done art projects to raise awareness. Last year, they worked with a sculpture class creating a jellyfish out of trash collected on campus. They’ve also tried to create structural change, working with the school’s dining service to bring composting to campus and urging more water bottle refilling stations to reduce the use of plastic bottles.

They hold campus clean-up days, partner with other clubs on projects, and create informational campaigns. “A huge problem is that people don’t know how to properly recycle or where they can recycle,” she says.

So, they made signs and put them up near bins to help inform other students. Steps like that might seem small, but they’re already making an impact. “I think that if we all just step back and realize that one person truly can make a difference,” she says, “then I think that so much in the world can get done, so much can change.”

Empowered to make a difference

It’s not every college sophomore that has the gusto to think she can have an impact on a huge issue like climate change. And it’s not every college that would empower a sophomore to make changes not just among its students, but within the institution itself.

Ashley has met with York College’s president, vice president, and several professors—all of whom were receptive to her ideas and encouraging of her advocacy for change. “The type of atmosphere we have here at York College has contributed greatly to me being able to empower others,” she says. “If I were at another campus, I don’t think I could do this.”

It’s helped her grow—to become a stronger leader and strengthen her resolve. “It’s very rewarding to know that I have made a difference, but also it’s keeping me hungry for more,” she says. “If I can leave an impact on my college then I can move on and leave an impact on my job and an impact on society.”

A green future

Ashley is graduating this year, but she’s hopeful the club will continue making improvements to the school once she’s gone. She’d like to put her degree in Integrated Marketing Communication to use at a nonprofit and maybe one day start her own environmentally focused nonprofit.

The experience of starting a new club and making a difference in her community has bolstered her confidence to keep fighting climate change. “The impact, I feel, has just left me very excited for the future,” she says. “Since I know what I can do now and, with the help of others, I know that I can accomplish something big.”

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