Across Muhlenberg’s campus, students are taking initiative to spread awareness about climate and sustainability issues, and to make our community’s headspace as green as possible. Serena Hertzog ‘23 is a member of the Rita and Joseph Scheller (RJ) Fellows program, an honors community bringing together high-achieving and imaginative students who have demonstrated an exceptional intellectual and personal curiosity, and is taking on a project through the program’s senior Capstone experience that aims to inspire meaningful, environmental and social change for years to come.
Hertzog is an environmental science major whose passions lie primarily in environmental justice and the creation of a livable and equitable future. She believes in the power of education as an agent for social change, and as such, has taken on a project through the RJ Fellows program to build a sculpture of a tree on campus out of plastic bottle caps.
“My plan is to collect bottles at Muhlenberg College and at elementary schools in the community,” explained Hertzog. “I guess my thinking behind that is that our world is filled with plastic. And in order to create a beautiful future we have to think about reusing things, refusing things and re-envisioning the use of things. Also, of course, trees are critical to our environment.”
“…something I try to do is find beauty in everyday life and appreciate nature, and I hope that this [tree] will be an object of beauty that helps us to reflect on what is important and why we care so much about protecting our planet.”-Serena Hertzog ’23
Education is a foundational part of Hertzog’s work and motivation for the project as well as her overall philosophy on sustainable living, and, as such, her hope is to include elementary school students from the area in the creation of the sculpture.
“The idea is that I would work together with kids to create this sculpture, and then the leaves would have the hopes and visions and dreams of the community and you’ve written on them for the future, and the future that we want to build together,” said Hertzog.
Hertzog sees trees as a representation of renewal, and as the natural manifestation of a safe haven, and in the spirit of those values, Hertzog is in the process of finding and securing a location on campus so that the sculpture can exist as a more permanent fixture within the community. She has considered a number of locations for the piece, including Fahy Commons, the exterior and interior of the Tree House (Muhlenberg’s sustainability studies interest house) and areas within the New Science Building, and is still deciding where the ideal position for the sculpture would be.
The project is still in early stages of development, but the campus can expect to see more updates in the coming months.
“I personally experience a lot of fear and uncertainty about our future, and even right now, we just got a snowfall and it’s beautiful,” explained Hertzog. “But also, this is our first snowfall [of the year], and that’s sort of a scary thing. So something I try to do is find beauty in everyday life and appreciate nature, and I hope that this [tree] will be an object of beauty that helps us to reflect on what is important and why we care so much about protecting our planet.”