UMD fraternity focused on environmental sustainability

by Elana Mutnick

Environmental sustainability isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks of Greek life. But that’s exactly what Epsilon Eta, a co-ed fraternity, is dedicated to. Its leaders say it’s breaking stereotypes of what Greek life is, since it’s dedicated to helping the environment.

Senior environmental science and technology major Isabelle Van Benschoten was looking for a group to join on campus in 2019 but noticed that there weren’t any other organizations dedicated to environmental science on the University of Maryland’s campus. That’s why she decided to start a new chapter of the Epsilon Eta fraternity at UMD in fall 2019. 

“Epsilon Eta was created to fill a gap of professional and academic support for the environmental science department, as well as creating a deeper alumni and professional network,” said Sophie Smith, the fraternity’s president. 

It’s much more than just a club because members “foster deeper connections with their brothers, which allows them to discuss things that actually matter,” Smith, a senior agricultural science and technology major, said. 

Jen Shaffer, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and an advisor for Environmental Science and Policy majors, said groups like Epsilon Eta are extremely important for students wondering how they help the environment, but don’t know where to start. 

The fraternity emphasizes the importance of recycling and raises awareness about how harmful  plastic, polyester and other synthetic materials are to the environment. It creates a community of students dedicated to tackling these issues through service projects that tackle those issues. The fraternity prides itself on accommodating the needs of all its members, Smith said. 

One of the newest members is Khiem Doan. He’s the first business major in Epsilon Eta and said he wants the business community to step up and protect the environment. 

“The business school here at Maryland has 28 different clubs, and not one of them has any focus on environmentalism,” Doan said.

He wasn’t planning on joining the fraternity until he attended a rush event and fell in love with its mission and members, he said. His favorite parts are its unique events and volunteer opportunities. 

The fraternity has upcycled clothes, in which they use unwanted materials to create something new, held recycling relays, hiking trips, planted and harvested crops in small farms and weekend getaways. It also helps Weed Warriors, a local organization that removes invasive plants that pose a threat to their parks, every two weeks at Lake Artemesia.

“The environment is all around us, everywhere,” Shaffer said. “Whether it’s an urban, suburban, or rural environment. You are not separate from the environment, you are part of it. It is connected to everything.”

And that’s why it’s important to take action to make campus more sustainable, Smith, the president, said.

Featured photo: Epsilon Eta members Emma Gubman, Caroline Melton, Emily Cooke, Tiara Rachman and Andrew Scalese stand on a log during the fraternity’s retreat in Poconos, Pa. Photo courtesy of Calvin Burns.

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