Class of 2022: Environmental Science major learned importance of making connections

Class of 2022: Environmental Science major learned importance of making connections

Story and photos developed by University Communications.

Senior Isabella Banich
Senior Isabella Banich
A s an environmental science major and geology minor, senior Isabella Banich of Alpharetta made the most of her time at Georgia College & State University--from participating in sustainability research to her work in multiple clubs and organizations

But the biggest lesson she learned was the critical importance of making connections.

“Knowing professors and professionals here and across academia has opened so many doors for me,” Banich said. “Most of the activities I’ve been a part of were introduced to me through friends, coworkers or mentors. Most people want you to succeed, and they’ll pass your name along.”

When touring colleges, Banich “fell in love” with Georgia College’s beautiful campus—but, also, its reputation for involving undergraduates in research.  

I wanted to see if we could find compostable dishware to use instead.
– Isabella Banich
She worked three semesters with Dr. Allison VandeVoort on sustainability. Their research focused on implementing compostable dishware into the current composting system on campus. Currently, the Office of Sustainability diverts consumer waste from the Maxwell Student Union dining facility to the university’s compost area at West Campus.

“I noticed we used a lot of single-use plastic on campus, especially during the pandemic,” Banich said. “Because we already had a composting system in place, I wanted to see if we could find compostable dishware to use instead.”

Compostable dishware should fully decompose within Georgia College’s unique composting system while keeping pH, nitrate concentration and temperature at correct levels. To do this, Banich worked with other lab students to compile baseline data. They chose dishware and tested compost weekly. Banich presented their findings at the Georgia Undergraduate Research Conference and should have final results in mid-December.

She has now been to five conferences and presented at two.

Banich collects soil at the compost station on W. Campus.
Banich collects soil at the compost station on W. Campus.

Banich favorite class was Dr. Bruce Snyder’s “Ecosystems of Georgia” travel course last May. It ended up being her favorite class. The group hiked, camped and explored five ecosystems in areas like Jekyll Island, Moody Forest, Cedar Creek Wildlife Management Area, Vogel State Park and Blood Mountain. They identified different species of animals, plants and insects that are native to Georgia.

I was terrified of public speaking before I arrived here. But presenting in front of Georgia College students, at other colleges and in front of conference attendees curbed that fear quite quickly.
– Banich
Classes like this expanded Banich’s education outside the classroom—much like her extracurricular involvement on campus.

She planned and executed Excel Bootcamps for the Learning Center, then presented this work at the Georgia Tutoring Association Conference. She’s a member of the university’s Honors College, Botany Club and Eta Sigma Alpha, the national honors club.

While working for University Housing, Banich served as the National Communications Coordinator for the Resident Student Association.

Each one of these activities helped Banich become more confident.

“I was terrified of public speaking before I arrived here,” she said. “But presenting in front of Georgia College students, at other colleges and in front of conference attendees curbed that fear quite quickly. I also made new connections and friends through all of these programs.”

Banich studied abroad last summer as part of intercultural leadership based in Strasbourg, France. Her travel was connected with the Georgia College Leadership Program and Customized Education Programs Abroad (CEPA). She visited the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament.

The trip was the last requirement she needed to earn the Georgia College Leadership Certificate.

“I was able to grow my leadership abilities and recognize ways I can change my own community, as well as communities abroad,” Banich said. “With these visits, I gained a higher appreciation and understanding of the political spheres of Europe and local community of Strasbourg, while also enjoying some local activities like Bastille Day, Illuminations dela Cathédrale and the Marché de l'Esplanade.”

Banich feels she’s changed a lot in four years of college. She’s more outgoing and open to new experiences. She knows how to present a professional image to the world and engage with others.

This will help as Banich looks for an internship in the national or state park service. After that, she hopes to go to law school and study environmental policy.

Her advice to incoming students is to say “yes” to opportunity.

“They should follow their passion whether in academics, extra curriculars or anything beyond,” Banich said. “It really makes all the difference for your college experience.”

Georgia College taught me the basics of my field and has given me the opportunity to develop into a leader and young professional who’s competitive in the job market. I’ve also made some of my best friends and memories on campus. I’m going to miss Georgia College.
– Isabella Banich