Seniors Miriam Gilman and Frank Hanson by trees on Stern Plaza

Green Spiders promote sustainability

April 20, 2023

Where sustainability meets development marks the sweet spot for environmentally savvy seniors Frank Hanson and Miriam Gilman. Both are committed to working for a future defined by development that is healthy and viable for people and the planet.

“In America, we focus on economics when we discuss sustainability,” said Hanson, who was born in the West African nation of Ghana. “In Ghana, there’s a spiritual component to sustainability. Americans emphasize the individual, Ghanaians, the community. In my leadership studies classes, we talked about how these differing perspectives relate to sustainability ethics. These discussion-based classes prepared me to communicate key concepts to people when doing my development and sustainability work.”

Hanson moved from Ghana to Colorado Springs in high school. He received an Oliver Hill Scholarship to attend University of Richmond, where he is majoring in leadership studies and global studies and minoring in geography and sustainability.

He said he explored Ghanaian sustainability issues through internships he undertook during his first two years at Richmond: In one, he researched the impact of Chinese investments on Ghana’s economy and environment. In the other, he analyzed the possibility of Ghana adopting a hybrid renewable-energy-and-natural-gas model versus adopting a fully renewable energy model.

This past summer, the senior completed his Jepson School of Leadership Studies internship with Richmond BridgePark Foundation, a nonprofit committed to redeveloping a portion of one of the city’s major vehicular bridges into a tree-lined park for pedestrians and cyclists. He crafted and implemented community-engagement strategies and analyzed fiscal data using GIS programs.

“You have to strike a balance between meeting the needs of historically marginalized communities, pursuing development, and ensuring sustainability for the planet,” he said.

Similarly, marginalized communities and sustainability are central to Gilman’s approach to urban development.

The Sun Valley, Idaho, native completed her Jepson internship with EARTHDAY.ORG, the nonprofit that coordinates Earth Day, a global environmental event held annually on April 22. As an intern, she researched and wrote blogs on topics ranging from urban heat islands resulting from a lack of green space, to plastic pollution, to fast fashion that creates waste driven by the overconsumption of mass-produced clothing.

“I brought in a lot of what I learned in my leadership studies and health studies majors about leadership failures related to city planning,” she said of her internship. “Educating people about the issues is a big focus for EARTHDAY.ORG. We want to create a new generation of environmental stewards.”

This year, Gilman undertook a capstone project, with Dr. Rick Mayes, professor of health studies, serving as her faculty mentor.

“My research looked at climate change as a public health threat, focusing on the pollution effects that create health disparities—such as asthma and diabetes—in communities of color,” she said. “Solutions include adding green spaces to cities and cleaning up pollutants. 

“Climate change is an everyone issue. And everyone can be a part of the change that will mitigate it.”