Students at the University established a 40-member chapter of the co-ed environmental science fraternity Epsilon Eta as a Contracted Independent Organization March 15. The group intends to bring together students across majors through a shared interest in learning about and improving the environment.
Cameron McQuillian, founder of Epsilon Eta at the University and third-year College student, said he saw a need for a way to engage with other environmentally focused students socially and professionally. As a transfer student from Northern Virginia Community College, McQuillan said he was also looking for a community within his interests. After learning about Epsilon Eta at the University of Michigan, he said he then reached out to other environmentally conscious students to help found the Upsilon chapter of Epsilon Eta at the University.
Epsilon Eta was founded in 2006 at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a co-ed environmental fraternity, and has grown in popularity with 18 active chapters across the United States.
“I loved the Environmental Science community [as there are] lots of fantastic people in there, but all we could really do was go to classes and talk,” McQuillan said. “I could tell there was a need [for community] and there was a desire, so I found out about Epsilon Eta.”
Megan Vander Wiele, recruitment chair of Epsilon Eta Upsilon and second-year College student, said she saw how other fields and majors at the University had their own professional fraternities that provide the social experiences missing in the Environmental Sciences.
Since founding Epsilon Eta this semester, McQuillan and Wiele have been planning co-teaching, outreach and other community engagement events to create a living-learning environment. Wiele has seen members getting involved by hosting presentations for the chapter to learn more about niche topics like fast fashion, planning open door events for all students to attend and volunteering in the Charlottesville community by clearing vines at Forest Hills Park. McQuillian said they have also organized social events such as hiking Humpback Rock and thrifting clothing items as a group.
“The long term impact that I’m hoping for is for the environmental science community to have sort of a hand in the Charlottesville community.” Wiele said.
Dr. Lauren Simkins, Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences, has served as a bridge between Epsilon Eta Upsilon and the faculty at the University. Simkins has noticed that Environmentally related departments, such as Environmental Sciences, Environmental Thought and Practice and Global Environments and Sustainability, have been siloed through separate curriculum and faculty. Often, Simkins said she has seen a disconnect between students from different majors, but looks forward to seeing the interdisciplinary focus of Epsilon Eta Upsilon.
“One really nice aspect of Epsilon Eta is that it draws on students across Grounds while at the same time being an organization where there are some checks in terms of membership so that the organizers can gage who will contribute to the mission of Epsilon Eta in unique, interesting and diverse ways.” Simkins said.
Epsilon Eta Upsilon has established that they will not limit membership to any major to create an interdisciplinary group that is focused on overall environmentally focused fields. McQuillian said instead the group has created a rush process to ensure potential members have a demonstrated interest in environmental science. McQuillan and other leaders of the fraternity hope that their newly founded community will have lasting effects on the University.
“The dream is to be able to come back to U.Va. and see the social and physical contributions from Epsilon Eta,” McQuillan said.