Environmentally toGETHer: The Global Environmental Theme House

When it rains at UC Berkeley, Strawberry Creek roars, students regret the times they decided not to buy an umbrella, and a small, barely noticeable garden near the SLC begins to turn into a pond as rain water collects on its surface.

Rain Garden in the Grinnell Nature Area

This spot is UC Berkeley’s first rain garden, and it was not easy to implement. After making an inventory of all of the site’s characteristics, determining logistics, and consulting with engineering specialists Aysha Massell and Tim Pine from Berkeley’s Environment, Health, and Safety team, Jaewon Saw was finally able to secure funding from The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) in order to manifest this natural water collection site.

According to Saw, this garden is “now doing its part for the protection of the Strawberry Creek” by collecting runoff rainwater from nearby roofs, sidewalks, and cement, having the surrounding plants clean it, and eventually allowing the water to replenish Strawberry Creek. This keeps runoff rainwater in the creek and out of storm drains. Saw’s team says this project has gone so successfully that they are already planning to build a second garden this year.

In preparation for breaking ground on their second garden, Jaewon and her team have called upon the support of the members of the Global Environment Theme House.

What is the Global Environment Theme House?

The Global Environment Theme House, also known as GETH, is one of the many themed housing available in the residence halls to incoming freshmen. The goal of theme houses is to bring together a group of people with a shared identity and common interests. GETH is an environmentally focused theme house based in Clark Kerr. You might have interacted with a project from the Global Environment Theme House or have met an alumnus without even knowing it!

Photo of GETHies mid-hike from the most recent GETH retreat to Blodgett!

During their year in the theme house, “GETHies” are challenged to come up with two different types of projects. The first is known as Eco-horts. Eco-horts are projects designed to help strengthen the community, and must be completed on a semesterly basis. If you walk through the GETH hallway, you can find Eco-hort projects like the GETH mural, which depicts a warm campfire, or the GETH calendar set up by this year’s GETHies Maia Griffith and Selena Melgoza.

The second project is a year-long one. If you have lived in the UC Berkeley residence halls recently, you may have seen an example: the compost bins. The rain garden in the Grinnell Natural Area was also one of these projects and Jaewon Saw, a GETH alumna, has been “grateful for the GETH Spring semester project that ultimately developed into the wonderful garden we have today.” The yearlong GETH Project challenges GETHies to approach larger Berkeley wide environmental issues and serves as an introduction to the Goliath that is the bureaucracy of UC Berkeley. Dominic Daniel found that these projects helped to “expand our interests as people.”

Another central part of GETH is the GETH seminar, which is comprised of a series of guest lecturers who all make the pilgrimage to Clark Kerr on Monday afternoons to talk about their career paths and research. This year the seminar line up included UC Berkeley community members like CNR Dean Keith Giles, SERC Director Sharon Daraphonhdeth, and Professor Dan Kammen. The seminar helps to give GETH members insight on opportunities to get more involved with environmental organizations on campus. For current GETHie Vanessa Thompson, the seminar helped her to “[see] the different flavors of environmentalists” and, like the larger Berkeley experience, “[relax] into the mystery of knowledge.”

GETH seminar photo from Professor Dan Kammen’s Twitter Account

GETHies in the UC Berkeley Community

Beyond the love for the environment, there is not a single characteristic that defines a GETHie. You can find GETHies in a wide variety of majors from Environmental Science to Computer Science to French. GETHies are also actively engaged with almost every environmental group in the Berkeley Area like the Berkeley Student Food Collective, Fossil Free Cal, ReUSE, and Cal Forestry Club, just to name a few. Senior Jennifer Lynne Purcell is sure that GETH helped them get involved on campus and refine their major choice by “raising my awareness of campus opportunities.”

GETH alumni are still actively involved in the environmental community on and off campus. One former GETHie you might recognize is Maggie Li, a student who began her freshman year in the theme house, but moved on to be involved in the Berkeley Student Food Collective, Alternative Breaks, GBO, CRSSO, and SERC. Maggie believes that GETH has helped her and others “find something for themselves that fits what they want to be.”

Current junior, Michelle Margolies, also happily remembers her time with GETH. Her projects with GETH allowed her to transition to campus liaison for Bahia Beach Construction, a group that allowed her to bridge her architecture major background with her environmental passion. Bahia Beach Construction sends a cohort of UC Berkeley students to Bahia de Caraquez to help rebuild the local infrastructure and create jobs without destroying the remainder of the dry forest.

UC Berkeley Student Kanta Morinaga (left), UT Austin Student Colleen Jones (center), and Bahia Beach Construction foreman (right) in Bahia, photo taken by UC Berkeley Student Stella Te

GETHies are encouraged to “engage with the environmental community in a way that works for [them].” For Dominic Daniels, undergrad at Berkeley, this means research. Involved in two labs, Dominic has spent countless hours on ecology work conducting plant and insect surveys along with cataloging keystone species. Dominic is very much still involved with the environmental community, and as he puts it, “that’s my environmentalism.”

GETHies may have gotten their sustainability roots in GETH but they urge others to get involved in their own way. Michelle is confident that “there are 1000 different routes to environmentalism if you are invested in doing something you can do it.” Sarah Bancroft, a current GETHie said that while GETH is “a wonderful opportunity if you keep your mind open” she also advocates for anyone interested in the environmental community to “go to as many different club meetings as you can toward the beginning of the semester and stick with the ones you like.”

Sticking toGETHer

Current GETHies with their screen printed GETH shirts.

GETHies are always on the prowl for new projects to get involved in for these projects. If you need extra hands for planting, tabling, researching, or anything else for your environmental ideas, GETH can help! Please e-mail sarahxu@berkeley.edu.

Special thanks to Jennifer Lynne Purcell, Jordan Bloem, Dominic Daniels, Vanessa Thompson, Maggie Li, Sarah Bancroft, Jaewon Saw and Michelle Margolies for taking time out of their busy days to sit down and talk about GETH.

Sarah Xu

Sarah Xu is a third year Environmental Economics and Policy major and Global Poverty and Practice minor. She is passionate about global environmental governance. At UC Berkeley, Sarah has been involved with programs on campus like ReUSE our on-campus thrift store, the Global Environment Theme House, and Berkeley Model United Nations. In her free time, Sarah enjoys over-caffeinating and getting lost on public transportation. Sarah Xu covers international environmental governance and policy.

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