New Dining Sustainability Coordinator hopes to make waves
Junior Alan Rojas wants to help every University of Rochester student be more sustainable. Earlier this year, Rojas was appointed as the new Sustainability Coordinator for Dining Team Green, a student-led group that works with Dining Services to implement sustainable practices and raise awareness on campus. His job includes researching, proposing, and implementing programs to promote sustainability, and he also serves as a liaison between dining management and students. Speaking with me, Rojas said that the role allows him to combine his love for food with his commitment to sustainability.
Rojas sees himself as a “big foodie.” “I love food in general, and I like trying different things. Even back home, I was trying to eat more plant-based, because it’s more sustainable,” he said. In addition, as an Economics and Environmental Science major, Rojas commented that he is drawn to both biology and the social sciences. Therefore, his interest in sustainability also stems from exploring the intersections between the two fields.
“I’ve always been passionate about sustainability,” Rojas said. “[In high school] I really liked getting involved with environmental organizations and founded a movement that planted trees in my city.” Rojas has continued pursuing his passion for the environment in college. He said that environmental activism is important to him because he feels like he “has to do something about [climate change]; it is like self-preservation.”
Rojas hails from Paraguay, which is a land-locked, agriculture-dependent country that is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The country has been undergoing drought since 2018 and declared a state of emergency on the Paraná river in July 2021. As Paraguay tries trying to develop a National Action Plan on Climate Change, Rojas finds that his background increasingly contributes to his interest in climate advocacy. “Back home, people don’t care about the environment for the most part and there are barely any policies or regulations about it,” he said. “That’s been very frustrating and it has motivated a lot of the passion I have for environmental activism.”
However, Rojas is currently focused on making a difference in the University of Rochester community. As Sustainability Coordinator, he has plans to expand Team Green’s reach and role on campus. He is currently in the process of planning and implementing events for this semester, including a Hackathon where students will be encouraged to suggest solutions to real-world sustainability issues. “It’s a great way to get more students involved and also gather ideas and feedback from them,” he said.
He is also working on making several more personal projects a reality in the coming months. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, QR codes have become the norm at many restaurants, and Rojas has devised a way to use this now-familiar piece of technology for Team Green’s sustainability efforts. He hopes to create QR code questionnaires for the River Campus’s dining halls, which could introduce curious students to fun facts, trivia, and sustainability tips.
“Not a lot of people know [Team Green], and so this can be a good way to connect,” he said. Rojas also sees it as a way to help Dining Services learn what students like and are interested in. “We have to figure out how to put sustainable and organic food on the menu while also catering to students’ tastes,” he said, jokingly referring to what he calls the Ketchup Incident of 2018, when Dining attempted to switch to a locally-produced ketchup brand and encountered overwhelmingly negative feedback from the student body. “It’s all about balance,” he said. Just like the environment.
Written by Syeda Mahnoor Raza (’24)
Photo by author