Three years ago, it was just a few Knights looking to make a difference – not sit around and talk about it, but actually get up, get dirty and make one.
Today those five UCF students have spread their bright idea to ten different campuses in the United States, they’ve cleaned lakes and even built playgrounds. They’ve taken T-shirts and turned them into tote bags. They’ve even built shacks out of aluminum cans.
Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions, or IDEAS, is a platform for environmentally conscientious people to grow in awareness, learn from research and act to benefit the environment in their community.
Co-founder and executive director of the group, Chris Castro, 22, says the group was an idea he and his good friend Hank Harding had a few years back. “We were both getting into the environmental program at the exact same time and it was great to see another person who was as proactive as I was,” says Castro.
Samantha Ruiz, 20, was also there in the beginning of the group and is now UCF’s chapter president. “When it started, it was really just a group of like minded people,” says Ruiz. “There were about five of us that wanted to do something, but all the outlets on campus didn’t really provide us with how we wanted to get involved. So we just decided to get out there and do things on our own, regardless of whether we were a student organization or not.”
IDEAS has literally built itself up from scratch through its three-tier approach to sustainability – research, action and environmental awareness. It’s a priority of IDEAS to form a partnership with students and to be a vehicle to facilitate their own ideas for projects. For the first year of its existence, IDEAS was not a Registered Student Organization at UCF, and thus received no funding for the projects they performed. Even now, the group operates with a $1,500 budget given to them from the university.
Despite the small amount of funding they operate under, IDEAS is an extremely active organization that has been very successful in its three years. “We can sit down and talk at a picnic table, but we really wanted to do some action whenever we meet up,” says Castro. That attitude has spread to four different states, and the start of 10 different chapters at colleges as big as Penn State to as small as Florida International University. “We can make this a conglomerate of intellectuals who really care about this movement and could potentially, between all their own niches, really make changes together,” says Castro.
Both Castro and Ruiz are intensely passionate about the environmental issues IDEAS tackles. “It’s extremely important for our generation to understand the urgency of the global problems we’re facing,” says Castro. “With any social shift, education is first. And that education spurs people to act and change their behaviors to mitigate those challenges. We hope that in doing that on our campus and in our community we can help spur the sustainability movement.”
IDEAS is extremely community focused, as they have done multiple eco-system clean ups at local beaches, forests, rivers, lakes and roads. “Being an important part of the community is being a part of making a difference. And that’s exactly what IDEAS does – we can go for the root of the problems and find out how we can make a difference in this community.”
After multiple projects in the greater Orlando area over the past three years, and the gaining of an active base of local volunteers, it’s safe to say that IDEAS has already made this community a little bit brighter.
Article By Katelyn Schmidt