The sun peaks over the San Gabriel Mountains on an early fall morning as a team of APU students and Azusa Mayor Joseph Rocha hike the trails of the Azusa Canyon, stooping down to pick up trash abandoned in the dust or tangled in the mountain shrubbery. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, the group collects more than two dozen large trash bags full of plastic, paper, cans, bottles, and Styrofoam.

Nursing student Kimberly Main ’20, kinesiology student Nathan Nunez ’21, and Louise Ko Huang, Ph.D., assistant dean of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for Research in Science, are encouraged by the outpouring of support and spirit of volunteerism.

“Hosted by APU’s Science and Religion Club, Sustainability Days allow us to serve our beautiful city of Azusa and bring awareness about environmental issues affecting the community,” said Nunez.

An extra credit assignment offered in Huang's chemistry class served as the catalyst for the students' conservation work. After learning about the damaging effects of Styrofoam, also known as polystyrene, students were challenged to write a proposal to the city of Azusa explaining this product's negative impact on the environment. With their passion ignited, and under the guidance of their professor, Main and Nunez continued to research Styrofoam. Non-biodegradable and mostly made of air, Styrofoam is lightweight and quickly spreads into various ecological surroundings, including the San Gabriel River, which flows into the ocean. In addition, they discovered recycling Styrofoam is uneconomical for businesses and produces little to no profit, so the majority ends up in land fills. Their research soon evolved into a search for possible alternatives, which could financially benefit local businesses.

In June 2018, committed to their mission of educating others, Main and Nunez shared their research with Rocha and the city manager. The two students continue to engage with the city of Azusa, meeting with local businesses and hosting conversations. Community members serve a vital role in the students’ research, as they explore ways to both protect the environment and help businesses thrive.

In the midst of a full class load and the many time commitments of college, faith propels these dedicated students forward. Believing God calls us to act as stewards of this land, they work to fulfill their individual role—whether spreading awareness or picking up trash in the canyon––to actively pursue this calling.

“Environmentalism and caring for creation is so much more than simply going green,” said Huang. “It should stem from an adoration of who God is and what He loves, from the beautiful mountains to the little mosquito.”

An advocate of transformative and holistic learning, Huang continues to mentor and guide Main and Nunez as they pursue their mission to raise environmental awareness. In return, Huang experiences the fulfilling role of watching her students grow and flourish.

“This project blossomed into something beyond my imagination,” said Huang. “I am inspired that APU students heed God’s call and make a difference.”