Jessica Murray, a senior majoring in biology at the University of North Georgia, has been recognized as a 2014 Newman Civic Fellow. Murray, who is from Gwinnett County, is one of only 197 students from 36 states selected for the award, which honors students committed to creating lasting change in their communities.
"I am so thrilled that Jessica has received this recognition. In addition to being one of our leading scholars in Appalachian studies, Jessica has worked really hard to mobilize students across UNG's campuses on issues of sustainability and local foods," Appalachian Studies Center Director Rosann Kent said. "The work that she has been doing, combining biology and story-telling and art, is really cutting-edge."
Murray is the founder and leader of UNG’s GRRReen Team, an organization through which she initiated an environmentally-themed documentary series, improved the campus recycling program, and promoted the consumption of locally-grown food. Murray organized Green Fest, an annual event that has strengthened ties between the campus and Dahlonega community, ultimately increasing support for solving environmental issues in the region. The next Green Fest is scheduled for 2-5 p.m. April 3 on the Gen. William J. Livsey Drill Field on UNG's Dahlonega Campus.
"I was very flattered and grateful for being selected, but a little embarrassed," she said. She's intrigued by the opportunity to learn from other Newman Fellows. "I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how I can collaborate with others on issues that I'm interested in, especially sustainability. It's great to have a way to connect with college students who are active in the community and are leaders in their community."
In addition to her environmental efforts, Murray has been working on UNG's Appalachian Studies Center research in heirloom seeds, which are seeds that have been passed down from one generation to another. In 2013, students collected heirloom seeds from gardeners throughout Lumpkin County and presented their research in a "communograph" — a piece of artwork representing the seeds, the stories and the people that was displayed in locations throughout the community. The project, "Heirloom seed keepers & their stories: Growing community and sustainability through arts-based research," aims to preserve Appalachian culture and heritage and connect students with the community.
Murray and fellow students presented their research at a conference in Washington, D.C., and have been published in UNG's Papers and Pubs scholarly journal. In fall 2013, Jessica was named an honorary delegate to the second International Joint Ukrainian-American Scientific and Practical Conference, where she co-presented "Storytelling as Place-based Pedagogy."
Murray said she feels combining her studies in biology and Appalachia gives her a well-rounded approach to studying and helping to preserve other cultures by seeing how ecology and culture fit together.
"Biology is important for understanding how to conserve the natural world, but I think having an understanding of communicating with different cultures is a good way to perpetuate conservation," she said. "I'm not just learning about Appalachia, but also how to engage in a community and understand it by being immersed in it rather than studying with a detached anthropological view."
Based on her studies and her experiences in Ukraine, Murray said she's interested in continuing to work on sustainable development of communities on a larger scale.
"It was encouraging to see the potential for two countries or two cultures to work together and learn from each other's histories," she said. "I'd really be interested in being a part of these international conversations about how we can work together to sustainably develop our world."
The Newman Civic Fellow Award is made in memory of Dr. Frank Newman, a leader in higher education who dedicated his life to positive change through education reform in a career spanning more than 50 years. To read more about Newman's legacy and award, click here.
The University of North Georgia is designated by the University System of Georgia as a State Leadership Institution and fosters students' leadership development through academic and co-curricular opportunities.