June 30, 2010
MADISON, Wis. – University of Wisconsin rower Grace Latz has aspirations wider than the open water on which she rows.
In addition to her achievements with the Badgers’ openweight rowing squad, which include being named All-Big Ten and helping the team to a program-best seventh place NCAA finish this spring, Latz received the National W Club’s community service award in recognition of the work she has done to improve UW’s sustainability and social ecology.
Latz, an International Studies major obtaining an Environmental Studies certificate, is extensively involved with REthink Wisconsin, a student organization formed to encourage and facilitate sustainable waste management practices throughout the campus community. She worked with a couple of her teammates to create the organization when she was a sophomore after a class discussion sparked her interest, and she has continued to promote and grow the organization since then.
“There’s always talk about what sustainable things you’d like to see around campus, but rarely do people actually implement them,” Latz explained. “Even simple things, like double-sided printing or motion-censored lights or recycling, little things like that, things that could be changed but you don’t know where to start.”
Most people might not know where to start, but Latz certainly did.
The Jackson, Mich., native began by installing a recycling bin in the Porter Boathouse and quickly started working with the athletic department on other recycling initiatives. Waste management in Camp Randall Stadium on football game days was an immediate priority as well.
Since then, REthink has expanded beyond the UW athletic department to work with the UW campus, the hospital, the Wisconsin unions, dining services and UW housing. The organization now has about 60 members.
It has also grown to include the campaign REfill, which attacks pre-use waste. REthink has partnered with campus facilities management on the WEconserve initiative to make the campus more green through recycling implementation and waste management throughout campus.
“The program is going into its third year this fall where we’ve established a pretty successful recycling program [in the athletic department],” Latz said. “We’re expanding it to these other areas because it’s been successful and we’ve shown them that it’s not just a temporary student interest.”
UW women’s rowing head coach Bebe Bryans nominated Latz for the W Club’s Community Service award because of her unmistakable dedication to bettering the university.
“Grace has been a very active participant in our community service activities since she first came on campus,” Bryans said. “She became very involved in the recycling project, which I think has been just a stellar improvement to football at Camp Randall, among other things.
“She has kept up that passion and has recruited some people on our team to join her with that and they’ve taken it up as well. She is a good ambassador.”
The naturally self-motivated Latz explained her commitment to REthink and improving the UW ecosystem as a personality trait.
“If I see something that I’d really like to do, I just forge my own way,” Latz said. “I feel like if I see a space that needs to be filled with something and I know what could be there, I have the responsibility to at least try to put something there.
“Even though I’m a student and I’m only here for a short time, I’m in a good position to talk to athletics and these different entities on campus that I’ve gotten to know. It takes a while to know how they all interact, and I can help them communicate with each other.”
Being part of UW’s rowing team has only complemented Latz’s commitment to UW’s social ecology.
“With rowing, when you’re out on the water all day, a lot of people tend to be environmentally-minded,” Latz said. “There are a lot of biology and conservation majors and environmental studies certificate people on the team.
“I think it can be a very good leverage point to get athletics and ecology on the same page. Athletes are tuning their bodies, and they want their systems ready to be their best and to work with their teammates in competing. Being physically in check so you can be at practice every day and be healthy – the same goes for the environment. I think that athletes can be really good activists in a way because they have that perspective if they choose to see it that way.”
Support from her teammates has encouraged Latz’s environmental initiatives as well.
“I started all of this because my teammates were taking similar classes to me and shared the same values, so it made it easier. It’s been so rewarding for me to do it. I’m already really happy to be at the university, but also to compete on a really awesome team and to be able to do stuff that I really like outside of that –it just adds more happiness to my life.”
In addition to her work with REthink, Latz worked with campus officials to create an environmentally-missioned residential learning community that will be located on the first floor of Cole Hall this fall.
“I was in a residential learning community my freshman and sophomore year, and I really liked it,” Latz said. “I knew I really liked environmental studies, environmentalism and environmental justice, so I initiated the relationships that needed to be made to create an environmentally-missioned learning community.”
Furthermore, Latz is also a member of a committee of student leaders helping with the sustainability initiative on campus. Community service and involvement come natural for Latz, and it all balances out her own ecosystem.
“It ties in everything that I’ve learned about in my classes. I can take that awareness and look at what my university could do. It’s helpful that I can apply what I’m learning in my classes while also playing in with my belief system as well. Ecology if you will – everything works together perfectly in its little system that I call my life.”