Inside USD

Gabby Sghia-Hughes: Food Waste, Sustainability

Monday, September 23, 2013

The University of San Diego is a designated Ashoka U Changemaker Campus. As a steward of this initiative, the USD Changemaker Hub awarded nine current USD students with up to $2,000 each in the Summer Changemaker Fellowship program, which was partially funded by School of Business Administration Board of Advisors member Chris Crane. Each student has worked on a project they’re passionate about that makes positive change. This is the fifth in a series of Inside USD articles about the 2013 Summer Changemaker Fellows.

Gabby Sghia-Hughes didn’t become a USD Summer Changemaker Fellow to put a small Band-Aid on problems. No, she’s here to create change at the institutional level.

“Gabby is not interested in superficial fixes, but policy change,” says Chris Nayve, director of the Center for Community Service-Learning (CSL) and Sghia-Hughes’ fellowship mentor.

Focused on helping USD meet its commitment to be a zero-waste campus, she approaches her work from the top down.

“My goal was to see what ways an institution can change peoples’ behaviors,” she says, “and how institutional change would affect the individual.”

Alongside another USD Changemaker Fellow, Ellie Phillips, Sghia-Hughes, a junior English major, did her summer fellowship while also interning in USD’s Office of Sustainability. She’s a member of the USD Sustainability Club and is a site coordinator for CSL’s work at a local juvenile hall. In her role as a fellow, Sghia-Hughes spent her summer researching, planning and supporting sustainable projects on campus to increase and deepen USD’s already strong sustainability efforts. Although she’s working on a variety of projects, they are all connected to the zero-waste campus goal.

One way to do this, she explains, is by increasing USD’s composting efforts. One composting bin already exists in the Community Garden located behind Missions Crossroads residential housing, but it is not large enough to handle the amount of food waste generated on campus. Her goal is to expand USD’s composting capabilities in order to increase production of nutrient-rich soil to be used in the Community Garden, a garden that produces food used by Dining Services for campus consumption. She has devoted a significant amount of her time researching how to make this happen. The fellowship gave her the chance to begin connecting the dots on campus to put her plan in action.

Composting is an integral step in her plan, but not the only one. When food waste is generated, she says, any leftover food would ideally go to students on campus or it would be donated to an off-campus organization. If the food cannot be donated, anything left over would be composted so it can fuel the production of more in-house sustainably produced food. If it cannot be composted, then it would end up in the “digester,” USD’s machine that breaks down food waste instead of sending it to a landfill, thus eliminating CO2 emissions.

“I’ve created, in theory, a system that is zero-waste for food and diverts everything step-by-step to maximize its use,” she says.

Although she has identified a systematic way to eliminate campus food waste, Sghia-Hughes acknowledges the challenges of putting the plan into action. Dealing with logistics, coordinating with the right offices and individuals, or addressing the processes and habits already in place at USD take time to change, she says.

She adds, thought, that these impediments serve as a learning opportunity and she isn’t letting them deter her. Instead, she’s been energized by the positive reinforcement and support for sustainable projects at USD.

“I really appreciate the fact that every person I talked to was being genuine with me and saying, ‘I’d love to do that.’ With that attitude, change is going to be easier to come across.”

The interaction she’s had with USD faculty, administrators, staff and students has been one of the best aspects of the fellowship. “I love working with people. Having that intersection of ideas is really important to me.”

The fact that creating change takes time to implement — such as Sghia-Hughes’ plan to switch to 100 percent reusable or biodegradable products on campus — she is focused on laying the foundation for changes to occur. Even if her ideas aren’t in place by the time she graduates, she recognizes the importance of her work being a catalyst for change.

Her work through the fellowship is “at least getting the idea out there, putting it into people’s minds, and showing there’s support for it,” she says. “I’m glad to have put my word out there in a professional sense.”

Whether it’s increasing the scale of composting, working to make the Community Garden more sustainable and useful for years to come, or decreasing the amount of food waste generated on campus, her goal is to leave a lasting and positive mark.

While the Office of Sustainability recognizes her “diligent work this summer to promote sustainability initiatives throughout campus,” mentor Chris Nayve said Sghia-Hughes serves as a role model for others.

“My title of mentor and advisor is misleading,” Nayve says, “because I feel I’ve learned more from Gabby than she has from me.”

Sghia-Hughes said her work, as the fellowship has concluded, won’t stop. Her short response speaks volume to her commitment to creating positive change.


— Kim Heinle ’11 (MA)

Read about more Summer Changemaker Fellows: Ailsa Tirado, Brian Wisdom/Aaron McCarthy, Leo Brown-Young, Kyle Miller, Ellie Phillips, Katinka Bosch and Danielle Cantwell

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