A group of college students from USC shuffle into a classroom filled with students from the halls of Pine Ridge Middle School. These Pine Ridge middle schoolers will join the other classrooms that have learned from The Sierra Student Coalition, the USC-wearing college students and group of environmental activists, who are there to share with the middle-schoolers their love of the Earth.
The Sierra Student Coalition is a student-based club from USC that says it promotes advocacy, education and engagement around environmental and justice topics. It is a subsidiary of a national organization called the Sierra Club that has multiple branches in the state of South Carolina.
This past semester members of the Coalition have partnered with Pine Ridge Middle School to develop a community garden and act as role models for the students.
“You don't get to work with middle schoolers that much, especially ones who come from all sorts of cultural backgrounds and socio-economic backgrounds,” said Dalton Fulcher, the president of the Sierra Student Coalition and a fourth-year business student. “The goal is to primarily act as ambassadors for staying with school and going to college.”
The group also started a community garden — an idea that originated from the former president and alumnus, Louis Rubino.
When an organization called Communities in Schools, a non-profit organization that works within public schools to help at-risk students stay in school, reached out to one of Fulcher’s professors. The professor shared it with the class, the coalition decided the garden was the perfect match.
“We had simultaneously gotten a grant from the Sierra Club that we were looking to put towards a community garden. And both of those happened at the exact same time,” Rubino said. “I think they circulated it through the school ... and basically we were like 'oh, this would be a great place to put our funds.'”
Since the coalition was created in 2019, it worked with Student Government to create legislation regarding the school selling off subsidiary business interests.
The legislation explained what the divestment was and aided the university to investigate what the school's fossil fuels were in terms of the Educational Foundation. The legislation got passed and the university president at the time, Robert Caslen, sent a letter over to the Educational Foundation asking for an investigation to occur.
Rubino and Fulcher’s efforts have not gone unnoticed around the Columbia community, according to Penny Delaney Cothran. Delaney Cothran holds many titles, such as the Organizing Representative For Ready for 100 and the group's connection between the university and the city of Columbia.
“I have done very little but sit back and marvel at Dalton and the crew and how amazingly quick they got themselves organized and got going on the things they wished to see happen on their campus,” Delaney Cothran said.
Delaney Cothran — much like the coalition — said she is always advocating and looking for new ways to make the city of Columbia a more energy-efficient place. A South Carolina native, she encourages citizens to think more about the environment and energy.
“I would just encourage everyone to think about where they get their energy from and who controls the levers of power behind that wall socket that you plug your computer into every day,” Delaney Cothran said.
Fulcher and other club members are constantly working on sharing their passion for the environment and implementing new legislation with Student Government and the university. But with the majority of the club graduating and only consisting of 20 people, they are looking for students that share those same values and want to continue the club's work.
The organization wants to develop interest among younger students in the university who are really keen on taking on tough problems and leadership roles.
“The idea is that we offer actually like enriching and meaningful experiences, that students can look at and grow from, or take inspiration from and go in a different direction,” Fulcher said.