Be a Part of the Solution: Help Stop Plastic Pollution
Students in the Honors Program at Arcadia University are required to submit a project on a topic of interest outside of their major. Students address social, political, and scientific issues with the guidance of a mentor. Inspired tales cover students reflecting on their Honors Projects.
I learned a valuable lesson during this process. Vulnerability is unavoidable.
– Emma Connolly
Those past few months were an absolute whirlwind. At the beginning of the summer semester, I genuinely had no idea what I would create for my Honors Project. Hearing about past students’ projects made things confusing for me. Seeing my friends’ projects, I couldn’t help but admire their ability to turn their projects into lasting impacts on the Arcadia Community and beyond. From highlighting the realities of mental illness, to raising awareness for the kindness of pit bulls, and helping students defend themselves on campus, the projects I saw had made an incredible impact on the world around them, and I longed to do the same. I was struggling to choose an idea that would fulfill both my desire to make a difference and satisfy my need to be creative when it hit me. I would use art to raise awareness for a social or environmental issue I felt passionately about. In the end, I chose the issue of single-use plastic pollution, and the impact this type of pollution has on our environment.
I was able to spend the summer in a place where I saw the impacts of this issue firsthand – the New Jersey shore. While working at Island Beach State Park Nature and Interpretive Centers, I was able to get a sense for how certain informative displays worked for the public. The existing display regarding plastic pollution was a hit with the people who frequented the Nature Center, although it was becoming outdated. The display itself never held the public’s attention for more than a moment, and I was wondering what I could do to improve upon it. Initially, my idea was to create a multi-faceted project, involving a mural of sorts, an informative pamphlet, and a small object for distribution by the Nature Center to raise money. For this last aspect, I chose a recycled plastic bracelet made from used soda and water bottles.
During the course of this project, I experienced a number of challenges. For one, I struggled to find a way to make my project different. Anyone can create an art project from plastic waste if they so choose, what would make my project different? Another issue was that of time management. How would I balance a 24 hour per week internship, a job as a dogsitter, and this project without burning out or falling behind? Finally, an issue I did not anticipate was that of the unexpected vulnerability of creating art. How would I feel at the end of the semester, when I had to submit my project for a grade? I had created art in the past, and enjoyed the process, but how would my art stand up in an academic setting?
I worried initially that the Island Beach State Park staff would be resistant to my proposal for remaking their display. Instead, I was met with open arms! The Nature Center allocated a section of the wall for me to use for the mural, which I decided to make into a “Look and Find” of sorts. Each element of the mural would correspond to a poster displayed next to it, featuring a fact about that type of pollution and a fix which people can implement in their daily lives. For instance, the dune grass featured in my mural is made of plastic from single-use coffee pods. This element would be featured next to the mural, with a fact about how much waste these pods produce annually as well as a recommendation to switch to large-batch coffee pots which would reduce the person’s plastic waste greatly. This idea gave me the edge which I was searching for, a way to make the project stand out. By making it interactive, I hope to engage the audience at the Nature Center more efficiently and successfully than the existing display.
The issue of time management presented itself differently than I anticipated. I worried that the project itself would fall behind, when in fact I fell behind only in the Canvas discussion board. The mural and the pamphlet were a welcome break from the research I did during my internship, and I ended up enjoying the time I spent on this task. In my experience, working with a deadline motivates me to do my best work.
Finally, I learned a valuable lesson during this process. Vulnerability is unavoidable. I may be nervous to submit my work, but in the end the risk of not being “good enough” is outweighed by the reward of having my work contribute to a greater purpose than just myself. The artwork I have created in the past may be of good quality, but without presenting it to the world, I may as well not have put any effort into it. The fear of not living up to the standards of this class has motivated me to create something which I am extremely proud of, which I hope shines through in my project.
Overall, the process of creating my Honors Project has been an incredibly rewarding experience. From developing different ideas, to fine-tuning my time management skills, to navigating the often complicated process of completing a project with the input of multiple parties, I believe that this process has helped me immensely in developing many valuable skills. I truly enjoyed watching the progress of my fellow students, and I am glad to have been a part of this Honors class.
About the Author
Emma Connolly is a Senior History major at Arcadia University. A member of the AU Honors Program, Emma spends her free time studying, reading fiction, and crafting. Emma is passionate about issues such as historic preservation and the climate crisis. She plans to attend graduate school to study history with a focus on collective memory.
Photo Credit: Hannah Garber, 2019