Thomas Strimpel, a Rowlett, Texas local and avid student advocate for the UNT Community Garden has a mission to bring pollinator education to campus. Through the UNT We Mean Green Fund, he received $1,046.98 in 2020 to liven the garden with his original artwork and support UNT’s Bee Campus USA affiliate status. Visitors to the community garden and student residents living nearby at Legends Hall can expect to be greeted by Thomas’ digitally rendered pollinator mural on the garden shed as well as educational signage identifying pollinator species throughout the garden. “Creating this mural is my chance to create something that will have a positive and lasting impact on people’s experiences at UNT long after I’ve graduated,” Thomas explains. “I want visitors to the UNT Community Garden to learn more about the local ecosystem and how pollinators are such a crucial part of the natural communities we all depend on.”
Pollinators such as bees, bats, beetles, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, and small mammals visit plants to feed on pollen or drink nectar and in the process, they transfer pollen from flower-to-flower aiding in the reproductive cycle of plants. A successfully pollinated flower brings us fruits, vegetables, or nuts. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, about 75% of the Earth’s flowering plants rely on pollinators to reproduce which means pollinators are vital to sustaining a healthy and diverse environment for us to live within. At the UNT Community Garden where Thomas has grown fruits and vegetables, a vast range of pollinators make themselves at home, attracted by the native Texas plants lining the borders of the garden.
UNT students are documenting the biodiversity of species observed in the community garden through a newly launched iNaturalist project that anyone can contribute to by uploading photos of wild flora and fauna found on site. This citizen scientist initiative helps monitor the presence or lack of pollinators and other wildlife in specific geographical regions, helping us learn about the health of their populations. Thomas is well practiced with the iNaturalist app and has used it in a variety of applications including at home and with the UNT Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration at the Pollinative Prairie. “These experiences have enabled me to learn from and connect with people passionate about nature, the outdoors and addressing environmental issues,” Thomas shares.
Not only is Thomas advancing environmental education about pollinators at UNT, but he also recently worked for UNT’s Recycling unit of the Facilities Department where he learned about how waste and recyclable materials are processed on campus. “From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, my coworkers and I served as a de facto sanitation team on campus as well, helping to clean the most heavily visited buildings on campus and ensure a cleaner, safer environment for everyone here.”
Thomas’ work at the garden and across campus is a testament to the resilience and caring nature of UNT’s community.
Like many other students, Thomas brings a creative twist to the use of the UNT We Mean Green Fund which supports student and employee led campus sustainability projects. UNT students, faculty, and staff interested in advancing environmental sustainability and stewardship may propose their project ideas to the We Mean Green Fund Committee to be considered for funding and a chance to make UNT even greener.
Written by Emily Bilcik