Net Impact Chapter Wins International Recognition

Mary Baldwin University’s student chapter of global environmental and social justice nonprofit Net Impact has been awarded Gold Status, the organization’s highest honor. The group has more than 400 chapters in 40-plus countries — of them, just 30 have achieved the designation. 

“This is a way to spotlight our finest chapters, the ones that go above and beyond in providing their members with opportunities to make an impact in their community, learn and grow as individuals, and engage with the larger Net Impact community,” said Net Impact Senior Community Manager Maggie Sandoval in a statement. Attaining the designation “is a major achievement that requires tremendous hard work and dedication.”

Net Impact MBU members at the first annual Student Sustainability Summit, from left to right: Autumn Taylor ’24, Heather Korzun ’23, Jackie Peraza ’24, Sophie Sons ’22 (James Madison University), Chrissy Mahoney ’22, Grace Gardner ’24.

NET IMPACT was founded in 1994 with a mission to inspire and equip emerging leaders to build a more just and sustainable world through a global grassroots movement. Key focus areas include raising awareness around and combating climate change, promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, social capital and impact investing, and more. The nonprofit has won praise from countless major media outlets, including The Boston Globe, USA Today, Sierra Magazine, and Los Angeles Business Journal.  

Assistant Professor of Business Administration Jinyoung Kang is the MBU chapter’s current sponsor. She says the club has undergone an inspiring turnaround since falling inactive in late 2019, and credits ambitious student leadership for making it happen. 

President Heather Korzun ’23, a business and art double major, assumed the helm of the club in fall 2020 and quickly moved to get it reinstated. The effort got a shot in the arm when Net Impact MBU merged with the Green Team club in 2021, creating a core leadership bench of students Grace Gardner ’24, Autumn Taylor ’24, Chrissy Mahoney ’22, and Jackie Peraza ’24. 

Successes were soon to follow.

Most notable was the launch of a campus-wide initiative to collect food waste from the dining hall and student dormitories for industrial composting at local farms like Project Grows. The project also had an educational component. 

Our goal was to teach through action, making a real impact on our community’s sustainability practices in the process, said Korzun. 

She says the benefits of composting are manifold. Composting food waste returns valuable nutrients to the soil, reducing the need for artificial fertilizers. It also frees up space in landfills and slashes related greenhouse gas emissions.  

“If the U.S. halved current food waste in landfills over the next 30 years, carbon dioxide pollution would decrease by the equivalent of taking 2,570 coal-fired power plants offline,” Korzun wrote in a 2021 Instagram post promoting the initiative. 

The project gained significant support, and landed the club a 2022 Mary Baldwin Organization Service award for “engaging in service and promoting global awareness and civic engagement on campus.”

Meanwhile, Korzun netted an Unsung Hero Award “for demonstrating excellence in service to the university, regardless of receiving public acknowledgement for [her] work.”

“During my 20-plus-year tenure at Mary Baldwin I’ve never seen such promising, energetic, intelligent green leaders.”

MBU Associate Professor of Marketing Communications Bruce Dorries

BUT NET IMPACT MBU’s leaders didn’t stop there. 

The club hosted virtual conference events with sister chapters and global experts on topics like designing careers around personal passions that help create a more just and sustainable world. They instituted an annual film and discussion series featuring documentaries that explore or address United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They organized nature-appreciation hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway and elsewhere. 

Membership numbers have consequently blossomed to about 80 students.

Korzun and company were also forging partnerships with sustainability changemakers throughout the region. Their efforts birthed the first annual Student Sustainability Summit. The inaugural event was held at the Staunton Innovation Hub in collaboration with the Sustainable Shenandoah Valley consortium, a U.N. recognized Regional Center of Expertise for sustainable development. 

The summit brought together more than 50 students from six colleges and universities, and numerous leaders from regional sustainability nonprofits and organizations. 

“Our goal was to connect undergraduate students and [leaders from] community organizations who work in similar areas of impact,” said Korzun. The one-day event consisted of presentations from undergraduate researchers, networking sessions with local for- and non- profit businesses, discussions led by university and community representatives, and more — all centered around the theme of UN sustainable development goals.

The summit was a hit and brought national recognition: Korzun was invited to present at the 11th annual Global Regional Center for Expertise Network Americas Meeting in Maryland, which was attended by hundreds of sustainability experts and representatives from across the nation.  

She calls the experience an incredible opportunity. 

“It provided a platform to discuss, debate, and launch activities that reinforce the fundamental role that education plays in achieving a sustainable future [in the U.S.],” said Korzun. Her presentation “centered around the importance of empowering undergraduate students to undertake research and independent projects, and fostering collaborations with community groups for the benefit of both students and the wider region.”

ADMINISTRATORS AT NET IMPACT topped off the list of accolades and achievements by awarding the chapter Gold Status designation. 

Professor Kang and other MBU professors agree that the recognition is well-deserved.  

“During my 20-plus-year tenure at Mary Baldwin I’ve never seen three such promising, energetic, intelligent green leaders,” said marketing communications professor Bruce Dorries. He recently worked with Korzun, Gardener, and sophomore Indya Lawson at a Techstars Startup Weekend event centered around viewing nonprofits as business enterprises — and calls Korzun a favorite for a 2023 MBU Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. 

Korzun says that, for their part, the Net Impact team isn’t letting the praise go to their heads. Instead, they’re looking to parlay the momentum into bigger and better successes.

“The recognition and appreciation has been extremely encouraging to us leaders, who have worked so hard to make these events and projects possible,” said Korzun, who plans to go to law school after graduation and pursue a career in environmental policy work. But we don’t plan on slowing down: “Our goal is to achieve much more at MBU in this and the coming years!”

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