MBU Senior Leading Sustainability in the Shenandoah Valley

Grace Gardner senior thesis/capstone

Mary Baldwin University senior Grace Gardner has had a busy fall: completing a double major in studio art and business sustainability, serving as president of MBU’s chapter of the national social and environmental organization Net Impact, filling a seat at the Annual College Ethics Symposium, and hosting a regional conference on sustainable development in action.

Gardner came to MBU unsure of what she would pursue. An interest in studio art came first. 

“I came to MBU as an undeclared major,” she said, “but taking my general education courses, like my art credit class in silkscreening, made me realize that I wanted to do that.” 

Then, she realized the possibilities in business. 

“I actually wrote my college admissions essay on climate change, but taking Business 104 (Sustainability in Business) showed me that there was an opportunity to have a career in this field,” she said.

Gardner soon combined her interest in artistic expression with her desire to enact business’ potential for good. By the start of her senior year, she had become president of Net Impact at MBU and presented her senior project in studio art, a multi-media installation piece about invasive species that involved elements of screen printing, drawing, stitching, and more.

Gardner’s senior capstone project in studio art presented a multi-media installation piece about invasive species in MBU’s Hunt Gallery.

Sustainability in business is a niche but expanding field. 

“MBU is the only university I know in the area that has a business department focused on sustainability,” Gardner explained. “The structure of programs at MBU made double-majoring possible for me where I don’t think it would have worked at other universities.” 

“But what made me comfortable pursuing conferences, double majoring, running the Net Impact club, and embracing the opportunities that come my way was the professors,” she added. 

Professors like Janet Ewing, associate professor of business, Dr. Bruce Dorries, associate professor of communication, and Dr. Kerry Cooke, associate dean and director of the school of visual and performing arts, helped Gardner turn her passions into projects and opportunities beyond school.

 The 2022 Student Sustainability Summit (left) and this year’s Sustainable Development in Action Conference (Gardner is pictured with Autumn Taylor and Maria Diallo (l-r), Net Impact student leaders)

This fall, Gardner became a co-coordinator for the Sustainable Shenandoah Valley’s second annual Sustainable Development in Action Conference. Held on October 25 at Blue Ridge Community College, this event focused on “Innovative Approaches to Addressing Hunger in Our Community.” For Gardner, this is exactly what business sustainability is about. 

“I like to define business sustainability as relating to social and environmental issues in businesses and how they handle them,” she said. “Corporate responsibility is at the center of it.”

In preparation for this event, Gardner has been working with student organizers from four other colleges and universities, making marketing materials, developing written communications, and coordinating infrastructure. 

She is particularly excited about the networking opportunities at the event. 

“If we connect individuals and organizations that can help solve hunger in our community, get them to engage and collaborate with each other, that would be a success,” she said.

“I like to define business sustainability as relating to social and environmental issues in businesses and how they handle them. Corporate responsibility is at the center of it.”

— Grace Gardner ’24