The importance of bees in relation to our food, environment, and general livelihood is vastly understated. Our lives – and the world as a whole – would be a much different place if bees didn’t exist. Bees pollinate a third of everything we eat and play a vital role in sustaining the planet’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, bee populations are currently under threat from excessive use of pesticides, modern farming practices that result in habitat fragmentation, and various diseases.
As part of Georgia Tech’s mission to promote environmentally-friendly practices and to become leaders in sustainability, innovation, and research the Urban Honey Bee Project was started. The purpose of this group, led by Dr. Jennifer Leavey, is to advance our understating of how urbanization affects honey bees which would be of great ecological, economic, and academic interest. The Urban Honeybee Project incorporates the spirit and goals of the Georgia Tech's strategic plan by providing for innovative instruction and course design using an interdisciplinary model system. The project is collaborative and expands on existing strong research and educational programs currently in place at Georgia Tech.
As a result of this initiative, Georgia Tech was also the second institution in the U.S. to be affiliated with Bee Campus USA. The Office of Campus Sustainability got a chance to talk to Anne Boykin-Smith, who is the Chair of the Georgia Tech Bee Campus committee, as well as Dr. Leavey to understand some of the motivations behind the initiative and look at the progress that has been made so far.
What is the Urban Honey Bee Project and what was the inspiration behind it?
The Urban Honey Bee Project is an interdisciplinary program that allows Georgia Tech students to apply what they are learning about science to the study of the effects of urban habitats on bees. We have an apiary on the roof of the Clough Commons building and the bees are used in class projects and for research. We also have a large volunteer program where students, faculty, staff or community members can be trained in beekeeping and help maintain our bees.
How much progress have you made and what are some of the goals that you hope to achieve by the end of the semester/year?
The program has grown a lot since its inception. We were recently funded by the USDA to host a group of students each summer to conduct research on bees and collaborate with community gardens and urban farms. It is called Bee-INSPIRED (INtegrating Service Projects Into Research and Design). We would love to have more faculty incorporate bee-related projects into their courses and into their research over the next year.
What does an affiliation with Bee Campus USA mean for Georgia Tech?
On December 5, 2015, Georgia Institute of Technology and Bee Campus USA announced that Georgia Tech was the second university in the nation to be certified as an affiliate of the Bee Campus USA program, designed to marshal the strengths of educational campuses for the benefit of pollinators. There already are many students, faculty, & staff working on pollinator health and sustainability issues. Georgia Institute of Technology has shown commitment to environmentally sustainable practices exemplified by award-winning recycling programs, world-class storm-water management infrastructure, and designation as one of the Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges.
How is this affiliation awarded?
There is an application process that GT completed, reviewed with the senior leadership and received approval to move forward. The Bee Campus USA committee has been established that meets quarterly. A full list of commitments can be found here.
How does the affiliation help promote sustainable practices at Tech?
Georgia Tech plans to develop a Campus Pollinator Habitat Plan for its 373-acre landscape to include a locally native and pollinator friendly plant list with regional sources for plants as well as a least toxic integrated pest management (IPM) plan to be shared on the web as a tool for the community at large.
Interim Director of Campus Sustainability, Julie Anne Williamson, said, “Through this integration of the diverse set of minds represented on the Bee Campus USA committee, Georgia Tech will become a student and a teacher of sustainable practices. Its membership includes our landscape planners; horticulturists; facilities design, operations and maintenance staff; science faculty; biosafety and sustainability project staff; and a student. Our goal is to model pollinator-friendliness in our landscaping practices by incorporating as many locally native plants as possible and using as few and the least toxic pesticides as possible.”
Jennifer Leavey, Director of the Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee Project said, “We believe Bee Campus USA certification will provide the institution with an important platform for fostering wider dialogue on and off-campus regarding pollinator awareness and initiating student service projects that could benefit the entire city of Atlanta. We are excited about offering courses or workshops on pollinator ecology, integrated pest management or landscaping for pollinators, and hosting annual campus events to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators. We want to celebrate our university's certification as a Bee Campus USA."
How can students get involved/volunteer and what kind of research projects are currently being carried out?
Students can get involved by signing up for our mailing list on our website (bees.gatech.edu) and indicating that they would like to volunteer. We have a one hour "Intro to Beekeeping" class offered several times a semester and regular hive inspections where students can get hands-on experience keeping bees. Students can also help with our outreach initiatives in local schools, gardens and farms or can participate in bee-related research in their major school or join the Bee-SNAP VIP team (bees.gatech.edu).