Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Students Excel at the Environmental Leadership Awards


The annual Environmental Leadership Awards were held on Wednesday, April 24 to recognize students, faculty, staff, and community members who demonstrate exceptional Environmental Leadership in their everyday lives.

The first four awards of the night were presented to students at UT who excel in the classroom, extracurricular activities and inspire their peers to live more sustainability.

Student Academic: Kyra Jones

The Student Academic Award is given to a student that demonstrates environmental leadership in the classroom or as a part of their education. This year Kyra Jones, a senior studying Sustainability and Political Science received the award for her academic work on food insecurity, and specifically some of its underlying causes and ways to alleviate it. she is writing her thesis on food insecurity and gender equality, with a specific focus on women-led sustainable agriculture. Additionally, Kyra was part of a team developed a plan for Picket CCC Memorial State Park to increase revenue and visitation for the park with the least environmental impact and the highest rate of community involvement. She goes above and beyond every day in the classroom and truly cares about her work and wants to make sure the work she is doing is meaningful.

Student Engagement: Emma Heins and Payton Myers

The Student Engagement Award is given to a student who is personally involved in sustainability on campus, and engages others as well. This year we had such a great pool of nominations that we had two recipients of the award: Emma Heins and Payton Myers.

Emma Heins is a junior studying Sustainability and Environmental Studies. She consistently shows exceptional leadership in all aspects of her life – academics and extracurricular activities included. She works to educate the people around her how their decisions impact the environment. She is writes a column in the Daily Beacon about sustainable practices, wrote the RAFAS (Remove All Foam And Straws) bill passed through SGA Senate, she is the co-chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee for SGA, and is a member for the Bee Campus and Green Fee Committees. Emma is always ready to provide reusable straws to everyone she meets, and has put on incredible programming to bring awareness of sustainability efforts on campus!

Payton Myers, who was the second recipient of the Engagement Award is a junior studying Sustainability and Business Analytics. Payton’s academic and extracurricular activities embody “Make Orange Green” through sustainability engagement at UTK. From the academic side she is active in the Sustainability major and gives constructive feedback on what works with the major and how it can grow and serve students better. Payton promotes sustainability engagement through her research assistantship with Sustainability Accounting Standards, her outreach work with SPEAK, the Grow Lab, Bee Campus, and as a former Student Intern with the Office of Sustainability. She also serves as the Sustainability Chair in Alpha Kappa Psi (business fraternity) and works to make their events more sustainable.

Most Likely to Save the Plant: Jaden Hodges

The “Most Likely to Save the Plant” award, which, much like it sounds, is awarded to an individual who lives sustainability every day and will, “save the planet” through their everyday actions. Jaden Hodges was this year’s recipient for the passion she exhibits towards the environment every day. As an RA in Hess Hall, she’s the go to “Green Person”, and has spearheaded multiple sustainability related programs that teach residents about small changes they can make in their lives to promote sustainability. Jaden Embodies what it means to be sustainable in student life and tries her best to spread her sustainable lifestyle with everyone she meets in her personal, academic, and professional life.

Student Organization: Alpha Kappa Psi

The final student award was given to Alpha Kappa Psi, form the” Student Organization Award”. has taken excellent strides this year to not only make their organization run more sustainably, but to show their group members why is it important to do so. The executive team of this group created the Sustainable Event Chair, allowing them to focus on decreasing their overall impact while educating the group. Each week during their meetings they have a presentation on an environmental topic or issue, followed by the announcement of an event that group members can attend or at which they can volunteer. They are leaders of sustainability events and initiatives at UT, and within their national organization.