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2022 Student Impact Award Winners: Community

This year the Institute on the Environment and the Office of Sustainability hosted the inaugural, system-wide Student Impact Awards. These awards honor student efforts to lead the way towards a future in which people and planet prosper together. Meet three of the winners, whose leadership efforts focus on sustainable and equitable communities.


Josie Rehbein isn’t “wasting” her sustainability leadership skills

Josie Rehbein has been involved in many projects focused on waste reduction, and how the community on and off the University of Minnesota Morris campus interacts with waste. She is a student leader who helped delegate the “We Are Water” and “Why Treaties Matter” traveling exhibits, which started their journey at UMN Morris campus and have traveled across Minnesota. As the student Hall Director for the Green Prairie Community, a sustainability-focused residence hall, she brought sustainable thinking and programming into the residential community. 


Pooja Hedge works for a healthy planet and healthy people in her community

Pooja Hedge is a member of a student co-op residence with a passion for trash management. She led educational events such as trash disposal seminars, public safety informative sessions, brought COVID-19 awareness to the co-op, and took the initiative to promote composting in her building. 

Hedge is always striving for change and to put funds to good use. She secured a $500 grant from Hennepin County to organize wellness events for her fellow co-op residents, which was the first time the co-op received local agency funding to directly benefit its residents. She has planned and hosted events dealing with social issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial inequalities. To improve the mental and physical health of students, she also played a leading role in organizing self-development sessions and de-stress events.


 VeTouch keeps pets healthy and their community partnerships can benefit the whole family

VeTouch is an innovative student-run clinic that provides basic preventative veterinary care to underserved communities within the Twin Cities at no cost. Led by veterinary students from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) with the support of faculty advisors, local veterinarians, and undergraduate pre-veterinary students, VeTouch aims to reduce social and economic inequality within veterinary medicine. It does so by prioritizing clients that are receiving public assistance or are otherwise considered part of an underserved population. 

VeTouch clients experience many barriers to accessing routine or preventative veterinary care, including geographic access, transportation, and cost. The canine and feline patients VeTouch serves provide stability, security, and improved quality of life for their owners, who routinely express relief and gratitude for the services provided. This past year, VeTouch was overwhelmingly successful and served 326 pets across 15 clinics and an additional 88 pets via telehealth appointments. A standout moment in the past year was the October 2021 clinic for the Little Earth community. Partnering with MN SNAP, a local nonprofit that provides spay/neuter services, they effectively examined a record 48 pets for 39 families.  

Not only is there substantial volunteerism from the CVM students, VeTouch has developed a new partnership with the UMN School of Social Work master’s program. BecauseVeTouch has already established trust with communities, the graduate student social workers are able to more easily connect them with resources for other applicable government programs. This connection could not have been possible without the student leaders.

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