Magazine Feature / People

Kornacki’s passion sparks DU environmental movement

While the majority of University of Denver students come straight out of high school, senior Eric Kornacki didn’t find his place at DU until he’d already done a stint at the University of Colorado, more than year of full-time work and earned an associate degree from Front Range Community College.

Now Kornacki, an international studies and economics major, finds himself leading a campus-wide environmental sustainability effort at DU.

An English class at Front Range initially sparked his interest in the environment.

The class was assigned a paper that synthesized two topics designated by the professor. Kornacki’s just happened to be environmental degradation and economic growth.

Kornacki says his reaction to the assignment was, “Oh my God, this is the state of the world and what am I going to do about it?”

The passion ignited by that project is quintessentially Kornacki.

“Eric is an individual who can’t fathom inaction when he hears about an issue that he feels is important to act on, and where he can make a difference,” says Glenn Fee, former associate director of the DU Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning.

Study abroad leaves lasting impressions

Kornacki’s convictions were further confirmed through time abroad. In fall 2005, he participated in Project Albania, a faculty-led study abroad program that focuses on community development. Then, in summer 2006, he received a $1,500 Community Scholars grant to work on sustainable development in Costa Rica.

Through both trips, the poverty and environmental degradation he saw left lasting impressions. Particularly after Project Albania, he said his education had to have real-world impact.

He recalls that after the quarter abroad he realized he could never go back and study in the classroom the same way again.

Starting a movement

Kornacki began organizing a sustainability effort at DU with friend and fellow Project Albania-alumnus Greg Newman, a senior international business major. The two started brainstorming last spring. After a few false starts in the fall, the movement, known as Sustainable DU, began gaining ground winter quarter, Kornacki explains.

Rather than a new student organization, Kornacki says Sustainable DU is a network for communicating between existing student groups and interested individuals, whether they are students, faculty or staff. The group began meeting informally in the winter, and quickly gained more and more attention.

The group’s main focus was getting DU to agree to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. That commitment — to curb climate change and take a leadership role on sustainability  — was echoed at schools around the country.

The students rallied more than 500 signatures and presented two letters to Chancellor Coombe earlier this spring requesting that he commit to reducing DU’s environmental footprint. Coombe has since signed the climate commitment, agreeing to continue DU’s existing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to explore additional steps outlined in the commitment as resources permit.

Kornacki explains that as the DU community galvanized around their concern for the environment, Sustainable DU served as the network for communicating across campus. By serving as a network, as opposed to its own student group, he believes Sustainable DU could serve as a model for effectively organizing on campus in the future.

Looking ahead

Kornacki had planned to leave for Teach for America training just after graduation. He was going to teach math in New Orleans for two years, but realized he hadn’t fulfilled his foreign language requirement and wouldn’t graduate until the end of summer.

Now, Kornacki plans to start a non-governmental organization that he says “will be at the vanguard of solving global climate change.” To fund the NGO, Kornacki aims to raise $10 million by cycling more than 19,000 miles from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina.

[Editor’s note: This story was updated on June 22, 2007]

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