Working Together to Address Social Issues
Student self-governance is a fundamental aspect of the University experience. The University encourages students to show initiative and work collectively to tackle important issues. For example, in spring 2011 Seth Hayden and Allison Cutright, graduate students in the Counselor Education program at the Curry School, realized that there was no place at U.Va. for veterans and active-duty military to share information about resources available to them and to reflect on shared experiences. Although neither is a veteran, they formed Military Veterans@U.Va.
The growing prevalence of "bystander behavior" motivated other students to form the Get Grounded Coalition. Get Grounded's goal is to counter any expression—in the form of disrespectful speech, drug and alcohol abuse, or violence—that threatens the University's community of caring and trust. Last fall, the group trained 750 students to intervene constructively in a variety of situations, and two leaders of the group, Sharon Zanti (McIntire '11) and Kelsey Host (College '11) presented the group's accomplishments at the fall Board of Visitors meeting.
In the wake of the 2010 U.S. census, redistricting was a central issue confronting the Virginia General Assembly in 2011. As a way to understand the complicated social and political forces driving this process, two teams of U.Va. undergraduates participated in the Virginia College and University Redistricting Competition. Their charge was to produce redistricting plans that met the minimum standards required by law and that were electorally competitive. The U.Va. teams took first or second place in every category of the contest.
Other U.Va. students are finding ways to protect the environment using synthetic biology, a process by which researchers engineer novel biological systems by inserting genetic components into the DNA of a simple organism. The students constructed an environmental biosensor by adding genetic code to simple bacteria that causes fluorescent protein to be produced when the bacteria detect the presence of substances like mercury, copper, and arsenic that are toxic to fish. For their efforts, they won a bronze medal at the 2010 International Genetically Engineered Machine competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.