Chestnut Hill College's Mission Statement reads in part, "[Chestnut Hill College is] committed to transformative holistic education, just relationships, innovative thinking, and responsible action toward a more unified global society and sustainable Earth." It is that last line about responsible action and upholding the natural responsibility humans all share to be stewards of the Earth, that provides such a context for what the College strives to instill in its students. One student who received the message wholeheartedly is Andrew Conboy '18, whose educational experience taught him the values of environmental conservation and stewardship, among others. Most recently, Conboy shared his passion for the renewal of the planet as an Urban Forestry Fellow at the Morris Arboretum, just a few steps away from where Conboy's journey into urban forestry first began.
While attending Chestnut Hill College as an environmental studies major, Conboy’s passion in environmental sustainability grew thanks to his involvement in several environmental groups on campus. Conboy’s advocacy for sustainable practices and policy was enhanced when he joined the CHC Green Team. The team, which was founded in 2012, consisted of a group of students, faculty, and staff who pushed for environmental sustainability practices on campus, among them an increased awareness on recycling and how to recycle properly. Through his work with the Green Team, Conboy explored ways to enhance the College's efforts including by co-creating the Griffin Garden Club. Inspired by work from a freshman writing course about food security, Conboy gathered a group of students to create the garden from scratch which included taking measurements, building a wall, and deciding what kinds of fruit and vegetables to plant. The first crop consisted of tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, squash, cucumbers, corn, peppers, peas, and more. In all, nearly 85 pounds of food were collected from the garden, the majority of which was donated to Face to Face in Germantown.
"I had no previous experience gardening or growing my own food, so I was excited to 'dig in' and learn a bit," Conboy noted in a blog he wrote about the garden while he was a student.
It is that 'dig in' to learn new things attitude that led Conboy to explore an internship studying urban forestry with now-retired CHC professor, Bob Meyer, Ph.D.. From there, an interest blossomed and an internship became the path to a future career.
“I had a close connection with Dr. Meyer, who was professor at the time, and he taught me so much about environmental science," says Conboy. In his internships with Meyer, Conboy was responsible for taking water quality samples and identifying plants in the water retention basin in Plymouth Whitemarsh. Through this work, he was able to learn about the benefits of restoring trees to our built landscape. “Trees help with more problems all at once, like biodiversity and climate change” he says. “I really was interested in trees in urban areas because as we fragment and build the environment around us, we need nature where we live and work.”
Science has shown that trees have multiple benefits such as reducing stress, adding beauty, contributing more shade to keep cool, and increasing wildlife. On campus, Conboy worked with the Got Tree Philly Program to plant three of them, a project he notes was an enriching experience for all involved. “CHC is a good place to learn and get involved because it’s such a community feel” notes Conboy.
As an Urban Forestry Fellow at Morris Arboretum, Conboy worked on an urban forestry team of consultants for a variety of clients all around the city including homeowners, landscapers, architects, and major institutional property owners. Much of the work included tree inventory and assessment to collect information of all the trees on a property, assess their health and give recommendations to the client. The final product, known as tree management plans, emphasizes to clients what to do to keep trees a balanced part of the ecosystem.
“For example, after assessing the health of the trees on a property, we can see which were marked, that others were pruned, estimate life expectancy, and give suggestions for replanting” says Conboy. Conboy notes the importance for larger clients to engage with Morris Arboretum because, “it’s important to preserve trees during the construction and make sure contractors are onboard to make sure they are protected and not damaged.”
Now an ISA Certified Arborist, Conboy’s involvement and experience both at CHC and at the arboretum is being translated into his work with his nonprofit, Colonial Canopy Trees. Colonial Canopy Trees seeks to restore native trees and plants and improve the local suburban environment. With the help of donors and volunteers, the organization is able to install native plants, remove invasives, and care for natural spaces in the greater Philadelphia area. In 2022, the nonprofit planted 206 trees, bringing the total to 438 total trees since the organization's inception in the summer of 2020. The organization also held over 25 events which engaged over 120 community volunteers. These events ranged from invasive plant removal to tree planting to litter clean ups.
In conjunction with physical work, Conboy creates environmental education content on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube designed to "engage with and educate people about environmental topics, conservation, and the importance of nature.”
When asked about what he wishes most people knew about sustainable environmental practices and ways that we can all be better stewards of the Earth, Conboy says “It can start in your own backyard. It’s about doing what we can do where we live and work on the local level.”
Conboy emphasizes how getting outside and learning is the best way to start. “I encourage people to start with volunteering with conservation organizations or Parks and Rec and get educated by experts on local ecosystems because it's easy to get discouraged with of all the things going on in the world, but personally, we as individuals can make a difference and if everyone did that, it would go a long way.”
- Jaime Renman