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Winter 2014

Study Break: Brandon Geller

Brendon Geller Program: Higher Education Program
Tool for Change: Greening Harvard and saving the earth
Hometown: Tulsa, Okla.

As his Twitter account reads, he's "one dude tryin' to make Harvard a greener place." That means spending time in less-than-savory places around campus. Like dumpsters. Sometimes for two or three hours a day. But Brandon Geller, a senior coordinator in Harvard's Office for Sustainability, really doesn't mind. "You can learn a lot from trash!"

It's this trash that led him, in a circuitous way, to the Higher Education Program at the Ed School. When he first started working for Harvard, just after graduating from Harvard College, he oversaw undergraduate outreach with a staff of 20 student employees. "I discovered I really liked working with undergraduates," he says. "I saw how I was helping them develop their skills." That increased a couple years later when he became a proctor for 28 freshmen in Holworthy Hall, giving academic and life advice. "Now I want to study higher education, with an eye toward student development and sustainability," he says. "My hope is that I can get students to think about who they are in this world and then have that develop into how we keep this world going."

Earliest recycling effort: Elementary school. We didn't have a scrap paper bin. I got one started. I credit Nickelodeon. They had a drive about the ozone and encouraged kids to help.

One thing others don't do for sustainability that drives you crazy. They:

  • don't buy organic
  • don't shut off lights
  • use Styrofoam cups
  • X other: aren't aware.

People walk through their lives unaware of what they're doing. People need to make active choices. If you have a paper cup in your hand, when it's empty, don't just throw it anywhere. If you took the cup, it was your choice to take it. Now you're responsible for it.

What could you do better? I take fairly short showers, what's called a sailor shower — you get wet, shut off the shower, soap up, then turn the water back on — but I could take colder showers. A warm shower is my one indulgence.

One of your best recycled finds: An ice cream maker. I organize the freecycle events for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Last year, a student brought a working ice cream machine. Since then, I've been experimenting with different flavors.

Favorite experimental flavor? Beer ice cream using an oatmeal stout.

Your green hero:

  • Al Gore
  • Aldo Leopold
  • the Lorax
  • X other: Rob Gogan, head of recycling at Harvard. The whole recycling movement here at Harvard has flourished because of him.

Dream job: Dean of students or freshman dean.

Best and hardest parts about being a live-in proctor: Best: The students. There's a lot of energy and excitement. Hardest: The unpredictability. If a student shows up at your door crying, everything stops. You have to help. But it's worth it. Luckily those moments are few and far between.

How are you involved with the Awesome Foundation, which gives $1,000 grants to people with "crazy, brilliant" ideas? I'm a trustee in Boston. I read applications and help decide which two ideas to fund each month.

All-time favorite funded idea: The Alley of Doom in Washington, D.C. They set up a human hamster ball, covered in cloth. People got to dress as Indiana Jones, grab a gold icon, run, and then have the giant "boulder" come toward them.