Megan Salters

Megan Maybee Salters

April 1, 2023

Where are you from and what are you studying?

I'm a senior from Lexington, KY studying Geography and Visual & Media Arts Practice. Those two majors overlap a lot, so a lot of my art is informed by geography and thinking about our relationships to space, the Earth, and the body. I’m a Richmond Artists Scholar, and part of the reason I came to University of Richmond was to explore my art practice more. Throughout my time here, particularly within the last year, I have really dug deeper into the realm of sustainability.

What sparked your interest in sustainability?

I think the beginning moment of thinking about my own impact on the Earth and relationship to sustainability was when I was moving out for college. I had all of my stuff and my family was also moving out of their house, so we were getting rid of all of these material items. I realized how many things I had had that was going to be thrown out and sent to a landfill. At the time, I had never been to a landfill so I didn’t realize the impact that landfills have on the surrounding community. It also got me thinking about all of the resources that are involved in the production of different products. This was the first “a-ha” moment I had.

I grew up in an environment with a lot of climate change denialism. It wasn’t until I got to UR that it felt validated that the climate crisis is real. I was encouraged to think about how we can be more kinder to the earth and with each other. My first year, I took an FYS called Beyond Civilization, and it really got me thinking about the history of human beings and our impact on the Earth and the influence that religion and spirituality has on civilizations. That summer of 2020, I wanted to explore these topics more through an internship, so I began working with Earth in Spirit Center in Louisville, KY. My work with them really provided a foundation for my relationship with environmentalism and its intersection with spirituality and cultural healing.

In addition to being an environmentalist, you’re an artist. How do art and sustainability intersect?

The form of art that I'm involved in is all about communicating stories. I do a lot of video work, which is a great way to touch people’s hearts and minds to move them towards action and to realize the broader impacts of our individual behaviors. By being an environmental filmmaker I can share stories about our relationships with nature, and also our disconnection from it, which can help people understand these issues on a broader scale. One of the projects that I did with the Earth and Spirit Center was a 30 minute long documentary about the history of the cosmos. That was a very daunting but rewarding first entry into environmental filmmaking because I was able to think through what brought us to the present world we're living in. Through the film, I tried to shape the way that people understand our placement in the cosmos. A lot of my evolution as an artist at UR has involved thinking about how our relationship with the Earth needs healing, and what ways I can communicate that through sculpture, photography, or video practice. For me, it’s about cultural healing and how to communicate these big challenges to a broader audience.

How did you became involved with the Sustainable Solutions Challenge?

The Sustainable Solutions Challenge has been running since 2019 and this year was the fourth iteration. It was started by Dr. Joyce van der Laan Smith, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Business Programs and Professor of Accounting in Robins School of Business. She was interested in building a program where students all across campus, regardless of their school or discipline, would have a chance to pitch forth their ideas on how to make the University a more sustainable place. Previous Challenges have included reducing single use plastics, how to normalize composting, and green roofs. In the fall semester, a student intern will conduct interviews with stakeholders across campus to get their feedback, thoughts on how sustainability needs to be pushed forward on campus, and the areas they would be willing to support and provide mentorship. While conducting stakeholder interviews last semester as this year's Challenge intern, the issue of the cultural impact of sustainability was raised over and over. Something that was important to me was how do we create a culture of caring for our environment and ourselves, and how do we use this Challenge as a way to do that. In order to get people to care about sustainability at UR, there needs to be a cultural element. That was my process for thinking through designing the Challenge. From there, I created a report and worked on getting classes to participate in the program. The final solution to pilot solar powered lamp posts was selected.

How are you using your role as a Rethink Waste Representative to move sustainability forward at UR?

I first got involved with Rethink Waste through a documentary I produced in a journalism class my sophomore year. Since I was covering the topic of waste on campus as a result of COVID, I interviewed Rethink Waste Manager David Donaldson. Then, I got interested in the ways the University could continue to go along the path of rethinking waste. I joined the Rethink Waste Representatives team fall semester of my senior year and was immediately interested in how composting could be expanded beyond the dining sphere to include residence life, as that is where a lot of students spend their time. By integrating composting into residence life, students may be more likely to take this practice beyond their time at UR. Last September, we launched a residential composting pilot program where around 20 apartments signed up for composting, and have since expanded the amount of people who can sign up. We supply materials and a drop-off location. We have received a great response from students in UFA and Gateway apartments. I’m hoping that we can expand residential composting in the future to include more residential spaces.

Could you share your experience working with the Concerned Citizens of Charles City County?

In spring of my junior year, I was introduced to the EPA Environmental Justice Video Challenge and was put in touch with Dr. Mary Finley-Brook, an environmental justice researcher at UR, and McKenna Dunbar ‘23. They connected me with Concerned Citizens of Charles City County (C5) who work to address environmental injustices in Charles City County. In thinking about topic areas to focus on for the video, I became interested human relationships to waste and landfills. Charles City County is a community that has housed Virginia’s first mega landfill since 1990, so there’s a unique history there, as well as in the state of Virginia with our history of mega landfills being built across the state. Virginia also accepts trash from other states as land is cheaper in the southern U.S., so there is more land availability for landfills to expand. These have lead to significant environmental justice issues for people living in these communities. Through my work with C5, I was exposed to the health impact a mega landfill in Charles City County can have due to poor air and water quality. Although there are checks done by the Department of Environmental Quality and within Waste Management, there are also many instances in which nearby community members are concerned about their health. They don’t really have a way to access statistical data linking adverse health impacts to the landfill, but there are higher rates of cancer in the area. I spoke to a pastor of a church near the landfill, and learned that there have been several deaths from rare forms of cancer in the last few years. Without a study being done in the area, they can’t really say for sure if the landfill is the source. There are a lot of unknowns and health risks associated with polluters like landfills. While producing the video, I talked with a lot of people in Charles City County to assess their views and concerns. I was fortunate to work with C5 and have their guidance through this process. We received a honorable mention from the EPA for our final documentary. Phase two of the EPA Challenge asked us to consider how to address the concerns surrounding the landfill. I worked with McKenna Dunbar ‘23 and Sarah Murtaugh ‘23 to put together suggestions for how to address these concerns.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in becoming involved in environmental advocacy?

I would say just do it! From the start of college I was interested in the idea of getting involved in sustainability, but was unsure if it was for me because I didn’t come to UR with a background in these issues. Due to my lack of background in sustainability, I had this assumption that there were other people who were better suited to work through these challenges. I remember reading the Sustainable Solutions Challenge my first year and thinking, “Wow, that’s so cool. I wish I could do something like this.”, but never thought it was in my scope of opportunities that were possible for me. It took me until my junior year to really get involved full force. It’s absolutely possible for everyone to play a role in sustainability, and it takes a village to address these concerns and to enable a more flourishing future. My advice would be to get involved with different campus groups and reach out to professors and offices that you're interested in working with. There is a lot of work to be done and it’s going to take all of us.

What are you hoping to do after graduation?

In the near future, I’m trying to take care of myself and establish a healthy relationship with work. I’m hoping to continue building the residential composting program with Rethink Waste through the summer to set it up for future success. I’m also interested in learning more about food production and food systems, so I hope to get involved with projects related to those topics. Beyond this summer, my goal is to be an environmental artist and filmmaker with an environmental organization. I hope to use my skills in media production to communicate about sustainability and environmental issues.

Interview conducted by Isabella Furnaro, Office for Sustainability Communications Intern. 

Thank you, Megan, for all you do to support sustainability! Do you know someone who should be featured as a Sustainability Champion? Let us know at