Hayes Grows Roots in Flint

For Senior Zachary Hayes, recycling is more than just reusing a newspaper: it’s a way of life. Hayes, a student in the Honor’s Program at UM-Flint, is studying Energy and Sustainable Systems with a minor in City and Regional Planning. And he is 100% pro-environment.

After graduating high school, Hayes looked at other in-state campuses, but decided to investigate UM-Flint after receiving a letter in the mail.

“Me and my mom thought ‘oh, it’s just the University of Michigan all over again, it’s nothing we haven’t seen,’” said Hayes.

He admits that this was not the case, and was so impressed at what he saw that UM-Flint was the only college he applied to. His first impression of the campus was that it was, “green and tidy,” and that “it felt like a warm hug.”

For his first semester, Hayes moved into First Street dorms.

“I wanted the college experience, and really like the dorms. They’re very spacious, kind of like a hotel,” said Hayes.

He lived there for two years, and was in Hall Council for one semester his sophomore year. However, during his first semester, Hayes wanted to get more involved and find an active campus club that was focused on the environment and sustainability. At the time, there were none.

“I sent an email out to the whole school saying who would want to be involved in an environmental science club, where we do stuff outside and clean up the environment,” said Hayes.

The campus responded positively, and, thanks to Hayes, FUEL Club was revived, which stands for Future Urban Environmental Leaders. Since then, the club has been one of his passion projects on campus. FUEL has participated in events such as river clean-ups, semester neighborhood clean-ups, and recycle challenges.

FUEL club members participate in many national conferences, as well. One Hayes  attended was in New Hampshire, called The Students for Zero Waste Conference. According to Hayes, the conference, “had a bunch of different organizations presenting how to be more sustainable on campus, how to recover things at the end of the year from people moving out of the dorms, and how to donate that.”

One of the presenting organizations that peaked his interest was Food Recovery Network. Individuals of the Food Recovery Network spoke about how food planned to be thrown away can instead be donated to local organizations. Hayes felt inspired to do this at UM-Flint, and has since started a Food Recovery Network club on campus, as well.

“We went out to different events across campus with food, and we take the leftovers and donate it to charity,” explained Hayes.

The food is bagged, weighed, and given to local charities such as Carriage Town and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. So far, they have donated over 4,500 pounds of food that would have otherwise been thrown away by the university. Hayes credits all the volunteer students for the program’s success.

However, these two clubs weren’t the only ways in which Hayes got involved in the community. During the Flint Water Crisis, he was personally asked by the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor to help conduct research.

“They wanted to do a research project up here (in Flint) to look at the different bio-films in pipes and the amount of bacteria that are inside the pipes. Also what type of dissolved metals where in people’s tap water,” explained Hayes.

For the project, Hayes and a few other students would wake up at 6 a.m., go to different Flint homes, and take several gallons of water from their tap. Hayes explained the water was taken back to UM-Flint, filtered, and the microfilters would be sent back to Ann Arbor for testing. He would then later extract DNA from those filters.

“We’re now published in the Environmental Science and Technology Letters,” said Hayes.

This past summer, Hayes expanded his lens outside of the local area and worked in Germany for two months to participate in a research project, something all Honors students are required to do. He worked alongside Dr. Greg Rybarczyk, a UM-Flint faculty member who was leading the project.

The research was, “trying to quantify what different factors on any given road contribute to bicyclist’s stress,” explained Hayes.

The study attempted to correlate factors, such as heavy traffic to bicyclists heart-rates and stress level. Hayes hopes to one day have the collected data published. He plans on presenting his findings at the American Association of Geographers Conference in New Orleans this upcoming April.

“Right now all the data is in a GIS system and we have to look at the different spreadsheets and correlate the factors and kind of rank them,” explained Hayes.

As a strong environmentalist, he would encourage every student to start thinking about the ways they can reduce their impact on the world around them.

“It’s a matter of looking long-term. We can see the effects of what we have done in the past,” said Hayes. “It’s the practice of preserving what we have now in terms of money, resources, and health, and making sure everyone has access to that in the future.”

He encourages students to start looking at what they can do at home. Hayes suggests only purchasing what you need without excess, reusing materials, thrift store shopping, and not buying “single use items,” such as paper coffee cups, plastic bags, and straws.

“Do research; the more you know, the more you want to improve your life,” said Hayes.

As the founder of an off-campus club, called Reinventing Shakespeare, Hayes enjoys more than just environmental science and research. Once a week, several people meet at Café Rhema to read Shakespeare and his works.

“Being a part of the Honors Program has definitely made me appreciate Shakespeare more since high school,” said Hayes, who enjoys enjoys the witty humor and old style writing that the texts have.

If you have not seen Hayes on campus, chances are you have seen him helping out the local community.

“I’m always looking to volunteer,” said Hayes.

He participates in Service Saturdays, as well as the Alternative Breaks co-curricular program. This spring break, he will be a site leader in Flint.

“Flint has become my adopted city in a way,” said Hayes. “I moved here and started living in the dorms, and just looked for ways I could help. I saw the city as up and coming, and it’s even more-so now with all the revitalization projects downtown. I want to be a part of that. I just want to invest in this community and watch it grow.”