Although Eric Fuchs-Stengel has yet to complete his undergraduate degree, members of the environmental community already hold him in high esteem.
Next month, the Gallatin senior from Mahwah, N.J., will be the keynote speaker at the Ramapo Watershed Conference, an annual gathering of professors and environmental groups to discuss water preservation and pollution in the Ramapo Valley area.
Fuchs-Stengel, who studies ecological sustainability and social change, is passionate about environmental activism. He was first inspired to make a positive environmental impact during a hike in 2008 when he noticed the trash and pollution that infested his local forests. It was then, at the age of 16, that he made his first steps to found the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization, a nonprofit focused on improving the environment through hands-on projects and providing environmental education to the public.
“This was the first moment in my life where I saw a negative thing, a bad thing happening in real life,” Fuchs-Stengel said. “[I thought] this is something that shouldn’t be happening, people shouldn’t be trashing a beautiful area.”
MEVO, which currently has a list of over 1,600 volunteers, sends students around New Jersey to complete a variety of projects such as building hiking trails, planting botanical gardens, constructing farms and cleaning up landfills.
As MEVO’s executive director, Fuchs-Stengel said he feels his main role is as a primary educator, which entails presenting information to interested groups and creating projects that teach the public about the state of the environment. In the coming weeks, he will discuss local food and farming with master’s students in the Sustainability Studies program at Ramapo College.
Fellow environmental activist Karen La Greca, a member of the MEVO board of the directors, said the organization grew because Fuchs-Stengel encourages people to learn about and change the environment.
“His energy and passion just overflow,” La Greca said. “[He has] amazing productivity and the ability to motivate [and] just connect people back to nature.”
It is that quality that Fuchs-Stengel said he considers his greatest success.
“[I am] taking the knowledge that I have on how to take action and change society, and spreading it to people, whether it be through continuing MEVO or becoming a leader in this field in some way,” Fuchs-Stengel said.
Keith Hallissey, director of the Mahwah Department of Public Works, has worked with MEVO since 2008, picking up the garbage that the organization removes from forests. He said Fuchs-Stengel’s active role in MEVO projects sets a positive example for volunteers and makes them more enthusiastic about the work.
“He’s not a complete delegator,” Hallissey said. “He is a participant also. He gets people together and tells them what to do and then he participates in the actual work.”
Fuchs-Stengel’s hard work paid off last year when he went from being a well-known name within the local environmental community to one of the most respected activists in New Jersey after Gov. Chris Christie named him the state’s Environmentalist of the Year.
Even though MEVO occupies most of Fuchs-Stengel’s days, he still finds time to relax — in an environmental fashion, of course. He often goes hiking and rock climbing with friends and enjoys mountain biking. He also practices beekeeping and is a member of the Northeast New Jersey Beekeepers Association, a club that promotes beekeeping and educates the public on its environmental importance.
“I enjoy spending time in the spaces I work so hard to protect,” Fuchs-Stengel said.
But neither MEVO nor his hobbies can provide him with enough time in the great outdoors — two months ago, he started Eric Fuchs-Stengel Consultants, a business that builds farms, gardens and beehives at people’s homes and provides lessons on how to manage them.
Despite all the success that puts him ahead of many of his peers, Fuchs-Stengel shares a goal common among college seniors — to get into graduate school.
— Nicole Del Mauro