Reagan Mulqueen ’20

Reagan Mulqueen ’20 is a business analytics major who loves to play with data, find new ways to visualize it and see what stories it has to tell. “I take the data that you get from the company, financial info, consumer info, see trends and make decisions in the future,” Reagan explains. Ever since she took environmental science during her senior year of high school in Fort Worth, TX, Reagan has also fostered an interest in sustainability.

Minoring in sustainability lets her pursue these interests simultaneously and often within the same projects. “Relating to the analytics side, I see that looking at certain datasets of where endangered animals are and other trends, as well as seeing how the environment is changing because of what we’re doing can help businesses see where they are on the sustainability scale,” Reagan says.

She went to the sustainability expo freshman year just to see what there was to offer. That’s where she met Caitlin Murphy ’17 and learned about her sustainability capstone starting a branch of Food Rescue U.S. at Notre Dame, the Campus Food Recovery Project. “I signed up just thinking, ‘Oh this could be fun, we’ll see what happens,’” Reagan remembers. She enjoyed it so much that she took over leading the group during her sophomore year and continues to do so. “I really enjoyed it because it gave me an opportunity to get off campus and explore South Bend and see [it] outside of what Notre Dame was in South Bend,” Reagan says.

The program began by taking unused food from South Dining Hall and Au Bon Pain (ABP) to local homeless shelters a few times a week. When Reagan took over the project, she inherited the list of contacts Caitlin had cultivated. “I started reaching out to people all over campus and sending out emails and emails and emails to different eateries on campus.” Most of the venues were already excited about the project and ready to join.

Today the Campus Food Recovery Project has joined forces with Food Share and includes about 50 volunteers doing 18 food runs each week from North and South Dining Halls, the Stayer Center, Alumni Association, Notre Dame Media, ABP and catering events. Volunteers take the food to Hope Ministries, Center for the Homeless and Life Treatment Center. According to the estimates on the Food Rescue U.S. website, during the spring 2018 semester Note Dame’s program rescued 49,910 meals which is about 60,000 pounds of food and worth about $104 thousand.

When the sustainability students were told of Frank Fransioli’s ’76 love of butterflies and interest in having Notre Dame help create a curriculum for the Catholic Assumption School in Denver to build their own butterfly garden, Reagan was intrigued. “ I thought it was a really interesting project. It was something I’d never researched before,” she says. So she took on the task of developing an integrated curriculum for kindergarten through second graders. The goal is to enable these students to cultivate ownership of this garden, tending to it and sharing it with the younger students as they grow older.While the Campus Food Recovery Project can only take the leftover food that hasn’t been on the serving lines, leftover food in the dining hall is often a conversation starter that prompts students to ask about food waste and leads them to the program. Reagan loves it when she gets inquiries from students and professors across campus. Her own sustainability minor capstone will also foster interconnected communication, in a different state.The student volunteers work together with the shelter guests to bring the food trays into the centers. “They get to talk to them and check in with them that way. It’s kind of fun; you get to see the same people every week,” Reagan says. She points out that Notre Dame prides itself on its service to the community and this program is a testament to that identity.

“I don’t know that much about butterfly gardens logistically or butterfly migration patterns. So I’m excited about it because it’s something totally new,” she says. On a recent call with the Catholic Assumption School, along with Frank, the Notre Dame Alumni Association in Denver and the Butterfly Pavilion, who are helping with the project, Reagan began to think about creating an integrated curriculum. It will include components of all the subjects the school teaches, including science, English, and theology with basic conversations of Laudato Si’.

The school hopes to have part of the curriculum ready by the end of this year so the students can begin learning and building, and Reagan doesn’t seem phased by the accelerated timeline of her capstone nor by the unexplored territory. She’s excited to grow her own knowledge of gardening while creatively linking horticulture, gardening and theology together for the next generation. She says, “It’ll be new; I’m excited.”

Jennifer Tank

Professor Jennifer Tank is the Director of the University of Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI). Tank has been actively involved at ND-ECI since it’s inception, previously serving as the principle investigator of the Land Use Program and the Director of the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND-LEEF).

Tank is the Ludmilla F., Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame. Her research focuses on nutrient and carbon cycling in streams and rivers and the influence of human activities on water quality and stream health.

Tank’s extensive research experience aims at better understanding the role that small streams play in removing nitrogen from the water and to prevent it from polluting downstream ecosystems. Her research was recently featured on the University of Notre Dame’s “What Would You Fight For?” series.

An international authority on the cycling of nutrients in freshwater ecosystems, Tank has published over 160 peer-reviewed journal articles on nitrogen and carbon cycling in streams and rivers. She received her doctoral degree from Virginia Tech and was a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow.

Tank was recently named a Hoosier Resilience Hero by the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute. Tank, who also currently serves as the current president of the Society for Freshwater Science, is being recognized for her research that sits at the intersection of freshwater systems and agriculture in the Midwest.

At Notre Dame, Tank also leads the Indiana Watershed Initiative where her team is exploring how conservation practices like winter cover crops and restored floodplains can buffer the impacts of agricultural land use on adjacent streams and rivers. Their watershed-scale experiments, implemented on working lands, are quantifying the water quality benefits of conservation in a real-world setting, facilitated through engagement with key partners including local farmers and natural resource managers.

Nicole Juntunen ’99

“I was at the point in my career when I wanted to do something different and really something more meaningful than sell a lot of stuff for big companies,” Nicole Juntunen ’99 explains. After graduating from Notre Dame with a double major in marketing and government and a specialization in international business, Nicole had what she describes as a more traditional sales and marketing career path. She held roles at PepsiCo, L’Oreal, General Mills and, most recently, Mars Inc., where she worked for about 14 years.

Much of her time at Mars was spent doing sales and marketing at Wrigley, the candy side of the business. In February 2017, she moved to the food side, leading a large sales team working on Mars’ organic brand, Seeds of Change. Nicole had to learn more about the consumers they were marketing to and about the farming methods and production of these products, particularly rice and other grains. She discovered that rice has a huge environmental footprint due to its high water demand. “The environmental impacts became very real to me,” she says.

Last October, as she began thinking about the sustainability implications of her work, Nicole was approached by BeGreen Packaging and asked to lead their sales and marketing team. “At some point you start to think about your career and how you may be contributing more to the problem than solving it,” Nicole says. With a vision to eliminate single use plastic packaging, BeGreen began manufacturing molded fiber trays in 2007. The idea of fully compostable biodegradable packaging appealed to Nicole and she accepted the offer.

Unlike her roles with big name brands, Nicole’s new job involves introducing a largely new idea to many companies. “Ultimately the goal is to make sure [BeGreen] is healthy and it grows and succeeds in our goals,” she says. She develops marketing materials and works directly with potential clients to convince them that it’s worth paying a little more for compostable packaging materials. “One of the biggest challenges is to help businesses understand why it’s important to convert their packaging,” she explains.

Companies may think they’re doing a good job because they’re using recyclable packaging, but they don’t realize that only about 10% of what consumers recycle actually makes it to the recycling center, Nicole explains. Or they think that changing their packaging materials will upset customers, when this is rarely actually the case. Nicole thinks of strategic ways to inform potential clients. “It starts with a really thorough understanding of who your customer is,” she says. Some companies are in cities with recently enacted plastic or Styrofoam bans, while others feel little external pressure. She can help them all understand how to gradually transition to compostable packaging, the value of adding signs to highlight to consumers that they are reducing waste, and the potential financial benefits from waste reduction and the attraction of new customers.

Nicole values her network, often getting new leads through family and friends, and is very involved in the Notre Dame Alumni Association. She emphasizes the importance of collaborative innovation around reducing plastic use. Her job shift has also affected her own family’s purchasing decisions and changed how she and her husband teach their young boys about reusing. “When I worked at Wrigley and had candy and gum samples, that was a lot more fun for them,” Nicole laughs, going on to express the long-term value she sees in the lessons she now brings home for her children. “There is a lot of power in awareness,” she says.

Nicole emphasizes the value of having a background in sustainability, saying that current sustainability minors “need to have faith that the choice they’ve made in having that minor in sustainability will benefit them no matter what career field they choose.” The unique skillset, perspective, and sense of efficiency and minimizing waste that comes from a background in sustainability is a competitive advantage, “that translates across any function or department that they’re going to compete in.” Nicole is eager to hear from any Notre Dame students interested in her work. The recent graduates on her staff bring visible added value, as they are tuned into current consumer practices and developing trends. She says, “Having young people with a mindset towards [sustainability] is very much needed.”