Grambling State University student Corban Bell had an amazing month. He celebrated his birthday, colleague students approved his campus recycling initiative recently and he won the Toyota Green Initiative contest.
University President Frank G. Pogue made it official Wednesday when he announced the news to the campus community. “On behalf of this university… the faculty and staff, all of your colleagues and alumni around the world, congratulations,” Pogue said to Bell as he grasped his hand firmly and looked him in the eye. “It’s an honor to be standing here with you.”
As the grand prizewinner, Bell wins a one-year lease of a 2012 Toyota Prius. He inspected one much like the one he’ll be driving for the next year after the short GSU-Toyota TGI program in the Favrot Student Union’s Tiger Den.
As an involved Student Government Association leader, Bell, 23, proposed a university-wide recycling program, one that would have been implemented with students’ help whether he won the Toyota contest or not. In early April, students passed a bill to create a self-assessed fee of $1 per semester. That fee will raise about $50,000 to support the recycling program during the next five years. “He’s leading the charge to create a recycling program that will be self sustainable,” said Stacey Duhon, the university’s vice president of student affairs.
“I’m extremely excited to win. I worked really hard,” said Bell, who said he also gets $1,200 for insurance and gas. “That car will help me save money.”
Bell’s journey to becoming a green campus national grand prize winner started last year when he represented Grambling State University at a sustainability conference in Greensboro, N.C. Toyota representatives were there talking about the company efforts to involve historically black colleges and universities in sustainability initiatives. Duhon said Bell is a proven leader, serving as chief of staff to the SGA president and working on several committees. He was a likely candidate to represent the university.
“It all began at that conference,” said Bell, who hails from Alameda, CA, outside of San Francisco. “The core of the project will birth sustainability initiatives that go outside the scope of a traditional recycling program.”
Through the Toyota Green Initiative contest, Bell is establishing a permanent recycling program on Grambling State University campus. “My project is highly needed,” added Bell, “It’s an innovative approach to transform this HBCU.”
Bell isn’t the only winner. The university gets $5,000 to help purchase trees for the campus beautification.
“We received so many phenomenal Green Campus Contest submissions from students concerned about the environment,” said Jim Colon, vice president of product communications for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. and TGI Coalition member. “In the end, Corban Bell’s plan to establish a recycling program and lead additional initiatives, such as hosting a sustainability awareness week and expanding Grambling’s compost program, impressed the TGI program as well as voters.”
“Toyota Green Initiative (TGI) is excited to have Corban Bell of Grambling State University as the winner of this year’s Green Campus Contest,” added Colon in a statement. “Bell’s essay on implementing a permanent campus-wide recycling program and establishing sustainability initiatives at Grambling — such as renovating greenhouses and reviving its compost program — displayed ambition in improving the environmental culture at his school…”
Bell, who is scheduled to graduate on May 10 with a 3.66 GPA, has been active with the university’s beautification committee, a group responsible for discussing and determining which projects should be considered, set priorities and implement them. A major, $800,000 federal Title III-funded campus beautification project was launched earlier this month, including adding flowers, shrubbery and trees. Though the campus beautification project is not directly tied to Bell’s green campus initiative, Pogue and Duhon said Bell has been a strong contributor and his Toyota efforts will benefit the school.
“I commend Corban for not only helping himself, but also helping the GSU campus look better,” said Ante’ Britten, the associate vice president for finance and administration who spearheads the beautification efforts.
In addition to receiving a 2012 Toyota Prius, Bell also gains membership to the TGI Coalition, “a collective of environmental experts and celebrities who speak on sustainability within the African American community and relevant ways to go green.”
Bell’s contest experience leads into a summer of celebration before he starts a new job at KPMG, an accounting firm, in San Francisco, Calif., in August. His new employer was quick to tweet about their new employee this week (Tuesday, April 30, 2013): “Congrats to #KPMG’s Corban Bell of @Grambling1901, the Toyota Green Initiative grand prize winner! Enjoy the Prius!”
Grambling State University Provost Connie Walton praised Bell as an example of the type of education students can get at the university where she graduated, saying the students are “competitive” nationally and internationally. “It’s not just a Louisiana thing, not just an HBCU thing,” she told Bell. “You are competitive, …and you are prepared to compete in life.”
College of Business Dean Carl Wright said Bell exemplifies the business unit’s determination to give students a well-rounded academic education as to be “socially conscious.”
Bell will retrieve his Prius from Toyota Headquarters in Torrance, CA, later this year. Bell got the chance to experience a Toyota Prius during today’s event, courtesy of Ronnie Ward Toyota of Ruston, which provided a sleek black model for the GSU-Toyota TGI event Wednesday. Bell said the company will fly him and a friend in so he can drive away in his new Prius from Toyota Headquarters in Torrance, CA, later this year.
The TGI Green Campus Contest is an environmental competition where students at select Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) can submit plans on conserving resources within their campus and/or community. After an initial selection round, each of the 10 semifinalists are provided with a $500 budget to help implement his or her respective campus program. Essays written by the two finalists – Bell and Domenio Smith of Howard University – were posted on ToyotaGreen.com so votes could be cast for a favorite. Bell’s essay (http://www.toyotagreen.com/contests/green-campus-entry/Corban-Bell-6a8yzop5qfc4) received almost 1,300 votes.
According to a Toyota release, first prizewinner and runner-up Smith will receive $2,500 toward the purchase of trees for his school, Howard. The Grambling State University and Howard University trees are scheduled to be planted during a fall 2013 TGI Mobile Tour.
Bell said the contest gave him a significant boost in his last semester at Grambling State University. “I told my dad in January that, other than graduating, this contest was my biggest goal,” said Bell. “I will remember this experience fondly once I become an alumnus.”
“I put in my work and feel I’ve made my mark,” Bell said in an earlier interview.