AUBURN, Ala. —Sara Geonczy, a senior majoring in environmental science, feels lucky to have had the opportunity to attend Auburn University. Geonczy, who is a first-generation American citizen as well as a first-generation college student, will graduate in May, just weeks after she is honored as the College of Agriculture’s 2014 President’s Award recipient.
The President’s Award is given annually to a graduating senior in each of the university’s colleges who has completed at least three semesters at Auburn with a minimum grade point average of 3.4. Recipients are recognized for the ways in which they have exhibited leadership, citizenship, character and potential for professional success.
The qualifications for this award are a perfect fit for Geonczy, who will graduate summa cum laude. While she knew what she wanted to major in after taking an AP science class in high school, she did not know where she would go to college. The Alpharetta, Ga., native says Auburn made it easy for her to decide.
“I wouldn’t be at Auburn if it weren’t for my scholarships,” says Geonczy, a National Hispanic Recognition Scholar and a student in the university’s Honors College.
That scholarship package is also one of the main motivators behind Geonczy’s tireless efforts to revitalize the community garden on campus.
“It’s important to me to feel that this university has made a good investment in me,” says the petite powerhouse who fellow students say is largely responsible for the garden’s progress over the past year.
Geonczy has served as the community garden intern this semester. She is the first student to have held that position because, seeing the need for the role, this enterprising young woman utilized a stipend she received as an Honors College student to create it.
“I had an enrichment stipend as part of my scholarship package, and I needed to come up with a project to use it on,” explains Geonczy. “I knew that others did not have the time to focus on the things that needed to be done in the garden, so I drew up a proposal, presented it, and my internship was approved.”
Upon approval of the position, Geonczy set to work developing a plan of work for the short time she would fill the role. She surveyed those who were currently renting space in the garden and learned what they saw as the most pressing needs. She created a garden advisory group, which includes two of the university’s campus planners, a College of Agriculture faculty member, officers of the Auburn Real Food Challenge and gardeners. She also organized gardening workshops and work parties and reached out to faculty members, helping them integrate the garden as a teaching tool in their coursework.
Geonczy looks forward to the work that awaits her as an AmeriCorps member and to pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning. Reflecting on her time and service at Auburn, Geonczy often talks about the importance of opportunities, both her own and those that remain ahead for the garden she loves.
“Auburn looked at me as a high school student and appreciated what I had done with fewer opportunities than some students. I felt really lucky and welcomed when I was given the opportunity to come here. Now, I want people to see the opportunities the garden holds and carry the work forward.”