Family creates Good Shepherd Endowment Fund to support environmental studies

Briscoe and Kenan White pose with Roanoke mascot, Rooney.

Briscoe and Kenan White pose with Roanoke mascot, Rooney.

This article was featured in the Roanoke Magazine, Issue 2, 2013. The full issue can be seen here.

Salem - When Ben White '11 was a student at Roanoke College, one of the most powerful experiences he had was to work with a small group of students to study the use of green roofs on buildings owned by the City of Roanoke.

These efforts were not only educational, but the students presented their ideas to the city, received recognition from the sustainability board and helped the city confirm its path toward developing the green roof in place today at its Noel C. Taylor Administration Building.

White, an environmental studies major at Roanoke, said this type of firsthand learning experience was a critical component of his environmental education.

Today, White and his parents, Briscoe and Kenan White, are helping to ensure that future Roanoke students have similar experiences. Through their family foundation, the Good Shepherd Fund, the Whites have created the Good Shepherd Endowment Fund for Environmental Studies. The endowment fund supports experiential and firsthand learning opportunities for upper-level students in Roanoke's environmental studies program.

"We had two goals in mind: to support the environmental studies program and to create a fund that hopefully others will be attracted to," said Kenan White. "We hope others will give to this fund. I'd like to see it grow and grow. If such a fund had been in place when Ben was a student, we would have given to it, so now we are hoping for support for the Good Shepherd Endowment Fund's continued growth."

"Roanoke is a wonderful resource," she added. "This funding will allow the students to get tied in with things going on already."

The White family knows about the environment. Their family farm, Sandy Fields Farm in Virginia's Charles City County, was the first in the country to be 100 percent compliant with the Chesapeake Bay Act. The farm also uses no-till farming methods and filter strips to ensure that all waterways have been protected. They use rotational grazing methods in managing their Dexter Cattle herd as well.

The Whites' business, The Growers Exchange, grows and sells over 150 varieties of herbs throughout the continental United  States. They use biologically sound principles in growing and in all aspects of the business, from packaging to the choice of shippers, reflecting a business model that they refer to as "grown right."

Both Briscoe and Kenan White have been involved with numerous environmental organizations, including Delta Waterfowl, The James River Association and The Nature Conservancy of Virginia, the country's leading conservation organization which protects ecologically important land and water globally.

After graduation from Roanoke, Ben White (pictured left) took a semester-long course in Chile through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Now, he works for a Google Ventures company in Colorado.

"It excites me now that this [fund] will help revitalize the environmental studies program, to allow more intensive and hands-on learning," he said.

While at Roanoke, Ben White also was involved with RC Electric, a student group working to convert a classic gas-powered car into a fully electric vehicle. The project continues and the students involved hope to have the car running with its new engine during the 2013-14 academic year.

Dr. Gail Steehler, who coordinates Roanoke College's Environmental Studies Program, believes the Good Shepherd Fund will have a huge impact on the program.

"It will help us to realize some things we've wanted to do," she said. "Now, we will be able to implement them on a larger scale. We are seeing significant student growth in the program, so it's perfect timing for additional resources."

Steehler expects the Good Shepherd Fund to support student projects, such as those connected to a class project as well as ideas suggested by students. The fund also will provide support for projects in the environmental practicum, a capstone course for environmental studies majors.

"It will also help strengthen ties with the community," Steehler said. "We plan to name a faculty member as the experiential project coordinator, and the Good Shepherd Fund will help the coordinator to make connections in the community."

Roanoke College, a classic liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a beautiful, undergraduate setting. Roanoke is one of just seven percent of colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review lists Roanoke as the 18th most beautiful campus in its "Best 376 Colleges" 2012 guidebook.

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Released: July 12, 2013
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