Perseverance is a defining characteristic of a WSU Cougar. Lee Mendez knows all about it. Establishing an organic greenhouse on the WSU Pullman campus takes a lot of it, said Lee, President of the Organic Agriculture Club.
“Before I came to WSU and people would say ‘Go Cougs!’ I didn’t really know what that meant. And now I totally understand it,” he said. “This experience has really taught me what being a Coug is all about.”
Building an organic greenhouse has been an interdisciplinary, collaborative learning opportunity—from conceiving the idea to procuring funding to manufacturing plans to physically building it. To tell the story of this process, Lee has to prepare: he breathes in deep and shakes his head slowly.
“What it takes to actually build something, and the amount of people who are involved…it’s a ton of work,” he said. “Having the support of professors and the excitement surrounding the project really made it worth it, and made me appreciate not having to do it all on my own.”
The work started when the Organic Ag Club noticed something troublesome: they weren’t retaining members from year to year. So they racked their brains for ways to keep students invested and active in the club. The answer? Their very own, dedicated organic greenhouse.
“At Wenatchee Valley College, we had a greenhouse. I was able to apply what I was learning in my ag courses in that greenhouse,” Lee said. “It really had an impact on me, so it seemed like a no-brainer.”
But that seemingly simple idea turned out to be a bit more complicated in practice. After securing funds for the kit to build the greenhouse from the Environmental Sustainability Alliance—a student group working to promote sustainability and environmental stewardship at WSU—the real work of logistics, location, and labor began, totaling more than three times the cost of the greenhouse itself.
“At first, we felt completely disheartened,” Lee said. “But then we started brainstorming ways to cut down that cost. With in-kind donations and added cost-cutting measures, we were able to get the total project cost down significantly.”
While the money was definitely an obstacle, the Organic Ag Club never lost sight of why they were building something together.
“We want to leave a legacy. We want to see other students get the same depth of understanding and develop the same love of agriculture—that’s what the greenhouse is for,” Lee said. “Not to mention how much I appreciate what this school has already given me. The quality of education, the professors, being involved in this project: it makes me want to give something back.”
Along with perseverance, giving back is a big part of what makes a Coug a Coug.
“This school is full of researchers pushing the boundaries of science and full of students who are seriously here to make a change in the world. These are humble people trying to make something of themselves—building a foundation for the future,” he added.