Loyola University Chicago

Institute of Environmental Sustainability

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New Faculty Profile: John Zahina-Ramos, PhD

By Kristen Torres | Student reporter

John Zahina-Ramos wants to save the planet—one urban garden at a time.

An established ecologist and conservationist, Zahina-Ramos spent five years cultivating his own backyard food garden in the heart of South Florida. Now back in his home state of Illinois, he must face the new challenge of maintaining a sustainable lifestyle in a second-floor apartment, along with teaching a whole new crop of students.

Here, Zahina-Ramos talks about the benefits of urban gardening, Loyola’s commitment to sustainability, and how the little things people do for the environment can make a big impact.

Tell us a little more about your urban garden research project.

For five years, I grew and measured crops in my backyard and was able to quantify the ecological, environmental, and economic benefit of an urban food garden. During all the research, I realized that people don’t really think much about urban gardens in our city. We think of them as quaint, or as a project that provides a few veggies during the summer months—and then we forget about them. But what my research has shown is that collectively, they have an enormous benefit for saving energy and nonrenewable resources.

What was it about Loyola that tempted you to leave Florida?

The great students and just the ability to be around so many awesome efforts going on in the realm of sustainability. There are so many things going on at Loyola to support sustainability. Loyola is such a prestigious institution and the Institute of Environmental Sustainability is exactly where I want to be. Coming back to the Midwest was a huge factor as well; I was born and raised in northwest Illinois.

What classes are you teaching this semester?

Environmental Sustainability and Scientific Basis of Environmental Issues.

What do you hope your students take away from your classes?

I hope students develop a desire to see sustainability carried out in their day-to-day life—that they understand the real power in making a difference is not in doing one big thing, but in the collective good of millions of little things that people do every day.

What do you like to do when you’re not gardening or teaching?

I love hiking and the outdoors, so I’m glad to be on the lake. I also love astronomy. It was my intended major in college, but an advisor told me math and physics was involved—so that was the end of that dream.