Growing up in rural Ohio, Zac Graber was very active in his local 4-H, Farm Bureau and Future Farmers of America organizations.
Little did he know back then in Liberty Center, Ohio, that these involvements would instill in Graber, a fourth-year in marketing, a passion that would result in him receiving the highest university recognition given by Ohio State, the President’s Prize.
The award is presented to graduating seniors committed to making social change in the community. Graber’s project aims to reduce the amount of waste sent to local landfills in Central Ohio.
“Over 50 percent of what’s going to the landfill is actually organic compostable material,” Graber said. “If we can figure out a way to get the carbon and nitrogen levels in this correct where it can help with plant yields with crops like corn and soybeans, not only will it help utilize this waste that we’re having, but it will help us grow more food so in turn it’s helping both sides of the fence.”
Graber’s brother, Blake Graber, said it was his brother’s confidence and passion about the subject that made him stand out among other applicants to get selected for this prestigious award.
“He came from a background where sustainability and waste management, which is what his project is about … was really important,” Blake Graber said.
This passion is the reason Zac Graber had originally intended to study agricultural business but decided his professional goals would benefit more from a business degree. He had wanted to continue in both majors but was told that it was not possible to double major in those areas.
Zac Graber viewed the President’s Prize as the perfect opportunity for him to express these interests because of the award’s focus on social impact.
“This project was really a special thing for him because he could apply that to the real world and get a chance to show what he knows and show what he loves to do,” Blake Graber said.
That’s why Zac Graber stepped up to the challenge of the extensive application process.
“There were a lot of times where he’d be working on it and he’d be like ‘hey I’ve looked over this so many times, I don’t know where I can improve it. I’ve read over it so many times I can’t even see what I’m writing anymore,’” Blake Graber said. “And he’d go to other people to help him look through it too.”
Some of the people who helped Zac Graber throughout the application process were his advisor Christian Blanco as well as Brian Roe from the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences who is interested in food waste and Brent Sohngen from CFAES who is interested in environmental sustainability.
“The biggest take away I got from this whole process is just how helpful it is reaching out to professors that you can come to connect with over the years,” Zac Graber said. “[They] were all really helpful and all had very different viewpoints on kind of helping me figure out anything that maybe could have [been] seen as a problem that I could resolve before ever submitting it.”
And much like his application, Zac Graber noted that it was important in his research to look at it from every angle. Zac Graber made contacts with the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, sales people at some of the top manufacturers in the industry and consultants from successful consulting firms.
Receiving the President’s Prize means Zac Graber will be able to continue the work he’s done up to this point.
“The fact that I can pick up running with this and get back to all my connections instead of just leaving them hanging on the other end like ‘yeah thanks for all the help with this but I can’t really test what we’ve kind of figured out might be a good solution.’… [is] just really satisfying being able to complete what I’ve spent so much time on,” Zac Graber said.
Zac Graber said that if his research is successful, he hopes to be able to invest in a facility to act on the research. He would like to help build the facility where he would want to work as the operation manager and even advocate to expand his work to similar cities such as Indianapolis or Nashville.
“I know that he’ll follow through and give it the best he can to make it a reality and make it work in the end,” Blake Graber said.
If the research is not successful, Zac Graber said he plans on working for a startup company while still pursuing making improvements in sustainability on the side.
“I really believe climate change is one of the biggest pressing issues of our time and I just want to spend my working years working towards improving that main issue,” Zac Graber said.