Senior Mary Maier, a business administration major, is serious about trash. A community service trip to Ecuador last year exposed her to issues surrounding garbage collection. Since then, she has partnered with the town of Bunche, Ecuador to develop new solutions, utilizing the concept of social marketing throughout the process.

Maier is one of over 100 Bonner Scholars at Richmond. Through the program, a four-year commitment to sustained civic engagement, she says she has learned to connect civic engagement to academics — in any discipline.

“The marketing concepts I learn in the business school, such as focusing on the customer’s needs and wants, are not limited to business settings,” says Maier, who is concentrating in marketing with a minor in Latin American and Iberian Studies. “One area I have become particularly interested in is social marketing — the application of marketing concepts for the benefit of society.”

It was during a summer 2009 volunteer trip to Ecuador that Maier identified a social marketing opportunity that would target improving garbage disposal practices. “One of my first moments of culture shock came from seeing garbage thrown outside homes and litter in the streets, parks, and beaches,” she recalls, comparing this to the U.S., where weekly garbage collection services and fines for littering help prevent these problems.

Maier returned to Ecuador in summer 2010 specifically to research garbage disposal attitudes and practices. Prior to her departure, she spent several months reading secondary sources and developing her research questions. Her role as a research assistant for Dr. Dana-Nicoleta Lascu, chair of the marketing department, prepared her for the research process; in Ecuador, though, she had to plan around living without reliable electricity, Internet, or transportation.

Maier received a scholarship to fund her project from the Virginia International Business Council, as well as a Summer Research Fellowship from the University’s Center for Civic Engagement.

In addition, Maier had on-the-ground support from a non-profit foundation focused on conservation. “Because I entered the community as almost a complete outsider, the relationships I formed [the previous summer] were crucial to attempting a research project,” she says. “Fundación Jatun Sacha shared my interest in working with the community to improve the state of garbage disposal.”

In Bunche, Maier conducted interviews, picked up garbage, and worked with community members to construct garbage platforms. One of her major goals — which became one of her greatest accomplishments — was community participation in the development of feasible solutions.

“When the project began, the county’s garbage truck hadn’t come to the community for weeks, and the town disposed of its garbage in the mangroves,” she says. “The community came up with the idea to build several platforms, which keep garbage away from animals and allow it to be collected on a regular basis.”

The platforms did the job — garbage trucks began coming to the town regularly, giving community members an incentive to dispose of garbage in a way that wouldn’t damage the local ecosystem.

Maier, who is planning a career as a brand manager in the private or non-profit sector, says her partnerships in Bunche also enhanced her own experience: “Volunteering can give you the opportunity to learn new skills and experience various work environments … but working with a non-profit organization takes your work a step further by allowing you to connect your experiences with social justice issues and learn more about your community.”