Inspiring environmental awareness on campus and in the community has earned a UCF student organization a prestigious state award.

Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions, or I.D.E.A.S., was selected as the Conservation Organization of the Year for 2011 by the Florida Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit organization that promotes preservation in Florida.

I.D.E.A.S. won for its dedicated efforts on behalf of Florida’s fish and wildlife and their native habitats. I.D.E.A.S. and other state conservationists were honored at the Federation’s annual Conservation Awards Banquet last weekend. Conservation award winners were selected from nominations made to FWF’s board of directors.

I.D.E.A.S. was nominated for the award by Jenny Brock, who serves on the board of directors for the FWF and the National Wildlife Federation. Brock has closely watched the progress of the four-year-old organization and praised its ability to get young people involved with hands-on environmental activities.

“As the conservation movement moves into the 21st Century, we’re grateful for organizations such as I.D.E.A.S. at UCF that are stepping up to help in such meaningful ways, spreading the message and engaging young people to become active conservationists,” Brock said.

I.D.E.A.S., founded by UCF alumni Chris Castro and Hank Harding while they were students, aims to inspire and promote sustainability by providing students and community members with opportunities to get involved in environmental and service-learning projects.

The organization’s outreach has included activities such as bike rallies, invasive plant removal and cleanups of lakes, roads and beaches.

“We’re thankful that the Florida Wildlife Federation is recognizing that the next generation is taking action on the conservation and environmental issues that matter,” said I.D.E.A.S. President Samantha Ruiz, who oversees the group with Vice President Sebastian Church.

“We’re willing to make changes, and we don’t just talk about it. We take action,” Ruiz said.

The student group also has picked up other awards this year.  Last month, I.D.E.A.S. placed third in the Green Your School Challenge, a competition in which schools showcase projects that protect the environment and fight climate change.

More than 200,000 students from nearly 2,500 schools participated in the 10-week competition sponsored by Hewlett Packard and the nonprofit UCF was the only university represented in the top 10.

The challenge encouraged students to bring awareness to recycling, energy, climate change and other green issues at schools in their communities.

As students worked to inspire change in daily activities through education about greener practices, they posted snippets about their projects on the challenge’s online forum.

Students in I.D.E.A.S. spread the news about the sustainable shack they constructed out of recyclables and an old shopping cart in February for “Shack-A-Thon,” a campus Habitat for Humanity fundraiser.

For another project, students aimed to reduce plastic bag usage by teaching others how to convert old t-shirts into reusable tote bags by cutting the sleeves and necks and sewing the shirts together.

Green Your School projects were reviewed for creativity, innovation and overall environmental impact. For placing in the top five, I.D.E.A.S. received an HP notebook and $1,000 to fund its programs.

Since 2008, I.D.E.A.S. has expanded to nearly a dozen chapters, including ones at Penn State and the University of Florida.

The organization previously was featured in a video highlighting UCF’s energy efforts that appeared on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website. The group also received the Green Leaf Award for Environmental Excellence from Orange County in 2010.