The waggle says it all. When a honeybee returns to the hive, she communicates where she found a good pollen or nectar source, not through audible or visual cues, but through what is known as the "waggle dance," a circuitous movement the other bees feel with their antennae. This dance conveys how far away the flowers are and where they are in relation to the sun. For Maria Alvarez, '21, the waggle dance is one of the most captivating displays of bee communication.

"I'm constantly fascinated by the intelligence, logic and willpower bees have," she says. "They use the position of the sun to navigate and find their way home, they construct their hive using hexagons as the most efficient shape to conserve space, and they can fly a radius of about 3 miles away from their hive."

Alvarez is an 18-year-old certified beekeeper who chartered the Whitworth Association of Pollinating Insect Supporters Club, or APIS (apis is part of the scientific name for the honeybee). She launched the club last fall, shortly after beginning her freshman year as an Act Six Scholar. Like the resourceful bees that share intelligence with their colonies, Alvarez is sharing her knowledge about one of nature's most important insects with a swarm of interested students.

"Becoming a beekeeper has made me respect bees on a whole new level," she says. "Most people will hear or see a bee and be terrified of getting stung, but they don't take the time to learn about all the things bees selflessly do for us and how incredible they really are."

Alvarez's father has held a lifelong interest in the positive impact small beekeepers could make on the environment; his interest grew in the mid-2000s as bee colonies disappeared in alarming numbers as a result of colony collapse disorder. Beekeeping became a family enterprise in 2009, when Alvarez was just 9 years old. Her parents work in robotics, and their jobs led the family of four to move from their home in Argentina and to eventually settle in Spokane, where they began taking classes together to work toward various levels of beekeeping certification.

At age 11, Maria ran for a secretary position with the Inland Empire Beekeepers Association and won the election against two adults. By 2013, all four Alvarezes had earned journeyman-level certification in beekeeping, a status attained after apprentice-level certification, an exam, and two to three additional years of teaching, volunteering and journaling.

Above: Maria Alvarez, '21, founder of the APIS Bee Club, inspects a frame from one of two hives at the Kipos Club's community garden on campus.

"My brother and I try to set the example that young people can be beekeepers, too, and my family tries to show that it can be done as a family activity," Alvarez says. The family opened BeeManiacs, a beekeeping supply store on their property that also sells supplies online. In 2015, Alvarez completed a Train the Trainers course and is now certified to teach beekeeping classes. She teaches sessions at regional workshops and conferences, and she helps out at her family's store.

At Whitworth, Alvarez is double majoring in health science and psychology and minoring in Spanish – a language in which she is fluent; she hopes the minor will fine-tune her writing skills. As president of the APIS Bee Club, Alvarez has proven to be a gifted teacher and a passionate advocate for bees and pollinators among her fellow students. "She thinks it's just normal to start a brand-new, formal student club on the third day you arrive at college – she honestly does not think this is a big deal," says Associate Professor of Business Management Dawn Keig, the club's faculty advisor. "Maria is adding something special to the campus community."

More than 60 students receive APIS Bee Club email updates and about a dozen regularly attend meetings. Through APIS' events and workshops, students are becoming more conscious about the environment and food waste as they realize the importance of bees and the fallout when colonies collapse.

Keig notes that one of the strengths of Alvarez's approach to APIS is its collaboration with other student-led environmental clubs on campus, particularly with the Kipos Club's community garden, where Alvarez maintains two hives, often with assistance from her family members, APIS Club members or Keig. This spring, Alvarez partnered with Kipos and the ASWU Sustainability Club to host a workshop on making beeswax wraps and lip balm and to set up an observation hive during campus Earth Day events.

"Maria is a skilled and valuable leader," says Kipos co-president Morgan McKeague, '20. "She is generous with her time and uses her passions to collaborate with others."

The traits that Alvarez observes in the honeybee – resourcefulness, intelligence, selflessness and willpower – are apt descriptors of Alvarez, the young beekeeper who is eager to show that these environmental efforts are for people of all ages. "Bees are fascinating by nature," she says. "Sometimes you just need the right teacher to introduce the material to you in a fun way to motivate you to learn more."