ES&P Students Share Boundary-breaking Sustainable University Research

Rain gardens, e-transcripts, faculty transportation – even making the most of a severe October blizzard – were discussed in a public presentation by students who completed the course, The Sustainable University. Their research projects delved into issues and proposed solutions related to Clark’s role in sustainable practices on campus and beyond.

The Sustainable University, which is taught by assistant professor Jennie Stephens, is a graduate-level course for undergraduates and graduate students together. Subtitled “Sustainability and the Role of Higher Education,” it is part of Clark’s Environmental Science & Policy program within the International Development, Community and Environment (IDCE) Department.

In addition to reading and writing about the challenges of sustainability and the role of the university in promoting sustainable practices in society, Stephens’ students met with several challenges associated with promoting sustainable behavior and fostering institutional and social change. The semester-long team projects focused on advancing specific initiatives in the Clark and Worcester communities.

Clark’s Sustainability Coordinator, Jenny Isler, was integrally involved in advising and assisting the student researchers. Senior Katy Cleminson, who majors in International Development and Social Change, served as the course peer learning assistant.

An estimated 50 students, administrators, staff and community members attended the Dec. 9 presentations. A final report detailing each of the team projects is available online at the Sustainable Clark website.

“Students have been exposed to and engaged with ideas about university policies and community priorities, as well as buildings and campus operations, and how these multiple dimensions all play a role in the education of students, and have a broad impact on society,” Stephens writes in the report introduction. “We have explored how institutions of higher education have unique potential to catalyze and/or accelerate the transition to sustainability.”

Following are the projects and student team members:

Campus Initiatives, Inventory and Outreach

Ray Beauregard (ES&P graduate student), Sharon Bort ’14, Jordan Formichelli ’14, and Nate Lapides ’15

The students worked from an inventory of campus initiatives, researched the bike-share program, calculated carbon savings, and examined sustainable practices at Clark Admissions. The team reported several positive findings for Admissions, including structural aspects of the Bassett Admissions Center, the switch to electronic transcript review and other online, paperless strategies. Admissions tours with a focus on campus sustainability activities are also in the works, the team reported, adding that student tour guides and others in Admissions are “really into sustainability.” Strategies of engagement with alumni were considered, but logistical hurdles prompted the students to refocus.

“Our successful review of three specific sustainability initiatives (Clark Bike Share, e-Billing, and the actions by the Office of Admissions) demonstrate the strength and breadth of sustainability activities at Clark,” the group reported.

The Rain Garden Initiative

Samantha Boyle ’15, Kerry Burke ’15, Will Maxwell ’15, Samantha Sandella ’15

The team developed a local storm water runoff project focused on implementing a rain garden outside of the Admissions building to control water runoff. Informative, educational signage is planned to accompany the garden, slated to be prepared before the end of spring semester. The rain garden will also serve as one of the in Worcester, contributing toward a goal of 25 rain gardens proposed by city Mayor Joe O’Brien.

The Rain Garden Initiative team wrote: “This class has given our group such a great insight to how Clark, our home for the next three years, works. Through all the networking we achieved, we have developed a strong relationship with many key members within our community.”

The Clark Arboretum

Jixian He (IDSC graduate student), Olivia Bourque ’15, Phong Bui (ES&P graduate student)

The team focused on increasing awareness of the Hadwen Arboretum, a six-acre, century-old woodland unknown to many people on campus or in the city. The team used social media and Facebook, direct outreach, and Sustainable Clark website. A key project was marketing and organizing a public walk through the unspoiled landscape. More than 28 people joined the walk. Plans are in place to organize future walks, dedicate a link to the Arboretum website at the University’s own Sustainable Clark website, create informative slides to appear on the screens in the Academic Commons, and to encourage faculty to involve students and coursework at the site.

“Maintaining green areas in our world’s cities is extremely important as our climate changes due to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions,” the students reported. “Our team recognized the key role Clark’s arboretum plays in these scenarios and decided to work on raising awareness for the arboretum across Clark’s campus.”

Campus Garden and Food Systems

Ginny Cooke ’14, Corinne Jachelski ’15, Zach McArthur ’13, Emily Smela ’15, Ruth Vizard ’13

The group supported the “Herban Gardeners” in becoming an official student organization for herbal gardeners and applied for Student Council budget funding for the spring semester.  Collaborating with Clark’s Eco Reps, the team helped to harvest a bumper crop of tomatoes and co-hosted an awareness-raising sustainable dinner party. The team also “recycled” logs from branches downed in a serious October snowstorm, transforming the debris into a garden seating area.

From the team’s report: “Growing plants can foster a community’s collaboration, a key element of a sustainable system. As the Herban Gardeners learn basic farming, solid teamwork skills will help efficiently maintain the beds.”

Transportation within Clark’s Climate Action Plan

Ethan Forauer ’15, Toai Nguyen (ES&P graduate student), Anna Stern (ES&P graduate student)

These students investigated the mitigation strategies of Clark’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan and decided to focus on transportation, distributing a survey that garnered impressive response rates (278 responses, comprising 36 percent participation). Efforts also were under way to calculate carbon emissions resulting from faculty and staff travel.

“Moving forward, we hope that our survey can be modified and used by the Sustainability Task Force and the Climate Action Plan sub-committee to continue monitoring staff and faculty commuting patterns,” the group reported. “This will be essential for keeping up with the climate action plan’s emissions targets.”

This story first appeared on the Clark News Hub.

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