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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Sustainability work #5 - Staffing the students
October 14, 2008 - 7:39pm

I don't want to say that I have as much contact with students as a typical faculty member, but I suspect that I work with more students over the course of a semester than some faculty members do. And I don't just mean the emeriti who teach one seminar section each summer -- I probably work, in one capacity or another, to educate and enable and coach and facilitate the efforts of something like forty or fifty students each semester.

First off, imbuing the campus culture with sustainability awareness means working with several groups which include lots of student representation. Most of those kids -- the individual contributors who come to meetings and work on projects and staff information tables and hang up posters -- don't figure into that forty-or-fifty estimate. But the idea generators, the leaders, the organizers -- they come up to six or eight in the larger groups (two or three in the smaller ones), and with them I have significant interaction. Helping them to flesh out their ideas, prioritize the doable over the Utopian, pull the plans together, get the necessary resources lined up, that sort of thing ... I can easily spend 10 or 20 hours a semester with each of those folks.

Then, embedding sustainability in the curriculum means presenting to classes. I'm typically a guest lecturer in two or three different sections a year -- sometimes once per section, sometimes more. The more engaged students, where there's memorable interaction, count toward the 40-50; the bumps-on-logs don't.

Grad students, and seniors working on capstone or honors projects, seem to know how to find me. More and more student research is touching (and sometimes focusing) on matters of sustainability. Renewable energy, waste disposal, transportation optimization, exercise science, new media, a wide range of subjects (that's what I get for hiding amidst creative, intelligent, ambitious types, sigh ...). My level of involvement varies tremendously, based on the type of project and the capabilities of the individuals involved, but the incidence is increasing.

Finally, there are interns and work-studies. Lots of administrative work, lots of folks to contact, lots of data to collate, lots of presentation materials (in various formats) to prepare. Bright kids, and usually wanting to do good work, but not a lot of experience. Most of them (and I probably deal with 3 or 4 a year) require some pretty directive management, at least at the start. It's worth it on a lot of levels, but it does take time.

Did I sign up for the sustainability portfolio so I could work with students? Not hardly. But I end up working with students in order to leverage their efforts -- to amplify my impacts on Greenback. I like to think that the hands-on experience they get by doing and leading sustainability projects, the interdisciplinary perspective they get from studying sustainability problems, those things will enhance the value of the education they get in their years on campus.

And the lessons they learn hands-on may just affect what they do after they leave this place.

At least, I can hope so.


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