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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.

What success looks like?
December 4, 2009 - 3:22pm

It's getting to the end of the semester, which means that a lot of student projects are getting turned in (or soon will be). As the result of a fair amount of moral (at least, I think it was moral) suasion, a number of undergraduate skills courses at Greenback encourage use of subject matter that relates to my favorite topic. If the course is in writing, the student can write about sustainability. If the course is in research, the student can research sustainability. If the course is in statistics, the student . . . well, you get the idea.

Part of the deal I make with instructors is that, if they'd like, I'll review and comment on (not grade -- I'm not faculty, nor even a TA) student submissions. I think a few of them use my comments to help them decide when a project is in the "B+ or A-" range, or something similar. Truth be told, I'm not sure how much impact my comments have, if any. It almost certainly varies by instructor.

What I am sure about is that a larger number of students is picking the "sustainability" topic, given the choice, than I'd expected. Not that they're all raging tree-huggers or carbon-sequesterers or vegans. But almost half of students in many classes (and we're not talking Environmental Studies, here) are choosing to do a sustainability-related project as opposed to a project focused on some other topic. I was expecting, maybe, more like a quarter.

Maybe it's not entirely a matter of personal interest. Maybe, kids pick the sustainability-related topic because they've already been exposed to it in high school (?), or because there's a lot of readily-available "information" in the media, or because it's an easy topic to Google. But, whatever the reason, the fact that they chose it as a topic means that they've spent 10-to-100 hours (and even a tyro like me can tell the difference) thinking about what I want them to think about.

That can't be bad, from my perspective.

On the other hand, it can feel a little disappointing. I've been working for years, trying to get folks to "get" sustainability. After investing so much effort (and it's by no means an investment I can afford to stop making), I guess I subconsciously wanted a moment where somebody said "Hey! You were right all along!" Not that it was ever likely to happen, but still . . .

. . . (but still), I'll take success however it comes. And maneuvering so that a significant portion (but still, probably not 10%) of the student body gets a little closer to taking a big-picture view of life in these United States and on this planet is far from a complete win. Lots of work to do, yet. A number of building enhancement/renovation projects to complete over the winter break. And quite a number of student projects to review even before then.


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