SustainAbilities “green-ifies” campus

SustainAbilites, a new program at St. Olaf, encourages students to live and learn sustainably. Even in its first year, SustainAbilities is all over campus, collaborating with the Admissions Office, Residence Life, Bon Appetit and the facilities to make St. Olaf a more environmentally-minded campus.

The program brings a unique perspective to St. Olaf because of its interdisciplinary nature.

“It’s a groundbreaking program because it’s one of the few programs that’s involved in all parts of life: where we eat, what we learn, where we live and the greater community,” Andi Gomoll ’13 said.

Gomoll, along with Lauren Kramer ’13 and Tyler Nielsen ’13, helped develop the SustainAbilities program this year. They became involved when their professor Jim Farrell received a grant to start a program at St. Olaf.

“It was a huge process,” Kramer said when asked about the program’s genesis. “[Farrell] has been involved in sustainability on campus for a long time, and he has surveyed first years [from several cohorts]. Consistently, they want to learn how to live sustainably in their residence halls.”

Acknowledging that incoming St. Olaf students see sustainability education as a priority, one of Farrell’s students, Patricia Lamas ’12, began to think about what a program in the residence halls could look like.

“For Lamas’ senior project, she outlined the program, and this summer [Farrell, with the help of Collaborative Research and Undergraduate Inquiry CURI] hired us to implement it,” Kramer explained.

Gomoll, Kramer and Nielsen worked over the summer to create a program that would aim to address environmental awareness and action in all parts of student life. They used final projects from Campus Ecology, a class team-taught by Farrell and a St. Olaf student each spring, to help design the program.

Drawing upon dozens of student-created sustainability event ideas, the trio worked to make a comprehensive resource binder for Sustainability Representatives. “Students will update the binder each year … We tried to make sure there is always room for flexibility and new projects,” Kramer said.

The research group also drew from sustainability education programs at colleges across the country and came up with ideas of their own to add to the binder.

Ultimately, the group developed a long-term program with four main focuses – one to be addressed each year at St. Olaf. First-year students will learn how to live sustainably in the residence halls, sophomores will focus on learning about the importance of civic engagement and community involvement, juniors will center on the politics of the environmental movement and the importance of political involvement and seniors will learn how to take these skills and apply them to life after they leave the Hill.

While they are still refining the process, the group envisions tailoring SustainAbilities to the four-year experience after the pilot year. For now, all parts are being implemented in the program’s first year.

Representation in the residence halls is a big part of the SustainAbilities program. The 10 sustainability representatives, one for each residence hall, have already posted signs in the dorms reminding students about sustainable habits and behaviors.

“Sustainability representatives have sway over which events they lead for their hall,” Nielson explained. Their goal this year is to make sustainable behaviors the most convenient and default behaviors on campus.

“People are excited,” said Nielsen, the sustainability representative for Ytterboe Hall as well as a co-creator of the program. “I’ve already had seniors asking if they can be involved in composting.”

Beyond help with composting and recycling, sustainability representatives are also in charge of hosting hall-wide events. For example, one upcoming event features a “cook-off” with organic foods and information about eating sustainably.

Working with their sustainability representatives, students in the residence halls can also apply to become Green-Room Certified, which showcases “their intentional changes in everyday habits, active participation in sustainability events, organizations and classes available on campus,” according to the SustainAbilities website.

Events are not limited to the residence halls. Among other events, which are listed on the website’s calendar, there will be a Campus Sustainability Day on Oct. 24.

Emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability education at St. Olaf, Nielsen said that the leaders have “been drawing [from] departments from all around campus for Sustainability Day.”

There are many ways students can get involved in SustainAbilities. From an academic angle, there is even a course guide under “Green Course Listings” on the website that helps students pick classes within their major that involve sustainability.

“We really want to involve an interdisciplinary approach,” Gomoll said.

When asked the best ways for students to become involved with the program, Kramer and Gomoll emphasized the importance of attending events and following tips for green living.

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