Centre student projects explore improving campus sustainability
Though fall has painted campus in autumn hues and winter is well on its way, Centre is busy going green, thanks to several inquisitive environmental studies students who are working to complete a series of thought-provoking campus projects.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Brett Werner lauds these students’ recent efforts.
“The College benefits from having students pursue sustainable practices,” he says, “projects that could help the College live up to its commitments to sustainability and less carbon-intensive alternatives.”
Monica Pence ’14
Monica Pence is hard at work building a Real Food Calculator (RFC) for Centre’s dining services. The RFC is an online tool that assesses the percent of “real” food served on campus.
Each food item is judged on whether it is grown sustainably, whether its production is local (within 250 miles) and community-based, whether it was raised humanely (for meat, eggs and dairy) and whether the workers involved in its production are treated fairly.
If the food item meets enough of these requirements and has no disqualifications—such as containing high fructose corn syrup—it is counted as “real” food.
“I will be assessing two months of invoices from our last academic year,” Pence explains. “Many colleges use this tool as part of the Real Food Challenge, in which you set a specific goal for the amount of real food you want to have at your campus by the year 2020.”
Pence stresses that the goal of the project is not a complete overhaul of Centre’s food services, but instead a realistic view of the current state of affairs and how Centre’s “real” food index can be improved.
“The ultimate goal of the projects is to discover the ‘easy fixes’ and create a basis for setting realistic goals with regard to getting more sustainably produced food in Cowan,” she says. “So far, I’ve been working on getting through the necessary preliminary steps before the actual calculations can begin.”
These initial steps include talking with the Kentucky Real Food Challenge representative and creating Centre’s RFC institutional profile with the help of Sodexho General Manager Mike Nagorka.
“Berea College already has a student working on the RFC, so I had a meeting with that student, Berea’s Dining Service Sustainability Coordinator, Mike Nagorka and Professor Dan Kirchner to discuss what to expect as we begin to use the Calculator,” Pence says. “The actual calculations take a long time, so I plan to begin them near the end of this semester, work on them informally in January and hopefully finish them in the spring term as part of a project for Dr. Kirchner’s Ethics of Food class.”
For Pence, though she is an environmental studies minor, her environmental studies classes have been her favorite while at Centre.
“I took World Hunger and the Environment with Professor Rick Axtell last year, and the connections among industrial agriculture, world hunger and climate change that we discussed got me really interested in sustainable agriculture,” she explains. “I like many different topics, but sustainable agriculture may be my favorite.”
Libby Trevathan ’14
Libby Trevathan’s project, “The Green Roof Initiative,” investigates the costs and benefits of green roof construction on campus.
Green roofs take a variety of shapes and forms, but all ultimately involve planting vegetation on rooftops. The plant life provides a variety of benefits, from reducing rainwater runoff and helping insulate buildings to absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide and providing fresh produce.
Trevathan is currently investigating viable opportunities for implementation of green roofs on campus, a passion she will take with her after graduating in the spring.
“I’ve been really interested in sustainable design and landscape architecture as a future career,” she says. “I’ve been investigating green designs throughout the majority of my Centre career through my self-designed major—a synthesis of the arts (3D studio art) and sustainability (environmental studies).”
Trevathan is ultimately aiming at a Masters degree in landscape architecture, with a sustainability track. As an undergrad, she has enjoyed the opportunity to explore a diverse range of topics through environmental studies.
“My favorite part about the environmental studies component of my self-designed major is that I get to take a full range of classes,” she explains. “I’ve touched almost every discipline offered at Centre—ranging from economics, politics and government to biology, environmental studies and studio art.
“Environmental studies is such an interdisciplinary major,” she continues. “It’s a really great opportunity to take full advantage of a liberal arts education and draw connections between so many subjects.”
For Werner, all these projects have been valuable in multiple ways for the students involved.
“Students get practical experience working within institutions and learning how to get things done,” he explains. “I see that as an incredibly important transferrable skill, aside from the obvious academic component of the projects. Also, when students shape the campus environment and campus policy, they deepen their long-term connection to the College.”
Learn more about Environmental Studies at Centre.
By Mariel Smith