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Student Sustainability Reaches Summit

Student Sustainability Reaches Summit
Undergraduate Marybeth McGinnis brainstorms with fellow students at the Sustainability Summit
February 11, 2013

Penn State students recently hosted their first Sustainability Summit. This student-led event asked attendees "If Penn State were recognized as a world leader in sustainability, what would our campus look like?" and "What do you [students, student organizations] need to make that vision a reality?"

"If Penn State were recognized as a world leader in sustainability, what would our campus look like?" and "What do you [students, student organizations] need to make that vision a reality?"

The conference was the brainchild of Marybeth McGinnis, a Geography major interning with Rob Andrejewski, the leader of student programs at the Sustainability Institute. McGinnis realized that a wide variety of student groups were active in various aspects of sustainability, but rarely connected with each other. The Summit was designed to serve as a forum for student leaders to engage with each other, share resources and foster debate and conversation about the direction of Penn State’s sustainability policies. They also hoped to map out future student actions in support of a more sustainable Penn State. The conference was created by students and for students with Institute and University staff helping out only in supporting roles.

Planning for the Sustainability Summit occurred over the course of several meetings with representatives from University Park Undergraduate Association, Union and Student Activities, Student Sustainability Advisory Council (SSAC), and the Sustainability Institute. Students from organizations such as the InterFraternity Council (IFC), Human Rights Brigades and Engineers without Borders attended as well. In keeping with the sustainability theme, even the catering was provided locally by Irving’s from downtown State College.

Some questioned why Marybeth invited the IFC to be involved. Normally the IFC is not considered to be an environmental group, but they have just appointed a Sustainability Chair and Marybeth wanted to include their input. The fact that the IFC now has a chair for sustainability clearly demonstrates how mainstream the movement has become.

“This format encouraged people to think in new ways. Even the engineers liked it!”

“We especially asked that younger student leaders be sent so we could have a good mix of freshmen as well as seniors and grad students. We also made an effort to find independents, students who might not belong to any group and have been left out in the past. They often have the freshest and most innovative ideas.”

About 75 students attended and were arranged at different tables supplied with markers and art pads. The primary discussion points were presented, and the rotating discussion groups energized. Marybeth used the “World Café” format for hosting conversations. This approach uses artistic drawing to express ideas and supplement the written word. 

“This format encouraged people to think in new ways. Even the engineers liked it!” Every 15 minutes the students rotated to another table to share more ideas and connect with each other.

Posters from each discussion group featured artwork and notes.

The ideas were harvested graphically by posting each table’s artwork and discussing the key points. A lot of excitement was generated just by the ability to talk with other students from other organizations.

The Summit attendees generated some provocative ideas. One of the recurring themes was that students want more transparency with the University’s administration. They want to know where funding is coming from and why the administration is supporting certain initiatives and not others. Many attendees were passionate about folding sustainability into the curriculum as a requirement.

The Student Sustainability Advisory Council hopes the outcomes of the Summit will increase student attention and boost involvement, and they would like to make the Summit an annual event.

The students came up with a variety of ideas. To provide your input, visit the Sustainability Institute’s Facebook page. To find out more about what the University and its students are doing to promote sustainability, visit sustainability.psu.edu.

  • Replace corporate entities in the HUB with local establishments
  • Dedicate a local food dining hall
  • Commit to zero waste at football games and THON
  • Introduce more sustainability classes for freshmen
  • Combine a farmer’s market with tailgating at athletic events and at the HUB
  • Provide a permanent physical meeting space for all the campus environmental groups
  • Develop a THON-like event for sustainability
  • Use Skype for a Green Job Fair with smaller green companies
  • Create more reflective roads and green roofing
  • Establish a Sustainability “Hackathon” with sponsors and prizes
  • Reduce the running of Loop and Link buses
  • Provide sustainability programming on dorm channel 72
  • Identify work study farming opportunities
  • Provide more outdoor recycling
  • Appoint a Sustainability Officer in each college
  • Provide preferred tailgating parking for electric/hybrid vehicles
  • Cover the Eisenhower Parking Deck with solar panels
  • Include sustainability programming at FTCAP
  • Talk less, do more!

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