The expanding sustainability efforts taking place at Hobart and William Smith were in the spotlight at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference this semester thanks to a group of students, faculty and staff who attended the event in Minneapolis, Minn. Representing the Colleges were Rachael Best ’18, Daniel Bristol ’18, Finger Lakes Institute Director Lisa Cleckner, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Robin Lewis, Sustainability Manager Adam Maurer, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Tarah Rowse, Carmen Sorrentino ’16 and Chad Tokowicz ’18.
“The conference was an excellent opportunity to see what students, other faculty and institutions are doing regarding sustainability and sustainability research,” Lewis says. “It’s not only an opportunity to present our research, but for the students it’s also very important to see what’s going on, meet like-minded people and get them motivated.”
At the conference, Lewis and Rowse presented their research, “Fostering Change Through a Team-Taught First Year Sustainable Living and Learning Community,” a case study analysis of the Colleges’ Sustainable Living and Learning Community (SLLC) pilot program offered to 56 students as a specialized First-Year Seminar focused on sustainability education and community building. In addition, Lewis and Sorrentino gave a poster presentation, “Progressing Toward Sustainability Literacy: An Assessment of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning Outcomes for First-Year Students at a Liberal Arts College in Upstate New York,” which evaluated SLLC learning outcomes in the Program’s pilot year.
Spanning two semesters, SLLC promotes sustainability across the curriculum, while engaging students by connecting them to both on- and off-campus co-curricular activities involved with sustainability. It has been among the many recent efforts to enhance sustainability at HWS, which the Colleges were praised for earlier this year in Sierra’s “Cool Schools” ranking and in the 2015 edition of The Princeton Review‘s “Guide to 353 Green Colleges.”
Established in 2001, AASHE is a nonprofit organization focused on advancing sustainability in higher education through access to resources, professional development and sustainability initiatives. This year’s AASHE conference celebrated its 10th anniversary, bringing together more than 2,300 attendees from 17 countries to the event which was themed, “Transforming Sustainability Education.”
Rowse says the conference served as an important platform to share what’s happening at HWS with a broader group. She says it was also a great way for scholars and students to engage over what works well and what can be enhanced or implemented at home institutions. “We were able to get direct feedback on our research and hear from other experts about best practices,” Rowse says. “Everyone who attended brought various ideas back that can be used during the spring semester or in the fall.”
Sorrentino and Lewis also presented at the conference about the findings of their SLLC assessments that were conducted through surveys and informal interviews with the first-year student participants. Results note that students are engaging differently and in more meaningful ways following their involvement in the program.
“For those of us working on sustainability in higher education, we’re making a concerted effort to engage the various offices, departments and individuals across our institutions. In order to advance sustainability further we need everyone to understand and be engaged,” says Maurer.
Maurer says attendees gained new insights that are being developed at HWS. For example, Bristol is working with the Office of Sustainability to bring new ideas to the EcoRep program, as well as working with Campus Greens to promote the student voice for change on issues such as the use of disposable water bottles and fossil fuel dependence. Bristol credits the Carver and DeLaney Family Environmental Studies Endowment and the Hobart Dean’s Office for the support that enabled him to attend AASHE.
“The conference provided me the opportunity to learn about the sustainability initiatives that other campuses are pursuing, meet sustainability activists on other campuses to gain helpful insight into their problems and how they might apply to HWS,” he says.
For Best, the AASHE conference helped pique her interest in a new documentary film, “The True Cost,” a film at the intersection of fashion and sustainability that reveals the story behind the clothing industry and the untold costs. Recently, she collaborated with Lewis to host an on-campus screening of the documentary.
At the conference, students also gained important career insights. Tokowicz says the conference offered relevant seminars and excellent networking opportunities, including the chance to talk to staff from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“It allowed me to talk to people working in various fields that relate to sustainability and I found this very helpful,” Tokowicz says.
In the first photo, Rachael Best ’18, Sustainability Manager Adam Maurer, Daniel Bristol ’18 and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Tarah Rowse meet at the Finger Lakes Institute following their attendance at the annual AASHE conference this year in Minneapolis, Minn.
In the second photo, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Robin Lewis and Carmen Sorrentino ’16 pose for a photo at the 2015 AASHE conference where they presented their research project, “Progressing Toward Sustainability Literacy: An Assessment of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning Outcomes for First-Year Students at a Liberal Arts College in Upstate New York.”
Chad Tokowicz ’18 poses in the third photo. Tokowicz says the AASHE conference offered excellent networking opportunities.