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Honors Program students conduct on-campus sustainability projects

December 18, 2013
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From left: Alicia Swanson, Julian Feledas and Casey Bloechl, members of the Foodlums Survey Team, pass out surveys about organic and local foods to students in Hilltop Center.

EAU CLAIRE — Students in Dr. Karen Mumford's Honors Program course in campus ecology are taking their passion for sustainability out of the classroom and into the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus community through hands-on projects with on-campus clients.

"Students want hands-on experiences in sustainability and our university is a great learning laboratory for them to work in," said Mumford, an assistant professor in the Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies. "We have many sustainability examples on campus, such as the Davies Center that supports a green roof, efficient energy and lighting features, and water conserving technologies in the bathrooms. Students can walk around campus and see what sustainability looks like."

Students in the campus ecology course worked in teams to develop plans and projects to fulfill their assigned client's needs. They followed a rigorous project management protocol and focused on effective communication with their clients in order to produce a product that meets the client's expectations, Mumford said.

Elisabeth Caldwell, a sophomore economics major from Madison; Adam King, a senior computer science major from Turtle Lake; and Melissa Wysocki, an undeclared sophomore from Plainfield; worked with client Kate Hartsel, the sustainability coordinator for Housing and Residence Life, on researching the possibility of purchasing and using a baler system to recycle cardboard on upper campus. The purpose of this project was to identify the possibility of creating a revenue generating cardboard recycling project on upper campus. Students researched cardboard recycling equipment and potential cardboard vendors. They conducted an analysis of costs and possible returns, and found that the returns on investment were positive — generating revenues that could then be used to support sustainability projects on upper campus.

Hartsel said she was very impressed with the professional manner in which the students approached the project and the way they interacted with her and her intern.

"The group did an excellent job researching and developing their presentation," Hartsel said. "I think the results will be very helpful for Housing and Residence Life."

Caldwell said working with a client on sustainability issues was a new experience and taught her group valuable skills, both professionally and personally.

"We learned how to effectively communicate with a third-party client in a professional setting in order to get the information we needed to make our client happy," Caldwell said. "We learned how to sift through extraneous information while conducting research and to keep an open mind for possible solutions to our issue. We encounter concerns with sustainability in our daily lives on campus, and we are definitely more aware of how we can improve our own sustainability efforts from working on this project and taking Dr. Mumford's class."

Hartsel said it's exciting to see students grappling with the issues surrounding sustainability.

"Ultimately the future of our planet will be determined by how future generations react to the changes that are already occurring in the environment due to climate change, population growth, mining and many other impacts human activity has on the world," Hartsel said. "The interest and passion of the students involved in this class gives me hope for the future of our planet."

Sophomore Alicia Swanson, a psychology and English double major from Apple Valley, Minn., was a part of the Foodlums food survey project. The purpose of the survey project was to examine the level of knowledge and access UW-Eau Claire students have to local and organic foods. In addition, the survey sought to determine whether students support increasing access to these foods on the UW-Eau Claire campus and the types of activities they would want to participate in to learn more about them.

Swanson said the results of the surveys show that UW-Eau Claire students want to change their habits and would consume more locally and organically grown food if it were available.

"Most students reported that they are willing to pay 50 cents to $1 more on a local or organic product that was already priced at $1," Swanson said. "I think this information will help show people that we can easily make a difference here on campus. Students are ready and willing."

Students presented their project findings to clients during class and also shared their work in decision-making settings.

The Priory gardens team presented their findings from their stakeholder meeting to the Priory Advisory Council. The purpose of this project was to conduct one-on-one interviews with campus members who are interested in developing the gardens at The Priory, and/or have experience working at The Priory. After the interviews, student team members convened a meeting to identify opportunities and challenges for developing gardens at The Priory. Based on recommendations provided to the Priory Advisory Council, a Priory Gardens Committee is being established to develop gardens.

The Foodlums food survey team and the Foodlums organic gardening manual team presented their work at the Foodlums weekly meetings. For the gardening manual project, students developed a user-friendly manual for those on campus who are interested in developing their own gardens.

Mumford said her goal for the students in the campus ecology course was to come away with a clearer understanding of what sustainability is and develop the knowledge and skills needed to pursue it.

Other campus ecology sustainability projects from the semester were:

  • Recycling engagement and best practices: For this project a focus group was developed and convened with on-campus students to identify better ways to motivate students in the residence halls to recycle and participate in recycling campaigns. This project provided recommendations for educational strategies and incentives to increase recycling. The group also developed recycling advertisements and educational materials for use in the residence halls.

  • Recycling bin signage and education: For this project students teamed up with Facilities Management to design signage for recycling and landfill bins in classroom buildings. The purpose was to better inform campus members about proper use of the on-campus recycling bins and landfill or waste containers. The group's signs will be posted in classroom buildings next semester. Plans also are underway for creating signage for Davies Center.

  • Survey of UW-Eau Claire bicyclists: UW-Eau Claire recently was recognized as a bike-friendly campus. This team developed and conducted a survey of campus bicyclists to help its clients identify the interests and concerns of bicyclists, gain information about bike safety, provide support for biking and find ways to expand the number of those who bike to campus. Results from the bicycling survey will be given to Eau Claire city staff and community members as well as on-campus leaders who are working to support and expand biking throughout the area.

For more information about the campus ecology sustainability projects, contact Dr. Karen Mumford at mumforkg@uwec.edu or 715-836-3797.

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