Penn students are usually pretty vocal about letting the administration know exactly what they want.
Cheaper printing! A longer add/drop period! Better high rise elevators!
But a proposal to install an energy-producing wind turbine in the "wind tunnel" on Locust Walk?
Now, that's a different story.
Recently, Penn has joined many schools nationwide in giving students the unique chance to propose tangible policies for the University's ongoing quest toward a sustainable campus.
Last semester, around 20 students in Environmental Studies professor Robert Giegengack's class "Toward Sustainability on Penn's Campus" explored and provided solutions to sustainability problems specifically related to Penn.
The class prepared an executive summary of their final proposals and presented it to Facilities Vice President Anne Papageorge and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli.
The projects run the gamut from improving energy efficiency in science labs to limiting storm-water runoff on the soon-to-be-developed postal lands.
"The students brought a lot more enthusiasm" than professionals hired by the University, Giegengack said, adding that the administration responded positively to students' ideas.
"All of the students engaged with the problems thoughtfully and seriously," Papageorge wrote in an e-mail. And while none of the projects has been implemented yet, "each idea will be evaluated in more detail," she wrote.
College senior Michael Poll, who was present at the meeting with adminstrators, said the officials seemed engaged and asked thoughtful questions about the student projects.
College sophomore Yuki Hashimoto, whose proposal focused on an overhaul of Penn's recycling system, said the class taught her how to research information by interviewing specialists instead of looking in the library.
"There was no book about recycling that I could refer to," Hashimoto said.
Hashimoto chose to do her project on campus recycling after determining that it was a highly visible problem with easy solutions.
"Everybody in the class and the professor were always complaining about how Penn does not recycle much of its waste," she said.
She quickly discovered that recycling at Penn was not synchronized across campus.
"Each school has their own system of waste management, so the building director basically decides how to manage waste," she said.
Hashimoto researched recycling practices at other Pennsylvania universities and recommended that Penn update its data collection system and create uniform recycling standards for all campus buildings to follow.
To further consolidate the recycling program on campus, Hashimoto said that a recycling coordinator would be needed, citing Tufts University's success with adding that position.
From her research, Hashimoto concluded that if the University were to change its recycling bins, it would be advantageous to switch to single stream recycling, a system in which all recyclable material is placed in one bin.
While Hashimoto has yet to see any tangible results from her project, she emphasized that ReycleMania, a 10-week recycling competition among universities - which Penn has entered for the first time - has helped raise awareness about the issue.
"It's really cool just to see that people who wouldn't even think about recycling are actually thinking about it," she said.
Hashimoto is optimistic that her project has a chance to make a positive impact on the University.
"I just hope that the administrators who read my paper will really take into account my suggestions and they will be implemented," she said.
Wharton sophomore Laura Boudreau and her partner, Poll, provided recommendations regarding the future renovation of Rodin College House. They made suggestions such as switching to environmentally safe paint and adhesives in order to make Rodin a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified building.
They chose Rodin because the College House is set to begin renovations this summer.
Apart from the LEED standards, Boudreau and Poll offered other more costly changes.
Because Rodin's roof is slated to be renovated in five years, they suggested that a green roof similar to the one in English House be installed.
The pair also proposed that the University harness the wind power in the "wind tunnel" at 39th and Locust streets by building new urban wind mills.
Boudreau said she and Poll were told that their recommendations would be "taken under consideration."
She believed that if the student report had instead come from a professional agency that "it probably would have had more clout," but she emphasized that Penn officials still seemed interested in the class's findings.
Even though this class sparked a new level of student involvement at Penn, other universities have been involving students in sustainability issues for years.
"We are not the first in this exercise," Giegengack said, referring to Arizona State University's entire school devoted to sustainability.
Across the Ivies
The trend is strong and growing throughout the Ivy League, too.
"Students were an integral part of getting our [sustainability] office established," said Robert Ferretti, director of the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership at Yale University. "It started as a grass roots effort."
At Yale, STEP creates a "culture of sustainability in residential life," Ferretti said.
STEP has two representatives from each of Yale's 12 residential colleges. The 24 student members are divided into two groups, one focusing on energy conservation and the other focusing on waste reduction.
This environmentally friendly dialogue between students and the administration is the norm at Yale.
Students "have a lot of leverage in the administration," Ferretti said.
At Harvard University, a competition called the Ecolympics was started in 1990. Now under a new name - the Green Cup - the event pits Harvard's college houses against each other to determine which of the residences is the most environmentally friendly.
Philip Kreycik, coordinator of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program at Harvard, said student "collaboration was essential to address sustainability on campus."
The Harvard College Environmental Action Committee was able to place a referendum on the Undergraduate Council ballot which revealed strong student support for a greenhouse gas reduction goal, Kreycik said.
As a result, a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee was formed.
"I would like to continue to hear ideas about greenhouse gas emission reductions, since climate change will be one of the defining issues of our generation and since universities serve the purpose of educating tomorrow's leaders to be able to deal with the challenges of the future," he said.
Jon Meza can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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