UConn Faculty Bleed Blue and Go Green with GCAN

A group of UConn faculty members gathered this past Earth Day, along with OEP sustainability staff, for the second annual meeting of the Green Campus Academic Network (GCAN).  The OEP, in coordination with UConn’s Office of Public Engagement and Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering (CESE), established the Network in 2015 to increase faculty engagement in community-based and campus sustainability-related activities, which, in turn, promote a greener UConn.

DSC04580After introductions and opening remarks by the co-sponsors, faculty exchanged information about how they fit into the GCAN mission.  Conversations continued just outside the CESE conference room, at a casual reception with special guest, Dr. James Porter from the University of Georgia, who had been UConn’s expert motivational speaker on the topic of environmental literacy at multiple events during Earth Week.

Up to this point, GCAN’s focus has been on identifying faculty members teaching or researching environmental topics who are either relatively new to UConn (~ six years or less) or who have more recently begun incorporating sustainability into their curriculum.  Most of UConn’s more senior environmental faculty members, often department heads and directors of academic centers, are already actively engaged “champions and change agents” for a green campus – they’ve been a big part of UConn’s consistent Top Ten position in the Sierra Club and GreenMetric campus sustainability rankings for the past four years.  By reaching out to include the newer faculty members, we hope to nurture the continuing growth of sustainability-related courses, academic projects and even on-campus demonstrations of green technologies and research. This past academic year, there were more UConn students enrolled in Environmental Science and Environmental Studies majors than ever before, and more inter-disciplinary courses in all majors that featured a sustainability-related module or project.

DSC03478Both CESE and the Office of Public Engagement explained how their respective missions align with GCAN’s. CESE aims to lead and promote multidisciplinary research, education, and outreach in environmental science, engineering, policy, and sustainability. In co-sponsoring the activities of GCAN, CESE narrows this mission to incorporate sustainability and environmental issues that relate to UConn specifically.  At the same time, the role of Public Engagement is to promote engaged scholarship, support faculty and staff in scholarly outreach efforts, and maximize UConn’s impact on communities through service learning. Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy integrating meaningful interaction with the community with instruction and relevant projects to enrich student learning, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen community/University partnerships. A number of the collaborative efforts pursued through GCAN have been designated as service learning projects.

Over the course of the past year, several collaborative efforts arose as a result of GCAN, primarily between the OEP and faculty from a variety of disciplines.

  • The OEP reviewed proposals that students of Nataliya Plesha’s ARE course drafted for on-campus sustainability initiatives and attended their presentations and poster sessions after providing recommendations for improving upon those proposals. Similarly, the students in Laura Cisneros’ NRE class proposed viable sustainability projects for the University to consider implementing, one of which is the addition of bike racks on the front of the University buses to promote green transportation and cycling on and around campus.
  • OEP also provided guidance on how to incorporate UConn sustainability into the curriculum of a few courses offered by Christine Kirchhoff (ENVE) and Carol Atkinson Palombo (GEOG).
  • In the past year, OEP’s Director, Rich Miller, has given guest lectures about campus sustainability at UConn in more than half a dozen courses, from Environmental Law and Science, to Physics, Geography, Engineering and Political Science. Rich also teaches an honors UNIV seminar in Environmental Sustainability during the fall semester.  Over the same time period, Paul Ferri, an OEP Compliance Analyst, has led a variety of classes on seven campus tours featuring low impact development/Green Stormwater Infrastructure, the Hillside Environmental Education Park, and other green campus amenities.
  • Atkinson-Palombo’s students investigated UConn’s infrastructure and compared it to that of municipalities in developing countries to assess the sustainability of each and to better understand the resources required for development. Additionally, Atkinson-Palombo is interested in compiling case-studies drafted by her students regarding various climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.
  • Kristina Wagstrom (CBE) employed several undergraduate researchers to collect air quality monitoring data at various locations around the University. This case study also served as a pilot for testing and improving methodologies in order to expand monitoring into select cities and towns. Based on the results of these efforts, future research was identified regarding the air emissions from the food trucks that serve the campus. Wagstrom’s air quality monitoring project also provides preliminary data for her own research purposes, making this project mutually beneficial for her work, her students, and the University.
  • group photoFinally, several members of GCAN, including Oksan Bayulgen (POLS), Tracy Rittenhouse (NRE), Anji Seth (GEOG), and Mark Urban (EEB), worked together with OEP to send a UConn delegation to Paris, France in December, to attend the historic events surrounding the United Nations annual climate change summit, COP21.
    • This enlightening experience was made possible with the help of CLAS, Global Affairs, CAHNR, the School of Business, School of Engineering, Marine Sciences, Coca-Cola, and the Campus Sustainability Fund who helped to sponsor the trip and worked with the faculty and the OEP to ensure a meaningful education experience.
    • The four faculty mentioned above, two staff from the OEP, and 12 students were able to attend the public Climate Generations space at the conference, a Global Landscapes Forum surrounding sustainable land use and development, Solutions21, which focused on the ways in which business and enterprises can solve climate change issues, among other varied climate- and COP- related events.
    • UConn also co-sponsored a higher-education networking event at COP21, with Second Nature and AASHE, which was generously hosted by the Kedge Business School in Paris.
    • After their return from France, the students and faculty alike set out to promote change here at UConn by preparing individual projects educating the UConn community about climate change and solutions, pursuing an environmental awareness general education requirement, and initiating dialogue with the University about the possibility of divestment. Furthermore, two students and one of the OEP’s two graduate sustainability coordinators attended the CT Green Campus Coalition’s annual conference, hosted this year at the UConn Law School, to discuss the implications of COP21 and the measures that need to be taken to make significant and lasting change at Connecticut colleges.

Following the increase in faculty engagement over the past year, and GCAN’s successful role in fostering it, OEP looks forward to numerous collaborative opportunities on the horizon.

If you are interested in learning more about GCAN or ways in which you can become involved please contact the OEP at 486-5773 or envpolicy@uconn.edu, OEP Director, Rich Miller (rich.miller@uconn.edu), or intern Ben Breslau (benjamin.breslau@uconn.edu).