By Natalie Eastwood '17
Environmental issues and sustainable living are at the forefront of a global conversation. On a local level at Shippensburg University, over 7,000 potential solutions to the problem are walking around campus. Ship is taking the initiative to educate students so that they can become stewards of their communities.
With the help of a recent National Science Foundation (NSF) grant and a concerted effort by faculty and students, Shippensburg is setting an example for sustainable living.
Senior Tara Kennedy, president of Ship’s Environmental Club, said she wants people to realize that by adjusting small habits they can make big changes. “It all starts with one person, to be honest. People think that one person can’t make a difference, but one person can touch a lot of people indirectly with their example. I think if Ship makes an effort, then that’s a lot more of us
making an effort in the long run.”
Even people who love the outdoors aren’t fully aware of their impact until they’ve had an educational experience, Kennedy said. She didn’t fully realize the significance of sustainable living until she took an environmental biology class at Ship.
“Education is the biggest step in changing people’s hearts and minds. …Every day I’m finding out more that I can do.”
Hands in the Dirt
The $49,000 NSF grant will help the university incorporate sustainable issues both in and out of the classroom. InTeGrate, or Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future, is funded by NSF’s Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP).
Dr. Sean Cornell, associate professor of geography-earth science, is one of eleven team members implementing the grant. Cornell described the grant as an engine with three parts—the university, the community, and the students all working together to create a world that will last for generations.
"We want to be good stewards of every community that we're a part of. And the way that we look at this is through this sustainability engine."
All of these groups are intertwined, Cornell said. "To be good stewards of all those communities means we have to have greater understanding of our actions and our impacts on all of those communities."
Part of the grant helps professors align their curricula with sustainable content. InTeGrate contains hundreds of online peer-reviewed resources on interdisciplinary sustainability that help professors teach sustainability from a political, business, religious, or social standpoint.
Dr. Nathan Thomas, an associate professor of biology who helped with the grant, said that simply telling someone about sustainability won’t have much of an impact on them. “That’s why it’s very hands on. [Sustainability] spreads through action.”
Some students don’t think that they have an impact, Cornell said, and that’s what the grant hopes to change. “We want to enable the students; we want to motivate these students and make them feel like they have the power to be more sustainable,” he said.
In the earth science and biology classes, professors survey their students to see how many acres it takes to support their lifestyle. Based on that individual footprint, the survey calculates how many earths would be necessary to support the world if everyone lived that life.
Four-and-a-half to five earths is the typical average, Thomas said. “An awareness will go a long way in helping that. People are willing to change, but they don’t realize how much of an impact they’re currently having.”
After learning about their footprints, students want to live more sustainably. “It’s everyday choices, and we promote it in courses and through this project to be responsible citizens. Part of being a responsible citizen is understanding what sustainability is and how you can promote
that,” Thomas said. “What we’re hoping to do is spread the word through every person
who we talk to.”
Educating Through Action
Through the InTeGrate grant, faculty and students developed hands-on activities to educate people about sustainability during StewardSHIP Week in April. The idea of volunteering, taking responsibility, and doing small acts along the way to make for more sustainable communities coursed through the week in many different ways.
Earth Day highlighted the week with an explosion of tents, live music, and activities sprawled across the quad. Students feverishly pedaled two stationary bikes to power a blender and a potter’s wheel, producing vegan smoothies and ceramic bowls. Kernels burst into popcorn purely from the heat of the sun reflected off the curved metal of a solar cooker. Students recycled newspaper into papier-mâché bowls, lathered cardboard toilet paper tubes with
peanut butter and birdseed, and carved birdhouses into empty milk jugs.
Joshua Brenneman, senior geography-earth science major, presented his recycling project at Earth Day. He collected the top layer of trash from all of the trashcans in twelve buildings on campus and discovered a lot of recyclable materials—water bottles, coffee cups, and plastic food containers.
People care about recycling, Brenneman said, but they don’t always realize that what
they toss in the trash is recyclable. His solution is to clearly label campus-packaged
items as recyclable.
“[Earth Day] can really help to teach people about stewardship and recycling and everything that goes into protecting our environment. …The things that I do [to be more sustainable] are things that literally take seconds to do, and it won’t affect your schedule,” he said.
Some students volunteered their time to advance regional environmental projects. At the Michaux State Forest cleanup at Buzzard and Hammonds rocks, students helped take out eighty bags of trash, eighteen tires, two TVs, miscellaneous metal, one crock pot, a swing set, cinder blocks, and an entertainment center in addition to washing off layers of graffiti on the rocks, said Marci Mowery ’92m, president of Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation. Stewards of Penn Woods, a program through Pennsylvania Parks and Forests, spearheaded the cleanup.
Sometimes people see themselves in a vacuum and don’t see how their actions interconnect, Mowery said. “It starts with individual decisions that we make. We all play a role in making sure that the resources are there for the next generation, and I think that’s what sustainability is all about.”
StewardSHIP Week included SU’s Campus Farm Day, where students demonstrated planting, held a seed swap, and provided tours of the farm. Located next to Burd Run off Britton Road, it is organized by a graduate assistant, three student workers, and student and community volunteers. Half of their produce goes to the campus dining services and the other half goes to Shippensburg Produce and Outreach (SPO), which provides fresh produce to low-income
families, said Jessica Clark, graduate assistant and campus farm coordinator.
One goal of the farm, Clark said, is to help students learn how to be more sustainable and spread that knowledge once they graduate.
StewardSHIP Week also featured a sustainability forum, hosted by Ship and moderated by Scott LaMar, host and executive producer of the daily WITF Smart Talk news program. Seven panelists, all involved in sustainability-focused careers, answered questions by LaMar and audience members.
Derek Wadlington, member of SPO, encouraged the audience to volunteer in ways that take them outside of their typical social circles. “The more interconnected we are, the
more we figure out how we affect each other.”
Ship’s sustainability efforts don’t end at the edge of campus. The recently revamped and renamed Center for Land Use and Sustainability tackles sustainability issues and teaches solutions to the community.
Located in Shearer Hall, the center began in 2004 but lost momentum after several years because of decreased funding. However, a $1 million grant from the William Penn Foundation has helped to reboot the center, which is now staffed by two full-time employees and several work-study students.
Two of Ship’s geography-earth science professors, Drs. Claire Jantz and George Pomeroy, serve the center as the director and associate director, respectively.
Ongoing projects include developing a land use mapping, modeling, and monitoring system for the Delaware River Basin; supporting safe and environmentally friendly traffic along the I-81 Corridor; and creating a curriculum aligned with conservation of natural resources through
“We live and work in the region just like anybody else,” Pomeroy said, “and we have a special expertise that allows us to try and improve aspects of that region and provide service to that region. We work in a public university, and we would like to think that the public value of our teaching goes beyond the classroom.”
In May, the center held its first Sustainability Field Conference, aiming to explore sustainability for the future and inspire stewardship through partnerships between the university, community, and region.
The center also provides opportunities for students to craft research projects, carry out that research, and present it at professional conferences where they have many networking opportunities, Pomeroy said.
“Like with undergraduate research, students learn a bit better because they’re actually involved. They’re working on real-world problems. They encounter real data problems, not canned data, so they’re encountering real obstacles. They’re interacting with other professionals in their career field,” he said.
Carla Johns, senior geography-earth science major, connected the center and community by using her spring internship to help Chambersburg complete the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification program.
Johns worked with Chambersburg Borough members to find documents that prove that it qualifies for the certification. From her internship, she learned the interdisciplinary aspect of sustainability and how it requires cooperation between the government agencies and community members.
“I definitely understand how sustainable communities are supposed to look. And it’s given me insight into how much needs to happen in order for a community to fully achieve sustainability. It doesn’t just stop at good recycling practices or providing enough green space. It goes so much further and requires so much community involvement.”
People don’t have to be detrimental to the environment, Johns said. They can have a positive impact without sacrificing the life they’re used to living.
“It’s all about how the environment can influence people and how people can influence the environment,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that they’re as much a part of the environment as the trees or animals are. And we really do shape where we live and how we want to live. I think this sustainability project will show people that they can shape the environment for the better.”
Natalie Eastwood ’17 is an intern for SU Magazine.