Three of SOS’ officers (Alex, Katrina, and Kim) were lucky enough to attend the 2011 AASHE conference in Pittsburgh, PA last semester. The blog post today will include each officers’ unique perspective and experiences at the AASHE conference, and how that has influenced our organization.
Some days on a college campus we see a pile of recyclable petrochemicals headed for a landfill and a stack of Styrofoam containers eagerly awaiting their first and last delicious cafeteria meal; we can’t help but ask, “Am I the only one on this campus who believes in sustainability?” Carmen Schlamb at Seneca College found herself asking that very question. When asking the question, she probably didn’t expect to be hosting a session on “Breaking the Circle of One” at the 2011 AASHE Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, a circle of six doesn’t always seem much better. It’s easy to sit in a meeting room and discuss various ways of incorporating sustainability into collegiate life. But hey, we’re taking several upper division courses, making lattes twenty hours a week, participating in undergraduate research, volunteering, interning, and exchanging the few reaming REM cycles for a life outside of formal responsibilities. Aside from clearing up a startling idea in my mind suggesting there may only be twelve people on the planet interested in sustainability, AASHE broke the SIUE Student Organization for Sustainability’s circle of six and transformed the question of “when?” into “now!”
The 2011 AASHE conference discussed topics of relevance to anyone and everyone at an institution dabbling in higher education. If you’ve ever contemplated carbon neutrality, sustainable community gardening projects, composting in a cafeteria, sustainable curriculum design, LEED certifications, STARS, campus greenhouses, habitat preservation, reducing waste, recycling initiatives, bicycle sharing programs, ecovillages, green jobs, energy reduction, or anything else remotely related to sustainability, AASHE has a session you desperately want to attend. In fact, there are probably thirty or more of relevance to any given student, faculty, or staff member. The tragedy of this situation surfaces when you realize there are four coinciding sessions calling your name. Of course, if you’ve mastered human cloning and/or brought several officers from your student organization’s administration, the tragedy becomes quite advantageous.
AASHE delivered invaluable information on how to grow sustainability at SIUE. The conference united our student organization with others who have shared in the struggles of underrepresented student groups. These students illustrated the how, shared their success stories, and continue to demonstrate lasting influence on our organization. Oh, and then there’s the networking. Try standing in a building with 2,000 people you actually want to talk with—it isn’t an everyday occurrence.
With the SIUE Student Organization for Sustainability’s circle of six transforming “how” into “when” and the “when” transfiguring into “now,” establishing sustainability as a core value at our university seems less reminiscent of a foggy dream and more similar to a cold shower at 7 AM on the second Monday of January—moderately difficult but extremely rewarding, necessary, and cost-effective.
To put all of this simply: AASHE may be among the most important conglomerations of leaders on the planet. For, in the words of John Cook, “If we can’t envision a university being sustainable, how can we expect society to achieve sustainability?”
By Alex Zielonko (Facilitator of the Student Organization for Sustainability at SIUE)
My experience at the AASHE Leadership conference satisfied my expectations and then went beyond. The conference was inspiring and showed me that there is progress being done with sustainability in higher education. It fed my fire to continue getting others to learn about the importance of their, our, environment.
The first day, the student summit, was the most enjoyable as we got to hear about student leaders and how they are making a difference at their schools. I got a chance to talk with two students who filled me with many ideas that would improve our organization at school. They gave me excellent advice on being a leader socially and through the groups’ structure. The summit illustrated numerous ways to make the Student Organization for Sustainability at SIUE more effective and organized.
The options of different talks that were available for us to go and sit in on were well varied. The talks were all worth getting up before eight a.m.
In the biggest open room there was an exhibit with different organizations’ posters, including our school. It was wonderful to be part of this conference for the knowledge and that being a smaller school in the mid-west, we were able to get our name out.
The David L. Lawrence Convention Center is impressive in structure; a well located place to visit along the river in addition to the luxuries of a hotel and the chance to spend more time with Alex and Kim.
In the end I would not take back anything that happened. I learned more about being a leader, connected, networked and was thoroughly inspired and stuffed with food.
By Katrina Wiegand (Facilitator of the Student Organization for Sustainability at SIUE)
Throughout my career here at SIUE, I have learned a number of things. One, watch out for the geese—they are vicious and unrelenting (just ask Amy Gardiner). Two, when there’s a will, there’s a way—opportunities are everywhere, in every shape and form. And three, one I took away from my AASHE experience: there is power in the people. Being involved in our group at the time, it was more like “I guess there is sorta power, I think, in the very few people we have?” Not very convincing. The workshops I was able to attend in Pittsburg, however, made this into not only a more definitive statement, but also one that would give us motivation to find and harness this power of the people.
The question, of course, was “how do we find these people and get them interested?” Melissa Goodall from Yale University gave a presentation on how to “Measure, Message, and Motivate.” She inspired me to talk about things people can relate to and deal with on a daily basis. Yes, it is easy to fall into the broad topic of sustainability and awareness (i.e. the diminishing number of polar bears, glaciers melting, etc…) And yes, I know these are important issues, but the people at Southern Illinois University don’t look out their windows everyday and see baby polar bears drowning in pools of glacier. What they do see is thousands of students everyday throwing away their plastic bottles and food scraps into (gasp!) the same trash can. As easy as it would be to turn on our Green Police sirens, point fingers, and judge, Goodall warns against this. At AASHE, she advised us to give people real reasons and real impacts, not force. Instead of “Billy, I can’t believe you bought a plastic water bottle and now you’re throwing it away! Repent! Or may the gods of sustainability come down and smite you! What would the polar bears and glaciers say??” why not try “Billy, did you know that that very water bottle you are throwing away will still be here when your great-great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- grandson is born? I care about little Billy Jr.20 so here, take this reusable water bottle.” Little things like that. As most of us know, the common college student will walk off in an awkward hurry once you start spewing accusations and end of the world spiels. Give people options—small habits to change and develop—and tell them how these options can be beneficial and simple. Set these little goals, celebrating each one: a feasible and logical task to practice and promote. This, in a way, gives power to the people—to all the Billy’s and Billy Jr.’s out there, and without them, not much would be accomplished.
AASHE proved to be one of the most beneficial experiences to myself, my fellow officers, SOS, and, hopefully soon, the entire SIUE campus. We are busy, busy, giving the people a voice through petitions, a cause for action through presentations, a knowledge of sustainability through radio shows, blogs, etc… Planting seeds, watching them grow, flourish, and create more seeds: this is the power we are harnessing.
By Kim Lee (Secretary of the Student Organization for Sustainability at SIUE)