On September 23rd, 2017, Dr. Peter Schulze gave a presentation at the 2nd Annual TEDx Austin College event. Titled “We Aren’t Going to Mars,” Dr. Schulze’s talk is an exploration of why we should not count on escaping to another planet, and how to make better decisions about this one. He critiques four routine but errant arguments commonly used to oppose environmental protection.
Dr. Schulze regrets that the TED format does not allow for acknowledgments included in the videos. He thanks the following people for help with his presentation: Kelby Archer, Megan Aultman, Priya Chary, George Diggs, Mari Elise Ewing, David Hall, Keith Kisselle, Lynn Womble, the many students who organized the 2017 Austin College TEDx event, and Ben, Helen, and Matt Schulze, but notes that only he should be blamed for any errors or shortcomings.
In other news, Austin College has been selected for Princeton Review’s 2017 Guide to 375 Green Colleges. The Guide “profiles colleges with the most exceptional commitments to sustainability based on their academic offerings and career preparation for students, campus policies, initiatives, and activities.” This marks the fifth year that Austin College was selected for the list. The 2017 Guide can be viewed here.
I was in college when An Inconvenient Truth came out. After seeing it, I remember thinking “Man, that sure does sound like a pretty bad problem…I hope the scientists can figure it out!” The raw truth of what is happening was too massive – and painful – for me to allow it to penetrate into my daily life. It would take another film, Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi, to wake me from my comfortable, ignorant slumber. The broad theme of that film, a rumination about humanity’s relationship to nature and technology that contains no dialogue, is “life out of balance.” It cemented a conviction that I carry with me today: things don’t have to be this way.
Film was a significant part of my life at the time. I graduated from Austin College in 2009 with a degree in Communications (Media Studies emphasis), and within a few months was working for a local TV station, KXII-TV, as the technical director and production supervisor for the morning shift. I am a Denison native and felt right at home in local TV. After a few years, I moved into a commercial production role at KXII.
I couldn’t get our ecological problems out of my head, though, and I knew I wasn’t doing much to contribute to the solution. Sustainable lifestyles involve living in ways that are fundamentally different to the way most of us live right now, and I had a sneaking suspicion that sustainable lifestyles are more satisfying and contented, in addition to not being a burden on the Earth. I knew there were people out there exploring these lifestyles (Transition Towns, ecovillages, homesteads, the Tiny House movement, etc.), but I didn’t know how to get started or how I could explore these alternatives without making a hefty investment. That’s when I discovered Help Exchange.
Help Exchange is a website that connects designated hosts all over the world with volunteer helpers. It’s very similar to WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). You’re expected to do 5-6 hours of labor, 5 days a week in exchange for room and board. I began spending idle time clicking through HelpX listings all over the Western United States and daydreaming. Near the end of 2015, I finally took the plunge – I quit my job at the TV station and declared my 2016 a belated, long-awaited gap year adventure that would afford me ample opportunity to directly experience homesteading and off-grid living. It was like discovering a desert oasis as a man dying of thirst.
The experience was even better than I expected. I climbed Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park, visited the Grand Canyon and Utah’s Canyon Country for the first time, and slid down sand dunes near Death Valley (in additional to a good bit of camping). I lived on an off-grid solar-powered farm in Arizona for nearly two months, helped build a tiny house, and learned how to manage a dairy goat herd in the hills outside of Hollister, California. Most importantly of all, I met a number of incredible people who are living more sustainably, people whom I now count as friends for life. I made it as far as Brookings, Oregon (about 6 miles north of the California border) before deciding it was time to come home.
A few short months after getting back to Texas, I saw the listing for the Environmental Studies Coordinator job and knew it was the job for me. I’m delighted to be back at my alma mater working with a great group of people. I’m eager to get my hands dirty out at Sneed Prairie and can’t wait to see what the next step is for the Center for Environmental Studies. It feels great to contribute, and the students are a constant source of fun and inspiration.
It’s also great to settle down in the place that has always been home to me. In the coming years, I hope to purchase some land and start my own sustainable homestead. It will be fascinating to approach sustainability from two halves of a whole: how to build a sustainable community and institution at my job, and how to build a sustainable personal life at home. I relish the challenges ahead!
We are accepting applications for the Coordinator of our Center for Environmental Studies!
If you or someone you know may be interested in applying for this position, click here for more information on the job requirements and application procedures. The position will remain open until filled. Please feel welcome to contact Dr. Peter Schulze, Director of the Center for Environmental Studies, or Alex Ocañas, our current coordinator, with any thoughts or questions regarding this topic.
We can’t believe that it’s already that time again … the end of another successful school year! We want to share seven of our favorite 2016-2017 stories:
A New Addition to Our Extended Family
On August 12, 2016 William Robert Strauch was born to one of our Environmental Studies faculty, Dr. Mari Elise Ewing, and her husband Nate Strauch.
Will, named after his two grandfathers, has a contagiously friendly spirit and spreads smiles on each of his campus visits.
Sneed Prairie Field Trip Program Welcomes 10,000th Child Visitor
On Tuesday, the 4th of October, the 10,000th child visitor was welcomed to the Sneed Prairie Field Trip Program. Since the program’s beginnings in the summer of 2002, over 70 Austin College field trip leaders have led field trips for dozens of classes from more than 20 school districts. We send a huge thanks and congratulations to all that have helped us make this project a success!
AC Unplugged Includes the Cottages
For the past eight years Austin College Thinking Green has been hosting “AC Unplugged”, a month long energy saving competition that takes place among the four residence halls. This year Think extended the competition to our junior and senior students living in the cottages in hopes of yet another participatory lesson in energy conservation. Cottages that chose to participate were in competition for two awards – largest percent decrease and least amount of energy used overall. Cottage winners in each category were reimbursed for 2/3 of October’s electricity bill!
In total, there were 8 participating cottages who decreased their consumption by an average of 35% and maximum of 48% from the month of September to October. The total amount of electricity saved by cottage residents was 3,741 kWh – enough to power the average US household for 3.5 months!
We are excited about this addition to Unplugged and looking forward to how it may grow further next year.
Suggestions? If you have witnessed or participated in similar energy saving endeavors, please feel free to contact us with thoughts or suggestions. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Think Hosts Trash Bash
In order to increase student awareness and engagement with campus recycling efforts, Think hosted their first ever “Trash Bash”. Various organizations designed and decorated their own recycling bins, which were then put to use in the IDEA Center.
EPA Green Power Partnership
We have been officially recognized by the EPA as a Green Power Partner. Almost 100% of Austin College’s electricity is from renewable sources.
9th Annual GreenServe hosted by Think and the Service Station
This year’s theme – on the baseball hats in the photos seen here– was “Make Earth Green Again”. We consider the event a happy success as we had approximately 194 volunteers working at 14 sites across Grayson County.
New Alumni Connection Platforms
Just in case you didn’t already know – we have launched a new initiative to stay in touch with our ENVS alumni and friends. We have (of course) this blog, which will help us share stories with you, and a LinkedIn Page, which is used to keep our alumni contact information up to date.
If you have not already connected to our LinkedIn Page or joined our Alumni Group, please do both by following the links below.
Click HERE for the ENVS LinkedIn Page
Click HERE for the LinkedIn Alumni Group
And so another great year has come to an end.
In just a few weeks three students will begin outstanding internships at Bamberger Ranch, The Land Institute, and the Little Traverse Conservancy. These internships are made possible by a generous alumnus and partnerships between Austin College and the host organizations. We always hear great reviews from our interns and their hosts, and we look forward to hearing about this summer’s experiences!
Check back soon for more updates!
The College Center for Environmental Studies awards our Environmental Studies Prize to the graduating senior who has excelled academically and made the greatest contribution to campus environmental efforts and awareness. This year’s recipient is Sarah Elena Dillabough, of El Paso, TX.
And boy, did she deserve it! We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work and learn with Sarah Elena; we asked her what inspired her to pursue a career in Environmental Studies, and to do so with such clarity and dedication. A glimpse at her story…
“I had always been an outdoorsy type of person; however, an experience I had in Fiji made me decide to pursue environmental studies in college. I took a volunteer trip for a month to Fiji and Australia. While in Fiji, on a small island accessible only by boat, with no cars, roads, or stores, I was walking along the beach with my best friend. We found our group’s trash scattered on the beach. Confused and upset, we picked the trash up. We began walking and met some local women along the way; we asked them what to do with the trash. They looked at each other, and with a smile told us to leave it on the beach. At that moment I realized that that is how they deal with trash. That experience on a beautiful island juxtaposed with the sad fact that all the trash was going into the ocean is what made me really want to go into environmental studies. It was one of those slap in the face experiences.”
And we are so thankful that she chose to start her path here with us at Austin College. We foresee great accomplishments from Sarah Elena as she works towards a career in environmental policy, education, and international conservation.
During her four years here, Sarah Elena made tremendous contributions to the Center for Environmental Studies as well as the Austin College Community as a whole. She excelled academically not just within her Environmental Studies major, but also as a Political Science major and French minor.
Outside of her classes, she was a dedicated member and leader in several student organizations and academic societies. To name just a few of these involvements, Sarah Elena was a member of Phi Beta Kappa National Academic Honor Society, the Pi Sigma Alpha National Political Science Honor Society, a Sara and Robert Hallman Citizen Scholar, and a Hatton W. Sumners Scholar in Political Science.
Most notably though, she served two years as a leader and team member for Austin College Thinking Green and the Student Sustainability Fund Comitttee – both integral components of the Center for Environmental Studies. Sarah Elena also earned a summer position with the Little Traverse Conservancy in Michigan, one of our internship partners, where she again stood as a committed and enthusiastic representative of Austin College and the Center for Environmental Studies.
“During my internship with the Little Traverse Nature Conservancy I worked closely with various members of the conservancy to accomplish stewardship tasks on trails, environmental education for young children, and leadership of volunteer groups on trail maintenance. I lived about 6 miles from the office, which is situated on a small lake and is right across from Lake Michigan; I rode my bike to work every day. I had a wonderful time in this beautiful area of Michigan meeting friendly people and doing work that I felt was meaningful; during my internship the conservancy celebrated the conservation of 50,000 acres of land in Northern Michigan.”
As an undergraduate Sarah Elena’s travel reached much farther than Michigan. During the first semester of her Junior year she studied International Relations, French, and Arabic in Marseille, France and Fez, Morocco. The next semester she studied River Ecosystems and Environmental Ethics in Cambodia and Vietnam with the School for Field Studies. Then during the summer of 2015 she participated in a Himalayan Studies program in Bhutan, again with the the School for Field Studies.
Aside from her achievements, awards, and talents, Sarah Elena is kind, positive, and thoughtful. It has been our pleasure to work with her in the Center for Environmental Studies, and we look forward to learning of her future accomplishments.
Seven years ago, Austin College hosted our first GreenServe; an event created and proposed by a student in ENVS 135 (Introduction to Environmental Studies). This campus-wide opportunity attracts nearly 200 volunteers to community service projects focused on environmental responsibility, sustainability, and raising awareness for Thinking Green.
The event is co-sponsored, organized and implemented by two student led groups: Austin College Thinking Green (or Think) and the Service Station. By tradition, service projects last for three hours on a Saturday morning that falls on or near to Earth Day. In contrast to the three hours spent at each site, there are several weeks and countless hours that go into the planning of GreenServe in hopes that students will be provided with a wide range of opportunities from organizations that will inspire or establish a greater connection and meaning to long term environmental responsibility.
During the two weeks before GreenServe students, faculty, and staff, sign up for a project to which they would like to contribute. Some examples include:
Site maintenance and restoration work at Sneed Prairie
Promoting environmental awareness at Texoma Earth Day Festival
Native plantings on campus
Maintaining the Sherman Community Garden
Environmental Education to students in the RooBound program
Habitat clean up at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
This year, our 7th annual GreenServe, there was a special focus given to a site on our own Austin College campus. Over 80 GreenServe volunteers planted hundreds of native Texas flowering plants and grasses around the IDEA Center to support pollinators and encourage the adoption of native habitat restoration and education.
The plants were purchased with the Student Sustainability Fund. As a result of a student referendum, five dollars of each student’s activities goes to the Student Sustainability Fund, whose expenditures are chosen by a student committee.
Next year’s GreenServe will be on Earth Day – April 22, 2017.
In 2013 the Austin College campus eagerly opened our new science building, the IDEA Center.
The 103,000 square foot building includes contemporary classrooms and multi-purpose laboratories that support our experiential science curricula. In addition to 32 laboratories, 40 offices, 16 lecture rooms, and a 108-seat auditorium, the Center includes the Adams Observatory that houses a 24-inch telescope and high-resolution camera. The IDEA Center houses the biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental studies, mathematics, and physics programs.
On top of the building’s ability to enhance and support the teachings of our faculty, it has also been honored as the first facility in Grayson County. The LEED green building certification system (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), managed by the The U.S. Green Building Council awarded the building LEED® Gold certification as a result of its many green design features.
Some green aspects of the IDEA Center:
Responsibly Harvested Materials: 90% of the building’s wood was certified by the Forest Steward Ship Council. This system promotes environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests.
Living Lab: The area around the Center is planted with native Texas grasses and wildflowers. The plants (over 180 species) also reduce water usage by over 50% and support local pollinators. Recently, Austin College volunteers planted hundreds of new plants around the building during GreenServe 2016.
Natural Lighting: Classrooms, offices, receive natural light. This provides a comfortable work environment and reduces the need for electric lights.
Cool Roof: Light colored roofing (as well as paving) was used to reduce the heat island effect.
Water Collection: A 15,000 gallon underground tank collects condensate from the air conditioning system and rain water from the roof. This reduces stormwater runoff and the need for city water for irrigation.
Regulated Air Flow: There is precise monitoring and control of indoor air quality and exchange rates. Over 30 fans power the building’s air flow which adjust speed based on air pressure as activity in the building fluctuates. The system closely monitors humidity, keeping it always between 50-60%. All air from laboratories is 100% exhausted so that none makes its way into the main building.
Construction Waste: 83% of construction waste was diverted from landfills.
Regional materials: 44% of the materials were extracted and manufactured within 500 miles of the project. For example, the building uses stone from Austin, TX and crushed recycled concrete from Lewisville, TX.