Job Opening in AC ENVS

ENVS Alumni & Friends:

We are accepting applications for the Coordinator of our Center for Environmental Studies!

yellow flowers at sneed prairie
Baptisia blooms at Sneed Prairie.

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.


Our Year in Review

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.

Dr. Mari Elise Ewing, her husband Nate Strauch, and their son William Robert Strauch. Family photo in the woods.
Photo taken on Will’s baptism day at Hell Creek on the Ewing family farm in Colorado (Thanksgiving 2016)

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

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.

Most Artistic (left) and Most Creative (right) recycling bins.
Most Artistic (left) and Most Creative (right) recycling bins

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.

EPA green power partnership logo
EPA Green Power Partner

9th Annual GreenServe hosted by Think and the Service Station

students picking up trash along roadside
GreenServe volunteers collecting litter at Binkley Bike Trail
GreenServe volunteer holding a snake at the Buckner farm.
Recent ENVS graduate, Lola Alexander, at Buckner Farm

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.

GreenServe volunteers moving rocks at Eisenhower State Park.
GreenServe “Rock Star” volunteers at Eisenhower State Park

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!

2016 Environmental Studies Prize Winner

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.

Sarah Elena in Bhutan with the School for Field Studies.
Sarah Elena in Bhutan with the School for Field Studies.

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.”


Sarah Dillabough in Michigan with the Little Traverse Conservancy
Sarah Elena in Michigan with the Little Traverse Conservancy

 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.

Previous Environmental Studies Prize recipients:

2004 Marc Olivier

2005 Emily Neiman

2007 Mari Elise Ewing

2009 Jade Elyse Rutledge

2010 Cleveland Powell

2011 Katherine Moore Masucci

2012 Christopher Bryan Donovan

2013 Yanela Montoya & Rachel Kathryn Sims

2014 Taliesin Kinser

2015 Sophie Higgs


GreenServe 2016: Highlighting Native Planting

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.

Volunteers for trash pick up at Denison Dam
Volunteers after habitat clean up at Denison Dam.

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.

GreenServe Volunteers completing trail maintenance at Binkley Bike Trail.
GreenServe Volunteers completing trail maintenance at Binkley Bike Trail.

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
Volunteers prepare to plant their section of plants at GreenServe.
Volunteers prepare to plant their section of plants at GreenServe.

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.

GreenServe volunteers at the native planting site.
GreenServe volunteers at the native planting site.

Next year’s GreenServe will be on Earth Day – April 22, 2017.

LEED® Gold Certification for IDEA Center

In 2013 the Austin College campus eagerly opened our new science building, the IDEA Center.

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.

Students in anatomy & physiology  lab.
Students in anatomy & physiology lab.

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.

LEED Gold image

For more information on the U.S. Green Building Council’s  LEED ® Certification visit:

native flowers outside of the IDEA center.
Native flowers around the IDEA Center.