Schulze TEDx Talk and Princeton Review Green School Recognition

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’s talk is available for viewing here.

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.

Introducing Kelby Archer ‘09, the new Center for Environmental Studies Coordinator

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.

My campsite in Canyonlands National Park

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!

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: http://www.usgbc.org/cert-guide

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

 

 

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