Austin College first welcomed the class of 2027 on August 18, 2023, during move-in day for first-year students. Six students representing the student organization Austin College Thinking Green (THINK) stationed themselves in traditional residence halls — Baker, Clyce, Caruth and Dean Hall — to help reduce waste during the big move. THINK students have annually participated in first-year move-ins for over a decade to help spread awareness about living sustainably and encourage environmental consciousness beginning with the first day students arrive.
THINK volunteers were available in each dorm to provide general information about the mission of THINK and how to recycle at AC. Postcards with the do’s and don’ts of recycling on campus were also distributed to interested students.
In addition to spreading environmental awareness to new and returning students, THINK students provide support to AC’s invaluable housekeeping staff responsible for managing waste generated on move-in day. Volunteers spent the day directing the flow of cardboard to designated areas inside and outside of each building (often involving some heavy lifting) and assisting with break down so that housekeeping and facilities employees were able to concentrate their resources on general operations. Without the efforts of these staff members, AC’s recycling efforts would likely fall flat.
In total, THINK was able to help divert approximately 30 cubic yards of cardboard from the local landfill, roughly equivalent to nine truckloads or 1,500 lbs. Not bad for a Friday afternoon.
Recycling cardboard reduces the sulfur-dioxide emissions associated with the production of cardboard boxes, as well as the water and energy usage involved in producing cardboard from virgin materials. It can also help decrease the rate of logging required to supply cardboard manufacturing. According to the EPA, around 17.2 million tons of paper and cardboard are dumped in landfills each year. It’s a lot to unbox. By spreading awareness, students have the potential to reduce AC’s contribution to such environmental impacts.
The Center for Environmental Studies is happy to announce that its recent proposal to increase native, perennial landscaping on campus has been enthusiastically approved by the college’s senior leadership. The “Adopt a Butterfly Bed” project will not only help to enhance campus aesthetics, but ultimately aims to provide learning and service opportunities for interested student and staff groups while promoting biological diversity and increasing native habitat area and ecosystem services. Hardy perennials also require less water and active maintenance than annuals, saving additional college resources and manpower.
Environmental Studies faculty and staff members worked with the Physical Plant’s Executive Director of Facilities, David Turk, to create the proposal last fall. Since then, ENVS staff and students have worked to review and expand upon a list of suggested native and perennial plants for our area, identify suitable beds for adoption around campus, and establish connections with the local chapter of Master Gardeners, who are excited to lend a green thumb to burgeoning horticulturists at AC.
The project has already garnered interest from a number of student organizations on campus, but staff and faculty groups may also apply to adopt. Once high priority beds have been distinguished, beds will be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. The Center for Environmental Studies will distribute tools and training materials in addition to scheduling information sessions for adoptive groups. To maintain a high standard, groups will sign a contract outlining their responsibilities and adopted beds will undergo quality control inspections on a regular basis.
If you or someone you know would like to get involved with this project, please reach out to ENVS coordinator Rebecca Jones or faculty member Dr. Mari Elise Ewing to express your interest.
In honor of this laudable landscaping announcement, we’ve (almost literally) taken a page from the work of late local author and Grayson County Master Gardener Jessie Gunn Stephens to offer a few tips for maintaining your own Texoma garden. Her book, “When to do What in your Texoma Yard and Garden,” is available for sale at the Agri-Life Extension office in the Grayson County Courthouse.
How to Plant from Pots
Take the plant out of the pot. Seems like a no-brainer but, as Stephens writes, “you’d be amazed how often this comes up.” While some pots are biodegradable, Stephens prefers removing the pot to allow for quick root growth.
Inspect the plant’s root system. Understanding the strength of a plant’s roots can help inform your watering and care practices. Thin, weak roots indicate that a plant may require special treatment until it is established. Thicker, hardier roots (especially in perennials) are more likely to survive transplantation but need to be loosened to allow for spreading.
Don’t pile dirt over the root ball. According to Stephens, “It’s almost always best to set a plant in the ground so that the surface of the soil ball is either level with or fractionally higher than the surrounding soil.”
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.