According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”
While the concept of environmental sustainability is becoming more widely accepted and practiced in the United States, it is deeply rooted in Otterbein’s tradition. From the student farmers of the 1850s to the dozens of students who celebrate Earth Day by volunteering for the community service Spring Plunge each year, Otterbein has always embraced students with a passion for sustainability.
Acting to make a difference today
Many students are coming to college already committed to sustainability. Sixty-eight percent of the 7,445 college applicants who participated in the 2012 “College Hopes & Worries Survey” published by The Princeton Review said that a college’s “environmental commitment” would be a factor in where they applied.
One such student, biology and environmental studies major Kristen Giesting ’13, came to Otterbein ready to contribute to green efforts and encourage others to do the same.
Inside the classroom, Giesting has been conducting water quality research using samples from nearby Alum Creek. Her findings ultimately led to change on campus.
“I’ve been working in Dr. Jennifer Bennett’s research lab since summer of 2011, when I received a Merck AAAS grant,” Giesting said. “I’m working to determine the percentage of bacteria in the water, which have a resistance to triclosan.”
According to Giesting, triclosan is a common ingredient in consumer products that also interferes with hormone functions and has been linked to cancer and developmental defects in humans. It also has negative effects on fish, algae and invertebrates.
“The hypothesis is that more triclosan in the environment means more bacteria will be resistant to it. Based on the data I have gathered, I can say that the levels of triclosan in Alum Creek are higher than we had expected,” Giesting said.
When Giesting found out that the liquid hand soaps in campus restrooms contained triclosan, she took action. “I had several conversations with the Service Department and they agreed to change campus soaps to a green seal certified alternative, which is healthier for humans and the planet.”
“It’s crazy that this chemical is even used in household products, as studies show that regular soap and water is just as effective at removing germs,” she added.
Giesting presented her research poster at the 2012 American Society for Microbiology General Meeting in San Francisco and the 2012 International EcoSummit, which is held every four years. “Being able to present at the EcoSummit was a great honor, as many of the attendees were scientists from foreign countries and I was one of the youngest attendees,” she said.
She also was a finalist in the Project Green Challenge, an annual international competition that engages high school and college students by posing 30 challenges in 30 days each October. She was one of 14 students from around the world chosen to attend the Project Green Challenge’s Green University in San Francisco. There, she met with high-profile eco-leaders and worked on social change platform-building.
“I’m still not sure what I want to do after I graduate, but I know environmental activism will be at the center of anything I choose,” Giesting said. “My ideal career would be some intersection of advocacy, agriculture and research. I know I have been well-prepared for any path I choose. Being involved in both volunteer and service work, as well as the opportunity to work closely with a professor on a research project, has been invaluable. Otterbein is small enough that there is plenty of opportunity to get very involved.”
Outside the classroom, Giesting is president of Plan-It Earth, a student environmental service organization. Although she graduates in May, she continues moving forward on a variety of initiatives with Plan-It Earth, which have included litter cleanup and electricity conservation awareness.
“This semester, we’re working with Bon Appétit, our campus food service, to initiate a food scraps composting program for the cafeteria and host an Iron Chef-style event to educate students about sustainable food choices,” she said. “Previously, we have done things such as hosting a Nike Reuse-a-Shoe drive to collect worn-out tennis shoes for recycling; painting outdoor recycling bins to increase their visibility; and conducting a food waste awareness event.”
In addition to Plan-It Earth, students can participate in the weekly community service program called SEEDS, which maintains the Otterbein Community Garden.
Otterbein’s Greek organizations are also embracing sustainability service. Theta Nu will be collecting used denim throughout spring semester for a recycling program called “Cotton. From Blue to Green.”
According to Theta Nu Service Chair Jackie Faeth ’14, the program repurposes used denim products as insulation for homes and commercial buildings.
“The denim recycling project was inspired by a Theta Nu alumna who brought the idea to our active chapter. Our goal for the denim recycling project is to collect 100 or more denim articles by the end of the spring semester,” Faeth said.
Members of the community wanting to donate denim items can drop them off at the Theta Nu House at 64 W. Home Street. There is a box on the porch. For more information about denim recycling, visit www.cottonfrombluetogreen.org.
The PanHellinic Council is encouraging students to recycle clothes by collecting prom dresses for the Fairy Goodmothers program.
Members of Otterbein sororities are encouraged to donate their formal dresses, accessories and shoes from high school, according to nursing major Hilary Rowland ’14, who serves as community service chair for Panhel, service chair for Sigma Alpha Tau and CardinalCorps Leader.
“Fairy Goodmothers is an organization that puts on an event where any high school girl attending prom can come and pick out their prom dress with accessories,” Rowland said. “Each girl gets a personal shopper to help her pick out her dress, and girls can also apply to volunteer as a personal shopper.
“Many of us buy these beautiful dresses, and then the dresses and accessories sit in our closets. Why not donate those dresses, so another girl is able to have a dress and everything we had?” she added.
Members of the community wanting to donate prom dresses can drop them off at the Center for Student Involvement office in the Campus Center. For more information about Fairy Goodmothers, visit fairygoodmothers.org.
Another student-organized clothing drive is the annual Nearly Naked Mile, held in December. Runners wear layers of clothes that they shed as they complete the run, eventually ending the run in tank tops and shorts. Not only is the event a fun way to relieve some pre-exam stress, but the clothing donations also benefit charities.
Learning to make a difference tomorrow
Extracurricular activities and organizations help students make a difference now, but their educations will help them continue to make a difference in the future. An article published by U.S. News & World Report on Sept. 12, 2012, referenced environmental studies/sustainability as one of the top nine new college majors with a future. Read more at www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/09/12/discover-9-new-college-majors-with-a-future.
So it’s no surprise that majors like Sustainability Studies, Environmental Science and Zoo and Conservation Science appeal to today’s students. The new Sustainability Studies major, which began in fall 2011, focuses specifically on renewable/sustainable energies and resources.
“This is an area that is experiencing growth as people start to realize there is a career path to it,” said Assistant Professor Kevin Svitana, who oversees the Environmental Science and Sustainability Studies majors. “We don’t know what the job will look like in 10 years, but there will be a job. For instance, there were no hazardous waste regulations before the 1980s, but now there are careers based around them.”
“There will be a global transition away from fossil fuels within the lifetimes of current students. Renewable energies aren’t always compatible with current distribution networks, so there will be jobs in making infrastructure changes, policy planning and balancing economic and social decisions,” Svitana said.
Svitana also has seen a rise in jobs concerning the supply and demand of water. He often collaborates with students on water quality research and has established wells around nearby Otterbein Lake as a water resources lab.
Professor of Biology and Earth Science Michael Hoggarth also uses water quality research to teach students majoring in Environmental Science.
The Environmental Science major prepares students for careers in geological and biological sciences through courses in biology and earth sciences, as well as courses in other fields such as chemistry, statistics and economics. Although the major was officially created in 2002, the concept was introduced long before then through environmentally focused concentrations and course offerings.
Hoggarth uses Ohio waterways as living labs to conduct research with his students on the health of communities of freshwater mussels. “The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was one of the first to study the diversity and health of fish and insects to determine water and habitat quality and what else might be there based on symbiotic functions, and now we are applying mussels to that,” Hoggarth said.
Hoggarth and his students survey mussels at 21 research sites to compare former communities of mussels, determined by remaining shells, to current living communities. His results have shown that mussels are moving back into many waterways, including the Scioto River and its tributaries.
Students in the new Zoo and Conservation Science major will also get hands-on learning opportunities, thanks to a partnership with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Ohio Wildlife Center. Otterbein’s program is one of only three four-year zoo science programs in the country.
“Zoo science is a new science and a growing field. While zoology is the study of animals, zoo science is the study of captive animals and their welfare,” said Assistant Professor Anna Young, director of the major. “The main function of zoos has changed in recent years from entertainment to conservation, education and research facilities.”
The first class of pre-majors enrolled in fall 2012, and there are already 80 applicants for next fall, according to Young. Of those students, 20 will be accepted into the major. In the fall semester of their sophomore year, Zoo and Conservation Science majors will do a practicum at the Ohio Wildlife Center, with the option to continue into the spring. At the Center, they will learn about wildlife rehabilitation and release, aid in education programs and answer the hotline, which receives 12,000 calls per year.
In their junior year, students will conduct a fall practicum with The Columbus Zoo and 10 will qualify for an eight-month internship there.
Young came to Otterbein from Arizona, where she has experience working at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson and the Phoenix Zoo. She has conducted extensive research on budgerigars, or “budgies,” small Australian parrots that are vocal learners. Plans for an aviary in the Science Building are under way. The aviary will house approximately 40 to 50 budgies and will allow Young to continue her research and provide new learning opportunities for her students.
Students majoring in seemingly unrelated fields are now learning about sustainability, too. Classes such as Environmental History, Environmental Philosophy, Environmental Political Theory and Environmental Sociology are teaching students how interconnected sustainability is in today’s world.
Otterbein’s Integrative Studies (I.S.) program offers the Freshman Year Seminar, How Green Do I Have to Be? The Psychology Behind Environmental Decision-Making, and the Understanding Sustainability dyad.
A dyad is the final, senior-year I.S. requirement. Students must take two courses from different disciplines that are purposefully linked together and share a central theme, topic or issue. Students interested in the Understanding Sustainability dyad can choose from Environmental Economics; Studies in Environmental Literature and Writing; and Environmental Issues and Regulations.
Nature and literature have a unique relationship, one that Associate Professor of English Terry Hermsen uses both in his dyad class, Studies in Environmental Literature and Writing, and in an annual summer workshop he teaches.
In his dyad class, he teaches students about “the rich American heritage of environmentally conscious writing” and “encourages them to think of environmental issues in a multidisciplinary way.”
“I hope that the environmental literature class can show them what writers can do to spark awareness and deepen our love of particular places and species on the planet,” Hermsen said. “We’ll only work to save what we deeply love — and we can only fully love the earth through being able to articulate why it matters to us.”
Hermsen applies a similar concept in his summer workshop, Reading the Earth: The Language of Nature. Held at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the workshop brings together a team of naturalists, writers, artists and teachers in the humanities to enhance their writing through an appreciation of the natural world.
“With the heavy emphasis on testing in our schools, there’s not as much room for exploring the natural world around us. We hope to offer teachers ways to make the teaching of writing skills both creative and connected to the study of the natural world,” Hermsen said. •