Wake Forest University encourages all members of the campus community to take responsibility for the interdependent environmental, economic, and social consequences of their actions.
News Related to Stewardship
“When you die, God will not ask you how old the earth is. He will ask you ‘what did you do with what I gave you?’”
In celebration of World Food Day, the WFU Divinity School’s Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative and the WFU Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability hosted Richard Cizik for a discussion of what some refer to as creation care, or a scriptural call to care for God’s creation.
Cizik served for ten years as Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, the top staff position in the organization. In a 2008 interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air,” he expressed support for addressing climate change and sparked a national uproar within the evangelical movement. Soon thereafter, he was discharged from his post.
In his work as the president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Cizik is now empowered to address the interconnections between food, poverty, and climate change. He references Bob Doppelt’s book, The Power of Sustainable Thinking in saying that we cannot be good stewards of creation without understanding the systems that surround us. Global hunger is not simply a matter of inadequate distribution: floods, draught, poverty, the subjugated roles of women, and regressive global economic and agricultural policies all play a role in the inability of families and communities to access food.
According to Cizik, food and climate have become two of the most important issues to young evangelical voters. He believes that leadership on these issues requires bold action and a commitment to morally just behavior. In the conversion from climate denial to climate action, he witnesses a deny-deliberate-do-defend cycle. He sees more and more faith leaders making the conversion and answering the call to action because it is aligned with their intrinsic biblical values.
By Dedee DeLongpre Johnston, Director of Sustainability
With numerous breathtaking views, Wake Forest University’s beauty goes beyond the brick and mortar that composes the bones of the campus – it’s also in the Magnolia trees that outline Manchester Plaza, the curry-colored Black-Eyed Susans in front of Alumni Hall, and the Oakleaf Hydrangeas that transition from white to pink, welcoming students into their residence halls. These beautiful plants do more than add to the splendor of campus, however. They are native to the area and therefore support the wellbeing of the local ecology.
As David Davis, WFU manager of landscaping services can attest, successful landscape design entails planning for size, site requirements, and aesthetics. Davis takes it a step further, bearing in mind subtle elements like attraction for pollinators, fragrance, and even sound. One example of this process is the planting of native grasses near a bench where the sound of their dried dormant foliage can be appreciated on a breezy day. Such grasses are just one of the 20-25 staple native cultivars that are incorporated into the Wake Forest landscape.
Davis has planted native species, or what he calls pre-European flora, intentionally. The Winston Hall rain garden, a certified Monarch Waystation might be one of the more familiar native planting sites on campus. Davis is making a point to add “native islands” in parking lots and in front of residence halls too. At the front of Bostwick Residence Hall, he has replaced the English Ivy with a robust mix of native PowWow Wild Berry Coneflowers, switchgrasses, and Moonbeam Coreopsis. Similar native islands were planted near faculty/staff parking lots, F, G, and H.
Although it is evident Davis is a supporter of native plantings, he recognizes that placing only native species across campus is not always appropriate; the microclimates created by the urban environment severely limit plant selection. A hearty mix of natives and non-native species takes advantage of the unique qualities of each plant in the landscape. In front of Alumni Hall, the native Purple Muhly Grass glimmers next to non-native shrubs. At Farrell Hall, the native Sweet Kate pops in a landscape with non-natives like the Japanese Red Maple tree.
It is important to note that principles of sustainability are considered even when incorporating ornamental plants into the landscape. Davis selects vegetation that will thrive in the immediate environment and that requires minimal maintenance. In theory, such considerations may seem obvious. But in reality, aesthetics often outweigh practicality and sustainability for some landscapers.
Davis even opted to go native while landscaping the area around The Barn. Early succession Virginia Pines stand as the backdrop for the LEED Silver-certified building, but it is the surrounding vegetation that warrants a second look. The central island in the driving loop outside The Barn consists of natives that have flourished in the damp environment, fed by the runoff from the road. Other native vegetation frames the area: cedars, American Holly, Bracken Fern, Sassafrass, Eastern Redbuds, Flowering Dogwoods, and Serviceberry trees.
The research and knowledge that is necessary to choose the appropriate cultivars is just one example of the work required to effectively landscape with natives. A current undertaking that requires even more preparation is the invasive plant eradication along the Reynolda Village walking trail. Invasive species targeted for removal include Kudzu, Porcelain Vine, Bush Killer Vine, Wisteria, and Japanese Stilt Grass. EPA and NCDA-approved aquatic herbicides are being sprayed to eliminate the plants along Silas Creek. Once this first phase is complete, the area will be populated with natives that will be aesthetically pleasing, that will provide habitat for pollinators, and will stabilize the soil in the area.
Landscaping with native plants might be considered trendy. For Davis, however, it is not a fleeting idea – it’s a priority. As Wake Forest University strives for excellence in teaching and research, Davis notes that it is important for the facilities to do the same, creating landscaping that reflects the values of the university.
By Hannah Slodounik, Program Coordinator
This fall Hannah Slodounik (pronounced: Sla – duv – nick) assumed the role of Program Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability. Her broad range of experience with sustainability programs throughout the country will serve her well as she works to advance several sustainability initiatives at Wake Forest.
Underlying her professional experience is a passion for sustainability that was fostered at a young age during trips to the Grand Teton National Park and weekends spent applying storm drain stickers to local curbs. It wasn’t, however, until she arrived at the University of Redlands that she realized she wanted to pursue a career in sustainability. Looking back, the path seems clear. After transferring to the small liberal arts school in California, she was randomly placed in the sustainability theme dorm there. After that, she helped found the first “environmental sorority” Kappa Pi Zeta at the university serving as the sustainability chair. The sorority’s mascot (as well as her favorite animal) is the leatherback sea turtle.
While at the University of Redlands, Slodounik not only focused on the human dimension of sustainability but also the scientific dimension. Slodounik studied abroad in Costa Rica where she conducted field research to help quantify the environmental benefits of shade-grown coffee. During a travel course to Tetiaroa Atoll in French Polynesia, Slodounik collected GPS data to contribute to a GIS database, used to assess the risk of an emergent sand bar between two of the tropical islands as well the potential for renewable energy installations for a new luxury eco-resort on the atoll (arguably the world’s best job). After receiving her BS in Environmental Science, Slodounik interned in the City of St. Louis Mayor’s office where she collected GPS data in preparation for the city’s participation in ICLEI’s STAR Community Index.
Most recently, Slodounik served as an AmeriCorps member at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as the Sustainability Outreach Coordinator in the Office of Sustainability. This position entailed a wide variety of programming initiatives. She worked closely with student EcoVols (Vols – as in UT Volunteers), a group of students functioning as stewards for sustainability in their dorms. She also worked with student interns conducting an energy audit of campus with grant money from the TVA EnergyRight Solutions for Higher Education program. The rest of her work ran the gamut from leading trail clean-up operations to clearing weedy islands in parking lots to make way for edible vegetation. During football season she managed volunteers for the Game Day Recycling program at the sprawling UT tailgates and planned an entire month of celebration around Earth Day.
Although she has worked with many different programs and universities on sustainability-related issues, she is particularly excited to work at Wake Forest because of the attention the university has given to sustainability and the relationship between the office and the students here. Slodounik especially enjoys working with students here who are, in her assessment, “excited to learn, have the potential to significantly impact their peers, and continue sustainable behaviors for the majority of their life.”
To her, the location of the office itself, in the heart of campus, speaks to the attitudes about sustainability here and the accessibility a small liberal arts school can offer. Part of the reason she was attracted to the university was her ability to work with the corps of student interns working in the office of sustainability: “Aside from being enjoyable, working with student interns just makes sense. Students have a different understanding of campus, they gain practical experience from the internship, and it strengthens our network on campus.”
By Joey DeRosa, Communications and Outreach Intern
The Learn Experience Navigate Solve (LENS) @ Wake Forest program offered 38 rising high school juniors and seniors a three-week, hands-on opportunity to engage with peers around the 2013 theme “Sustainability – Operate locally and extend globally.” Students partnered with faculty and community leaders to examine issues, and then worked in teams to tackle real-world challenges. The inspiring discussions and college environment lent itself to fun activities and friendships along the way.
Read more about the 2013 LENS @ Wake Forest experience.
When WFU alumna Shelby Buso (’02) started her undergraduate career at Wake Forest University, she assumed she was embarking on a path to veterinary medicine. However, after earning a degree in anthropology, minors in environmental studies and Spanish, and a Juris Doctor and Masters of Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School, Buso found herself on an alternative professional path. Now, as the Assistant Director of Transportation & Sustainability at Midtown Alliance – a nonprofit membership organization that has been the driving force behind the revitalization of Midtown Atlanta since 1978 – Buso works to cultivate sustainability in an urban context, working more with policy than animals.
Buso’s initial pull towards veterinary medicine stemmed from her innate affinity with animals and nature, which her coursework in Environmental Studies at WFU allowed her to explore. “I find my solace in nature and cannot imagine doing anything with my life that doesn’t involve preserving it,” Buso said. Internship opportunities with The MacKenzie Law Firm and ReefTeach, Inc. while attending WFU guided her work and passion. After graduating, Buso realized she could combine her areas of interest by working in environmental law. To test whether or not it was a path to which she wanted to commit, she obtained a paralegal certificate and worked as a paralegal for three years before attending Vermont Law School. During her graduate work she was involved in numerous student law organizations, studied abroad in Spain and Italy, and completed a semester in practice at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“At the beginning of my legal career, I believed I could make the most difference by preserving wildlife and large public lands,” Buso reflected. Upon graduating with a JD and Masters of Environmental Law and Policy, she moved back to Puerto Rico and worked as a law clerk. When Buso decided to move back to Atlanta a couple of years later, she knew she wanted to focus more attention on environmental policy and started working at The Clean Air Campaign. Atlanta’s interconnected environmental network allowed her to smoothly transition into her role at Midtown Alliance where she is able to continue her life’s pledge to preserve nature.
In her time at Midtown Alliance, Buso developed and co-authored Greenprint Midtown, a local sustainability action plan. One outcome of the plan is the development of the Midtown EcoDistrict. Working to join the collective of current EcoDistricts, which includes sustainability hallmark cities Portland and Seattle, Midtown Atlanta is implementing initiatives of its own to create what the organization describes as “a neighborhood of the future.”
Although her professional path has taken some twists and turns, she still believes her work contributes to conserving the nature she values. “Creating a sustainable infrastructure for people to thrive in, both professionally and personally, has given me a sense of purpose beyond the one I felt in the wilderness,” she said.
To this end, Buso has already worked on many programs that advance the goals of Greenprint Midtown and Midtown EcoDistrict: engaging property managers and building owners in the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge, coordinating the installation of the first public space recycling program in the City of Atlanta, and creating a sustainability initiatives recognition program. Buso also manages Midtown Transportation Management Association, which works to increase the use of alternative transportation to and from Midtown.
Considering last April marked her one-year anniversary at Midtown Alliance, saying she has been productive would be putting it mildly. Still in the beginning stages of implementing Greenprint Midtown, Buso will have just as much to balance moving forward. She always finds the hard work worth it: “Being able to walk the streets and see work I influenced being done first hand is an experience that I feel lucky to enjoy.”
By Hannah Slodounik, Program Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability
Behind every green building, there is a team of designers and builders who imagined and built it. For several buildings at Wake Forest, Paul Borick is an important member of that team. Borick is a Registered Architect and Senior Project Manager for WFU Facilities & Campus Services. He manages design and construction projects anywhere from $1,000 to over $50 million.
This Senior Project Manager incorporates sustainability into both his work and daily life. The majority of the larger capital projects that he manages are designed to meet at least LEED Silver certification. With this standard, design and construction of facilities must consider all facets of sustainability in buildings and site selection.
The new residence halls and dining hall on the North campus are no exception to this standard. As one of his favorite LEED projects thus far, he believes that the new residence halls feature many important sustainable design features. In particular, an air driven mechanical system, will help alleviate bad-smelling fan coils and satisfy residents climatic requirements while saving energy. He is also excited to show off the new glass solar canopy trellis at the new North Dining Hall. Ultimately, he hopes that “the solar trellis will make people think: ‘I could do that. That would look great on my back patio or maybe on the facade of a building I may commission or design in the future.’ Seeing technology like this displayed prominently may inspire people to think of other ways to use technology, such as tidal power or the moons gravitational forces to generate power.”
Mr. Borick is a strong supporter of photovoltaic technology. He is currently lobbying for for the installation of a solar canopy on our facilities building. “What better place to show off this technology than right next to our power plant?” he asks. The project could help power our campus, while inspiring others to be more sustainable. Borick says, “I really do feel it is the future solution to all of our energy needs. I have this vision of producing power all day with solar energy and then turning it into hydrogen and then using hydrogen to fuel our cars, homes and factories. When hydrogen is burned, all it produces is water — kind of a win-win.”
In addition to his work on campus, Paul Borick has grown up to incorporate sustainable decisions in his everyday life. “I think I have always thought of myself as kind of an ‘earth man.’ I feel we have been put on this planet to be good stewards for all of God’s creations,” Borick says. “I think this mindset comes from early hiking and Boy Scout experience. I always strive to leave things better than I found them. That goes for something as little as picking up a piece of trash to making sure we leave things in good order for generations to come.” As a promoter of being a good steward to the Earth, Borick is also a bit of a recycling junkie. While the north campus project has recycled about 85% of its construction and demolition waste, he also prides himself on his recycling bin always being fuller than the trash bin.
As we move towards a more sustainable future, Mr. Borick encourages everyone to think through their decisions more completely: “I always like to remind people to think about the final outcome. Did I do the most good using as few resources as I could? I think that is why I am such a big solar technology fan because other than the production of the PV itself the impact to the environment is somewhat minimal.” His final words of encouragement for living a sustainable life are to “never forget the little things like turning off a light when no one is around or turning off a dripping faucet. Use one paper towel instead of two. If everyone does that just think how big the impact can be.
Written by Kiana Courtney, Communications and Outreach Intern
Many members of the class of 2013 will leave Reynolda campus behind this spring, but all Demon Deacons carry Wake Forest values with them wherever they go. These values include our campus-wide commitment to sustainability. For a third year, the Office of Sustainability is asking graduating seniors to solidify their commitment to environmental stewardship and social justice by signing the Green Graduation Pledge.
In asking seniors to make this voluntary commitment, Wake Forest joins over 100 other colleges and universities in a nationwide campaign, led by the Green Graduation Pledge Alliance, to build a global community of responsible graduates. Laura Coats (’13), a former EcoRep, sees the pledge as an opportunity to to reflect on how she will apply the values she developed over the past four years in the next phase of her life. Coats, who will begin her career in an Americorps position at Keep Knoxville Beautiful, says “It’s important to be conscious of the impact we have on our communities. I’m excited to continue to build on the environmental and social consciousnesses I cultivated at Wake Forest as I enter the workforce.”
Seniors will have the opportunity to sign the pledge when they pick up their tickets for graduation from the University Bookstore on Friday May 18th and Saturday May 19th from 9-4pm. The first 250 signatories will receive a coffee mug printed with the Green Graduation pledge, which reads: I pledge to take into account the social and environmental consequences of any future endeavors and to work to improve the sustainability of the communities in which I work, live and play.
Though we say goodbye for now, we know the class of 2013 will always fly the colors black and gold and live the color green.
The tension in addressing environmental issues is always: how can we solve environmental problems without harming our economy? On a more individual level, it is often about the personal sacrifices we must make to ensure a collective sustainable world. The panel entitled Good for Me, Good for Us? addressed this tension with three distinct speakers: Julian Agyeman, Professor and Chair of Urban Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University, Sabine O’Hara, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Services at University of the District of Columbia, and Larry Rasmussen, Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary.
I’ve now been to dozens of panels and events on sustainability, but this one was different. This conversation among the three panelists was the first I’ve seen to feature morality as a central component to sustainability. In this sense, there was no discussion of the effects of climate change or a debate on the problems of overfishing. Rather there was a genuine ethical conversation about the ways people can work together or individually to make changes to the system.
I found Dr. Agyeman’s discussion of a movement towards sharing economies to be the most fascinating. As an example, Agyeman explained that we don’t need to buy a power drill that we will only use once, but can instead borrow it from a tool-sharing network. Examples of sharing economies exist all over, whether it’s couch-surfing, bike-sharing or car-sharing programs like Zipcar. I came away from the event feeling a need to change the way I participate in our economic system, because every dollar I spend is a vote for the type of future I want. Senior Janak Padhiar reflected on Dr. Agyeman’s contributions, “I was particularly inspired and intrigued by the ways in which the notions of spatial justice and inter-culturalism are vital to progressive, diverse urban communities; cities require responsible planning and multiple mechanisms of innovation, technology, infrastructure, education, and civic planning to positively advance human equality.” All three speakers made mention of social justice and equality as keys to a sustainable future.
Dr. Sabine O’Hara spoke from a background in neo-classical economics, and gave a different perspective from a field that often lacks inclusion of environmental problems in its analysis. As a college dean at a land-grant university in an urban environment, O’Hara, brought attention to the fact that that universities must engage with local communities to create a more sustainable future. First-year student Lauren Formica enjoyed the holistic nature of the panel. She said, “each of these individuals can claim expertise in a field in which ethics and values come into play everyday.”
Dr. Larry Rasmussen spoke with urgency of the need to change the way our society functions, as he made reference to the tragedy of the commons. Rasmussen asked the key question, “Can capitalism be fully ecologized?” His critique of the economic system included mentions of social justice related to justice for nature. He left these questions open for students to ponder.
Often discussions of environmental issues rely too heavily on trying to hammer home the scientific facts about why we need to change our behaviors. This panel, however, took a more philosophical approach to enlighten students on the ways they can revolutionize and change our current economic system. Senior Emily Bachman appreciated the focus on equity and environmental justice. She explained, “I think this focus is vital in making the sustainability movement about all people, rather than a privilege of the wealthy.” I was inspired by the open, diverse views and discussion on this particular panel and struck by how it catered to several different areas of study and backgrounds.
Sanders McNair, Campus Garden Intern (’13)
Nathan Bedsole (BA ’11) is an unusual addition to our series of alumni spotlights – for several reasons. First, as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, he had no official affiliation to the Office of Sustainability. Instead, he devoted his undergraduate career to Wake Radio and, starting in the fall of his senior year, a job at Krankies, a coffee shop and music venue located in the Werehouse, a social hub for downtown Winston-Salem.
Second, Nathan is our first featured alumnus to answer the question where are you now with here; emphatically, intentionally here. He explains: “I like the movement that is going on downtown. Things seem to be moving in a very creative and energetic way, [as a senior I decided] I would like to remain a part of that after four years…once I had time to be fully involved in it, I didn’t want to go ahead and skip town. I wanted to commit myself to being here.”
Nathan found his niche as a cycling advocate in Winston-Salem. His affinity for cycling began during his sophomore year at Wake Forest, when he found himself without a car and with a desire to explore. He says “[cycling] was how I saw most of the city for the first time; how I figured out how to get around. I realized it was a bikeable city and cycling was how I wanted to get around.” He also recalls using cycling to clear his head, easing the stress of academic pressures.
This cycling affinity led Nathan to his current position as a founder and principle figure in the Winston-Salem Bicycle Co-Operative (WSBC), a volunteer organization dedicated to providing space and resources for bicycle maintenance, cycling education, and outreach events. Though Winston-Salem’s efforts are more recent, the bicycle co-op model is well-established in communities around the country and elsewhere in North Carolina. As Nathan explains, “the central idea [behind a bicycle co-op] is taking unused or unwanted bicycle parts, tools, and completed bicycles, and providing the space and opportunity to get them back into the community.”
According to Nathan, the concept of a Winston-Salem cooperative re-emerged in 2011 (there was a previous effort around 2005). The concept evolved out of a community loosely centered around the Werehouse, where both Nathan and Davis Bourland, another central figure in WSBC and a fellow Wake alum (MA ’12), worked as baristas. Nathan credits local artist, Andrew Fansler with drumming up early enthusiasm for the project. Nathan and Andrew met at the Werehouse when Nathan learned that Andrew, then a stranger, needed a pair of handlebars. Just having replaced the handlebars on his own bicycle, Nathan still had his old pair in the backseat of his car. He ran outside and fetched the handlebars, giving them to Andrew. Remembering this incident, Nathan jokingly terms their meeting “an ominous start to a relationship,” adding “somehow we knew.”
Andrew and Nathan’s initial introduction not only foreshadowed their future collaboration on WSBC, but also typified the manner of exchange the cooperative would come to embody. After exploring the initial idea through community meetings and surveys conducted by a team of volunteers (including Elizabeth Perkins (BA ‘09), a donation of thirty bicycles from Wake Forest University’s Reynolda Campus kick-started the project. Needing an immediate space to store the newly acquired inventory, Nathan offered his garage, which immediately became WSBC’s first official location.
From there, the bicycle cooperative grew quickly. Nathan explains, “everything was a donation; we had everything donated from stands to tools, to bike shoes, to helmets, to helmet padding. It’s wild the things that people had sitting around that were very easily appropriated for good use.” He goes on: “People finally had a way to get rid of things that didn’t involve just abandoning things that meant a lot to them…we were keeping things within the community.”
While located in Nathan’s garage, the co-op held weekly meetings called Workshop Wednesdays — informal gatherings where affiliates shared knowledge, maintained their own bicycles and rehabilitated donated stock. Recently, WSBC donated four rehabilitated bicycles to refugees from Myanmar who needed a means of transportation to and from work. The Winston-Salem chapter of World Relief, a faith-based non-profit that provides services to refugees and victims of human trafficking, facilitated the donation of the four bicycles, a few of which went to employees of ARAMARK at Wake Forest University Dr. Catherine Ross, the director of the Wake Forest Teaching and Learning Center, connected WSBC to World Relief. Dr. Ross, who has contact with World Relief through English classes she teaches to refugees, heard about WSBC from her son, a former professional BMX cyclist.
WSBC is currently in transition, both geographically (WSBC will soon is move to a new space on Canal Street), and fundamentally. Nathan explains, “At this point there are so many avenues this could take. I don’t know what it is going to look like, but, like with everything, you have those people who are there all the time…volunteers who will move and shape what is going on.”
During this transitional period, the co-operative has become temporarily events-based, most recently collaborating with the Winston-Salem Sustainable Resource Center, Whole Foods, Krankies, and the City of Winston-Salem to host a community bike-ride. Nathan describes the event as “an amazing convergence of really good things.” Seventy cyclists followed a route from Krankies Werehouse to the Piedmont Triad Research Park, around Winston Lake, and back to the Werehouse. After taking advantage of the first pleasant weather in weeks, cyclists enjoyed vegetarian chili and cornbread donated by Whole Foods.
This fall Nathan will return to Wake Forest to pursue a master’s degree in communications. He is “ready to come back to Wake,” and, while he is nervous about writing papers again, he is looking forward to student teaching and remaining in the city he has made his home. Whether he is heading to campus for class, downtown to Werehouse, or over to the Co-Op’s new space to work on renovations, he most certainly be getting there by bike. As he says “In this city, biking is a viable transportation option. It’s not just leisure it’s not just exercise; it’s not just sport. It’s a way you can actually get around.”
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability
As she began to examine questions about life-cycle analysis and resource efficiency, she says “I realized…to get a sense of what’s going on, you can use fairly simple math. I decided that would be a great place to bring in students, to give them the confidence to apply straightforward mathematics to analyze complex situations.”
This urge to combine a personal passion for sustainability with her career resulted in Dr. Mason’s first-year seminar, Counting on Sustainable Energy: Does it Add Up?, which she is currently teaching for a second time this spring. The simple addition, multiplication, and conversion involved in the course are far from her traditional research field of combinatorics, but Dr. Mason’s course demonstrates how “pretty basic mathematics can be used to do some powerful things.”
Counting on Sustainable Energy fosters a greater understanding of alternative energy and arms students with the ability to critically evaluate assertions about the relative environmental impacts of various fuel sources. “One of the biggest things that I want my students to get out of this class is getting comfortable taking claims and evaluating them for themselves. If someone says something is better for the environment, I want my students to be able to go home and verify that claim.”
Over the course of a semester, Dr. Mason’s students will investigate a wide array of alternative energy sources, including solar, hydro, wind, and geothermal. They will examine how much energy these sources could produce on Wake Forest’s campus and how much energy a Wake Forest student consumes each day. By the end of the semester, students will find an answer to the course’s central question: Could we, with our current consumption patterns, rely on sustainable energy at Wake Forest University? If the answer is yes, students will explain exactly how a switch to sustainable energy might be feasible in their final paper. If the answer is no, students will lay out a plan to reduce energy consumption.
Much of Dr. Mason’s FYS is hands-on. Her students began the course by measuring their own electricity consumption with a Kill-a-watt, an exercise designed to give them an idea of scale when they use the watt or kilowatt hour (kWh) as a unit of measure. Recently, her students completed the construction of miniature wind turbines, an exercise designed to familiarize them with the mechanics of wind energy. As part of their final project, students will develop and staff interactive educational booths at Food for Thought, this spring’s Earth Day celebration for the Wake Forest community.
In addition to readings and class projects, Counting on Sustainable Energy includes a line-up of guest speakers, including a representative from Volt energy (the company responsible for the solar panels on The Barn) and an environmental engineer working in wind turbine installation. Students will visit a land fill and a geothermal installation. So far, Dr. Mason’s students have matched an impressive syllabus with impressive work product. Dr. Mason reports her students are highly motivated by the subject matter, explaining “because they are passionate about [sustainability], they are willing to do the leg work.”
The latest version of Counting on Sustainability is a result of Dr. Mason’s participation in the Magnolias Project, a WFU faculty workshop on integrating sustainability across the curriculum. An assigned reading on the moral ecology of everyday life (from Higher Education for Sustainability) inspired Dr. Mason to take the focus of Counting on Sustainability from a national level down to a campus level; her students have benefited from an opportunity to relate to their course material directly.
Not only did the Magnolias Project allow Dr. Mason to refine her syllabus, she also made valuable connections to faculty from different disciplines. This network continues to be source of ideas and feedback, which Dr. Mason finds particularly valuable as a mathematician teaching a writing-intensive course. This spring, she will co-lead the second iteration of the Magnolias Project with Dr. Lucas Johnston, a faculty member in the Religion department and another member of the Magnolias Project’s first cohort.
Unsurprisingly, Dr. Mason also integrates sustainability into her life beyond the classroom. When moving to Winston-Salem, she intentionally purchased a home within walking distance from campus and often uses a bicycle for transportation. An avid hiker, she partially attributes her interest in sustainability to a love of the outdoors, saying “I love hiking and I really value being able to explore untouched places. I worry our society is moving towards less and less of these beautiful, spectacular places.”
A passion for sustainability runs in Dr. Mason’s family. The environmental engineer who spoke to her class about wind turbines was her father and her brother is an urban planner, currently tackling solutions for mass transit in developing countries. Her brother also helped her tackle a compost bin project in her backyard and Dr. Mason plans to put her compost to good use this year. She muses “I love being able to go out and make a salad with ingredients straight from my backyard, there is something really satisfying about that.”
Dr. Mason’s academic innovation is possible through the generous support of the university, for which she is continually grateful. Her students are equivalently grateful for Dr. Mason, especially those like sophomore Caroline Waco, whose experience in Dr. Mason’s FYS last year inspired her to do independent research on the factors impacting the payback period for solar photovoltaic panels. Dr. Mason explains that her promotion of sustainability at Wake Forest naturally flows from her interest in the topic. She says “I’ve always believed in following my passions, and hopefully that leads to a strong contribution to my community.”
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability