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sustainability

sustainability major

A new major at Southern will enable students to not only learn the science behind environmental issues, but to understand their societal complexity and offer practical, real world solutions.

A Bachelor of Science degree in environmental systems and sustainability studies will be offered starting next fall. Three concentrations will exist within the major – environmental systems, coastal marine systems, and environmental policy and management.

“It really is going to be an exciting program,” said Vincent Breslin, a professor of the environment, geography and marine sciences who helped organize the major. “It takes a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to environmental and sustainability issues.

“As an example, let’s take climate change. Sure, the solution sounds simple – eliminate the use of fossil fuels. But realistically, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So, what are our options? What steps can we take? The students will look at those options and the social and economic consequences they could have on society.”

Breslin said the program will emphasize critical thinking, system thinking and problem solving.

“There is a need for professionals who understand the complexities associated with environmental problems and solutions,” he said. “This program will provide our students with the knowledge and skills to help Connecticut face a rapidly changing future.”

Breslin said the Connecticut coastline is an example. Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, he said coastal communities have been more sensitive to the potential damage caused by major storms and hurricanes, as well as rising tidal waters and other consequences of global warming. “I could envision a time when each community, or group of communities, has its own sustainability coordinator,” he said.

Steven Breese, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, said the quality and health of the environment is being challenged every day.

“And with this challenge comes a pressing need for our students and our culture to develop a deep and broad understanding of the complex interactions between human and natural systems,” Breese said. “Not only will this new program teach our students about this critical interaction, it will empower them to devise sustainable solutions that will impact our collective well-being now and for generations to come. It is a timely program and one that, we believe, will attract new students to Southern while offering our current students new educational opportunities.”

The environmental policy and management concentration within the new program would be ideal for someone who wanted to pursue environmental law, according to Breslin.

The program will require students to take about 40 credits in their major, differing slightly based on their concentration. The coursework includes foundation classes – such as an introduction to environmental and marine studies; an introduction to the principles of sustainability; and a research methods course. Students also will complete an experiential component, such as an internship, research experience or participation in a seminar.

In addition, each concentration will require four core courses and three electives, as well as a social science and humanities course.

Breslin said the major incorporates various disciplines – including biology, geography, earth science, environmental studies, marine studies, public health, political science and business management.

(For additional information about the program, please contact Vincent Breslin at (203) 392-6602 or at breslinv1@southernct.edu; Jim Tait, professor of the environment, geography and marine sciences, at (203) 392-5838 or at taitj1@southernct.edu, or Patrick Heidkamp, chairman of the Department of the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences, at (203) 392-5919 or at heidkampc1@southernct.edu.)

Once again, Southern goes for the green!

For the third year in a row, Southern has been named one of the 361 most environmentally responsible colleges by The Princeton Review (www.PrincetonReview.com). The education services company known for its test prep and tutoring services, books, and college rankings features the university in the 2016 edition of its free book, The Princeton Review Guide to 361 Green Colleges.

Published October 4, the 160-page guide can be downloaded at www.princetonreview.com/green-guide.

The Princeton Review chose the schools for this seventh annual edition of its “green guide” based on data from the company’s 2015-16 survey of hundreds of four-year colleges concerning the schools’ commitments to the environment and sustainability.

The profiles in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 361 Green Colleges provide information about each school’s admission requirements, cost and financial aid, and student body stats. They also include “Green Facts” about the schools with details on the availability of transportation alternatives at the schools and the percentage of the school food budgets spent on local/organic food.

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Suzanne Huminski, SCSU sustainability coordinator, says, “The SCSU community should be proud of this rating, because it is a hard-won reflection of the effort by our campus community.” Huminski points to Southern’s long and strong leadership record with energy efficiency, green building design, waste reduction and recycling. The university is also recognized for sustainability in curriculum, research, student involvement, and community outreach, and finding symbioses among all of these elements to strengthen the campus community and surrounding neighborhoods.

Southern’s focus on food security has been an important contributor to these kinds of connections. Huminski explains that student volunteers collect excess food from Conn Hall and campus retail locations and deliver it to soup kitchens and pantries in the New Haven area, primarily St. Ann’s soup kitchen on Arch St., near Southern’s campus.

“This project could never happen without a strong partnership and collaboration with our administration, dining services staff, management, and students,” Huminski says. She credits public health and geography faculty and students with research in the area of food insecurity. In addition, CARE [Community Alliance for Research and Engagement], newly arrived on the SCSU campus, is integrally involved with reducing hunger in New Haven, establishing food security as a priority at New Haven City Hall, and developing a network of non-profits that have streamlined goals and communication. Multiple student organizations organize food drives and donations, and for Southern students experiencing food insecurity, the SCSU Office of Alumni Relations coordinates campus visits from a mobile food pantry.

“There is a great deal of potential to further align and unify these campus-wide efforts, and together we’re working on this,” says Huminski.

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The Princeton Review first published its green guide in 2010. It remains the only free, annually updated downloadable guide to green colleges.

Urban Oasis, sustainability

The birds and the bees love Southern, and there’s a reason for that: the university is part of a city-wide initiative – the Urban Oasis partnership — to establish habitats more hospitable to birds and pollinators. Campus projects like the Science Garden built last spring near the Academic Science and Laboratory building and the refurbishing of the area around Beaver Pond contribute to a network of wildlife-friendly sites across the city.

A few years ago, Audubon Connecticut, a state office of the National Audubon Society, brought together several local groups to discuss how they might improve wildlife habitat in New Haven. The idea was to create areas across the city plentiful in plants that produce fruit and seeds for birds and that host insects.

In 2012, Southern joined these groups in what became known as the New Haven Urban Oasis partnership. Along with Audubon Connecticut and Southern, partners include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Peabody Museum, Urban Resources Initiative (Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies), Common Ground High School, West River Watershed Coalition, New Haven Parks and Recreation, and multiple neighborhood organizations and schools.

The university’s participation in the Urban Oasis project is just one of many initiatives that have helped it gain recognition in the Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges for three years running.

Together, says Suzanne Huminski, sustainability coordinator, these groups and organizations in the Urban Oasis partnership are working to establish bird- and pollinator-friendly habitat “hotspots” throughout the city, with the goal of revitalizing a habitat corridor to provide nourishment for birds and pollinators – such as bees – and create natural spaces for the community to enjoy and connect with the outdoors.

“The habitat corridor we are trying to create,” explains Huminski, “connects larger tracts of open space, like East and West Rock Parks, Lighthouse Point, and West River Park. New Haven is located along the Northeast flyway for migrating birds, and New Haven was designated an area of significance for birds, and also a Bird Treaty City in the summer of 2016, in part because of our partnership.”

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At Southern, Huminski says, “we’ve planted a site with native shrubs and wildflowers near Beaver Pond and the practice rugby field, and cared for them. The shrubs we’ve added are especially nutritious to birds and provide berries in the winter.” Student interns in the Sustainability Office manage the site: one intern, Kiersten Simon, a senior geography major, is one of the first Southern students who will graduate with the recently established sustainability concentration in geography. She is earning internship credit this fall for expanding and caring for the Urban Oasis site, and will help map the site to track the species there. Over the summer, students Riley Scheuritzel, Mary Fedorko, and Cody Edson helped to maintain the site.

Huminski also credits the work of Southern students, faculty, and staff volunteers during the Big Event and Day of Service each year as an important factor in the site’s success. Over the years, they have helped with removing invasive plants like purple loosestrife, autumn olive, and phragmites (sea oats). The invasives grow and spread quickly since they don’t have predators to limit them, and these plants are not food sources for local birds. “Our site is small,” Huminski says. “We carved it from a large area dominated by invasive plants.” Anyone is welcome to volunteer to help with the site.

Huminski and her interns plan to monitor whether biodiversity at the site is improving over time with their efforts. She says that there are already very interesting birds on campus – “even other than the geese” — because of the pond and the undisturbed “no-mow” area that stretches beyond the baseball fields by the water. Earlier in the semester a large red tail hawk was spotted on the bleachers at the rugby field, and grackles, a woodpecker, yellow warblers, black-capped chickadees, and ducks are often seen at the site.

Part of the Urban Oasis plan is to leave certain “volunteer” plants that are native but that some might consider weeds. Huminski points out that goldenrod is a very important source of protein for native bees as well as honeybees, and “in the late season, this protein is important before they hunker down for the winter. Bees are critically important to ecosystem health because of their pollination services. And right now, the purple aster and other wildflowers are dripping with bees. We’re really lucky!”

Huminski invites the community to come check out Southern’s Urban Oasis site as well as the others in New Haven, including:

  • Cherry Ann St.
  • Dover Beach
  • East Shore Park
  • Edgewood Park
  • Lighthouse Point Park
  • Long Wharf Preserve
  • West River Memorial Park

See more photos of Southern’s Urban Oasis site in this gallery.

 

Students building surfboards

The surfboard is such a part of American popular culture it is almost folkloric. Think “Surfin’ Safari,” The Beach Boys, “Beach Blanket Bingo,” Gidget, and, more recently, “Lilo and Stitch” and “Blue Crush.” Surfing has been romanticized in the American imagination for generations, but how much do any of us really know about the sport or the surfboard itself?

This spring semester, in an Honors College course entitled “Material and Meaning: Economic Geography and Sculpture,” students built their own surfboards from scratch. In doing so, they learned more about surfboards than most of us will ever know: what goes into the production of these manufactured objects or commodities; the production process’ impact on the environment and on workers; and cultural meanings of the object. The class visited beaches and studied wave dynamics to learn how they can affect the way a board surfs. They created a life cycle analysis of their boards, the purpose of which, student Hope Finch explains, “is to quantify a product’s impact on the environment, seek out potential improvements, and to clearly articulate the process through which a product is made.”

And in the end – they had surfboards!

Team taught by Patrick Heidkamp, associate professor of geography, and Jeff Slomba, professor of art, “Material and Meaning” is a hands-on practical learning experience that engages students on many levels. Heidkamp and Slomba decided to use surfboards as the object students would make in the course after encountering research about surfboards at a conference. The course’s goal is for students to create an object that teaches them about commodity chain analysis, or how to examine the process by which companies gather resources, transform them into goods or commodities, and distribute them to consumers. Heidkamp is a longtime surfer and Slomba a paddleboarder, so they also thought the finished products in the course would end up being fun for students. As Heidkamp says, “We hoped we might be able to approximate something that actually works.”

students building surfboards

The class was divided into small groups, each of which was assigned a particular kind of surfboard to study and build. One board was to be made of sustainably-grown wood; another of expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), which is slightly better for the environment than other similar types of foam; and another of materials found on beaches, such as chunks of old foam buoys and docks that had washed up onto the shore. Slomba says these reclaimed materials had “living things inside them” — ants, ticks and other insects –when they were collected, and the creatures remained inside the materials while the students worked on their board. The proposed boards represented different levels of sustainability, says Heidkamp.

Before actually tackling the job of making the boards, students researched the materials they would be using, interviewing manufacturers and other companies that supplied them with the components of the boards. They traced the commodity chain, learned about the history of surfing and its cultural origins, and made demo boards — scale models of the full-size boards they would eventually create. In the process, they also learned how to use the tools that were necessary to build their boards, creating empathy for workers who build boards for a living.

students building surfboards

Student Emma Knauerhase, whose group built the board of reclaimed materials, says, “The most import thing I learned from this project was how to be innovative . . . we were able to do anything we wanted with our surfboard! My group was able to create the surfboard from recycled material and shape it ourselves! Whereas other groups had guidelines to follow, we did not.”

Ultimately, the iconic surfboard came to represent much more to the students than a prop from a Beach Boys song. As Hope Finch says, after taking the course, she “can no longer think of the products you use everyday in the same way. When I look at my board I understand its potential to be detrimental to marine life, I am reminded of the chemicals embedded in the foam and the harm they pose to factory workers in foreign countries, and I am aware of the pollution created in order to ship and deliver the materials to Southern. The surfboard becomes so much more. The surfboard represents the countless repetitive shaping maneuvers needed to form the rails, it represents a fear of tools overcome, and ultimately it’s a physical manifestation of a deep respect for Surf Culture and those that work to keep its roots alive.”

Food Recovery NetworkEver wonder what happens to that sandwich in The Bagel Wagon that has reached the “best by” date on its label? Prior to this past summer, it would be thrown away, but now, foods that Chartwells can no longer sell when they reach that date no longer go to waste, thanks to the efforts of the Sustainability Office, Chartwells, and a dedicated student intern.

This past summer, Southern joined the Food Recovery Network, a national organization that supports college students recovering perishable and non-perishable foods on their campuses that would otherwise go to waste and donating them to people in need.  Heather Stearns, recycling coordinator, says that Chartwells hired a student intern, Ashley Silva, who is focused on sustainability, and has been working with her on a weekly food collection schedule. Each week, Silva makes the rounds to the Bagel Wagon, Davis Outtakes, and the North Campus Kiosk and collects perishable foods — including salads, sandwiches, yogurt, fruit, bagels, and hummus — that have reached their “best by” date. The foods would be thrown away when they reach that date, but they are still safe to eat. So after Silva collects them, they are donated to Connecticut Food Bank, a private, nonprofit organization that works with corporations, community organizations, and individuals to solicit, transport, warehouse and distribute donated food.

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In addition to the food collected from campus Chartwells locations, fruits, vegetables, and herbs from the campus organic garden are harvested and donated to local soup kitchens such as the Community Dining Room in Branford and St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen in Hamden. Pounds of produce such as squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, various greens, corn, peas, potatoes, peppers, and basil, are donated on a regular basis. This fall, Southern donated almost 200 pounds of fresh produce that was grown at the garden, located behind Davis Hall.  Suzanne Huminski, sustainability coordinator, says that throughout the fall semester, between the garden and FRN efforts, over 600 pounds of food have been collected and donated.

To promote community awareness of hunger and food insecurity in Connecticut, students working on FRN at Southern organized a recent campus event called “Hunger 101,” meant to be a conversation about food access and food justice in the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “food security” as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” According to the Sustainability Office’s website, over 14 percent — of New Haven County residents — nearly 123,000 people — are food insecure, and over 19 percent of all hunger-stricken residents are children.

To expand the university’s food donation program, the Sustainability Office is placing permanent food donation boxes in the lobby of the Facilities building, in the Wintergreen building, and on the second floor of Engleman, outside of the FYE Office. Members of the university community are encouraged to donate non-perishable food items year-round. Donations from these collection sites will be brought to the Connecticut Food Bank in Wallingford each week. Stearns also encourages staff and faculty to bring food items to the Sustainability Office during the regular Swap Shop open houses.

Anyone interested in helping with FRN efforts on campus can call Silva in the Sustainability Office at (203) 392-7135.