The Office of Sustainability at Southern Connecticut State University is actively growing its team of interns and this spring, thanks to a generous donation from the Antonacci Family Foundation, it now has its first sustainability fellow, Derek Faulkner, ’21, an environmental systems and sustainability major. He is graduating this May, but his fellowship will continue through the summer.
Faulkner has been a volunteer and intern with the Office of Sustainability, and in his new role, under the auspices of Sustainability Coordinator Suzanne Huminski and University Recycling Coordinator Heather Stearns, he’s been overseeing and guiding eight interns, serving as project and outreach coordinator, and working to expand the campus garden.
“My role is to help lead the team of students,” Faulkner says. “They’re able to tackle additional work like the expansion of the pollinator pathway at the campus community garden and data collection on the solar panel canopy for DSD Renewables. Despite COVID-19, we were able to maintain our projects on campus and adapt to change. Despite welcoming a new foods service provider and losing our primary donation site for food, the team still operates a food recovery program Monday through Friday. Much of my time is spent managing the community garden and building a stronger connection with partners in the New Haven community like Common Ground High School, Gather New Haven, and Peels and Wheels Composting.”
The Office of Sustainability’s goals have been and continue to be ambitious and far reaching: Southern is the only school in the CSCU system to have such an office, and it is part of a coalition of colleges and universities across the United States and internationally that have formally committed to climate leadership, net-carbon neutrality by 2050, and actively engaging campus and surrounding communities in climate resilience and adaptation.
“There is a critical opportunity to continually build awareness and foster understanding of the variety of environmental issues that we are working to mitigate,” he says. “The Office of Sustainability is involved in logistical and infrastructure changes on campus, for example, the solar panel installations or the planning of donations during move out. Creating this new position allowed for Suzie and Heather to focus on work aside from the student-led projects — they were able to accommodate a much larger team than typical semesters.”
A grant from The Greater New Haven Green Fund enabled the interns to plan and plant a new pollinator pathway at the Campus Community Garden, known for its annual harvest donation to soup kitchens, similar to food recovery. As a student interested in food systems, sustainability, and transdisciplinary projects that implement practices to improve the environment and community, Faulker was able to gain valuable practical experience.
“My short-term goal is to pursue an entrepreneurial venture associated with environmental benefits to Long Island Sound and then pursue another degree that expands on the knowledge and lessons learned at Southern,” he says. “This experience provided a chance to expand an internship into a dynamic independent position revolving around project management and community engagement. I was able to gain hands-on experience in the broad field of sustainability while expanding my understanding of the collaborative community effort to address environmental concerns that overlap with food systems problems apparent in the local area. I see endless opportunities to continue expanding connections between disciplines; I see the fellowship as a pathway into a role within the New Haven community working to improve food access and advocate for a more resilient food system.”
With Faulkner now at the half-way point of his fellowship, Huminski says his work has been “a difference maker” for the Office of Sustainability.
“We’re so thankful to the Antonacci Family Foundation for their support,” she says. “It is exciting to see projects take shape with Derek’s leadership. In addition to expanding the campus garden, he leads two pilots, guiding the intern team. They are working with multiple partners on different types of environmental monitoring. Finally, the larger intern team has meant success for adapting food recovery during the pandemic. Derek is intrinsically motivated, and his can-do attitude and attention to detail spreads to the rest of the team. It has not been an easy year, and Derek is instrumental to our success.”