Student Leadership Award 3548
I graduated Summa Cum Laude from American University in the spring of 2009 with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a B.A. in Political Science. In addition to my academics, I placed significant emphasis on advocating for sustainability in policies, operations, and curriculum at American University. I served as Policy Director of American University’s environmental organization, Eco-Sense, from my sophomore year through my senior year. I also served as the Environmental Policy Director of the Student Government during my senior year. Additionally, I was a member of the Global Environmental Politics Search Committee, where I assisted with interviewing and selecting professors for tenure track positions. Over all four years, I held a position as a student representative on the Environmental Issues Project Team, which is the campus organization that unites students, faculty, and staff in taking action for campus sustainability. One of the most overtly significant successes that I achieved during my time at American University was signature to the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment. Following the signature of the document, I made accountability to this commitment a major focus of my sustainability work on campus.
As a freshman, I joined other students in running a campaign for wind energy at American, which culminated in a student referendum. Our outreach strategies, including petitions and demonstrations, led to the passage of the referendum for the purchase of 50 percent wind energy with 70 percent approval. Currently, the university has increased its purchase of wind energy from five percent to 25 percent, on track for compliance with the student referendum. Eco-Sense received the National Wildlife Federation’s Award for Campus Ecology in recognition of this emissions reduction and Eco-Sense’s leadership in campus sustainability.
During my sophomore year, I developed a strategy to move Eco-Sense beyond reliance on typical advocacy strategies, such as petitions, referendums, and letters to the editor, with which the campus was already saturated. In the fall of 2006, I wrote a Clean Transportation Policy for American University that included: a green vehicle purchasing order, biodiesel shuttles, promotion of mass transportation and carpooling, and methods for tracking emissions reductions. The policy addressed traffic congestion caused by thousands of students commuting to American University daily, as well as the university’s inefficient vehicle fleet and needlessly idling shuttles. I led student participation in the process by delegating research responsibilities to six students and coordinating discussions to compile research. I formed a student editing committee and gathered faculty endorsements of the policy. In order to ensure that the policy was feasible and supported by key stakeholders, I met regularly with the Director of Transportation Services and led a policy-review forum of 13 administrators. To assist the university in implementing the policy, I also collaborated with students and the university’s Sustainability Coordinator to create a resource guide identifying colleges that had already implemented each aspect of the policy (the creation of which relied heavily on AASHE’s Resource Center). As this integrated campaign built community consensus, administrators began implementation of the policy. Current outcomes include the purchase of electric vehicles, a continuous shuttle route eliminating idling, a bikeshare program, and the transition biodiesel in university vehicles.
During my junior and senior years I continued this collaborative strategy by writing a Sustainable Procurement Policy for American University to address purchasing and the environmental impacts of campus offices. I was inspired to pursue this particular issue because of the role I played as a consultant to my work-study office in a transition to sustainable programming and office practices. I guided this initial office through reducing the size of publications and using sustainable inks, moving to an online registration format, switching to 100% recycled paper, and purchasing recycled content office supplies. With regard to programming, efforts included encouraging the use of mass transportation, source snacks locally, and educate incoming freshmen about sustainability efforts at American. In order to write the Sustainable Procurement Policy, I established a Green Offices Policy Committee of 20 students to assist with research. The final policy includes items such as sustainable vendors, 100% post-consumer recycled paper, soy-based inks, and Energy Star appliances.
One of the most prominent impacts that I had at American University is the Office Eco-Certification program that I designed and implemented to educate staff in sustainable office purchasing and practices. The first pillar of this program is a training on the environmental and social justice impacts of offices for staff members. I began by creating a training that explores the environmental impacts of offices, as well as changes that can be made to lessen these impacts. I engaged 20 students in learning how to effectively deliver this training to staff members. This student-run program has now trained over 125 staff members in the past year and has received broad acclaim among staff, faculty, and other students.
The second pillar of the program is that every office must meet 30 criteria, which are specific actions towards reducing the footprint of the office’s purchases and practices, in order to become certified. Last fall, the cohort of offices within the Office of Campus Life at American University made it a goal for 75 percent of its offices to be certified during the 2008-2009 academic year. In January, the program was further institutionalized by the inclusion of the goal to “Achieve Eco-Certification for all university offices” in American University’s Strategic Plan. The program has now certified 22 offices on campus and is has nearly certified 10 more. I also created an online discussion forum for staff to discuss their successes, ask questions, and build a campus community around office sustainability. Before graduating, I trained three students to continue and expand the program. As a result of this program, I also served as an advisor to the Center for Teaching Excellence in the creation of a parallel program, the Green Teaching Certificate, for faculty at American University.
To ensure that this program created broad institutional change and support for the original Sustainable Procurement Policy, each office certified by the program was required to contact the Director of Purchasing at American University to request increased access to sustainable office products. Together, these letters comprised a broad display of support for change. As a result, American University has replaced computing lab printers with duplex-capable models, increased its purchase of recycled paper and is instituting a policy of purchasing only Energy Star certified appliances. Additionally, American University’s Purchasing Department now looks to students for advice when examining the environmental merits of companies up for purchasing contracts.
Also during my senior year, as the Environmental Policy Director of the Student Government at American University, I assisted with the logistics and contracts of establishing a farmer’s market at American University, which will begin regularly in the fall of 2009. I also wrote a sustainable event protocol for Student Government events. Additionally, I compiled and disseminated a multidisciplinary list of all classes at American that significantly discuss sustainability in order to increase enrollment in these courses.
In order to share the successes I experience at American University and to encourage similar transitions to sustainability at other institutions, I have given several conference presentations. One of these presentations was entitled "Sustainability at American University" and was given as part of the 19th Annual Ann Ferren Teaching Conference. In 2008, I gave a presentation at Georgetown University entitled “Students Leading Today for Tomorrow’s Environment” at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. Most recently, I gave a presentation at PowerShift 2009 on “Mobilizing Local Communities: How-to Conduct a GHG Inventory and Create a Climate Action Plan”.
Additionally, during my time at American University, I strived to complement my classroom learning with experiential learning through internships. I interned with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Protection Agency, Rainforest Relief, and the office of Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. Last summer, I served as a Climate Fellow with Clean Air-Cool Planet, an organization that works closely with AASHE to provide resources for campus sustainability. In addition, I assisted with the organization of national youth climate action events, including Step It Up, Powershift, DC Fossil Fools Day and seven interdisciplinary climate change panels at American University for Focus the Nation.
In recognition of my sustainability efforts at American University, I was awarded the 2007 and 2008 Morris K. Udall Scholarship. I also received the 2008 Wisdom Scholarship for leadership in sustainability. Most recently, I received the 2009 Award for Outstanding Service to the American University Community, which is a prestigious award given annually to two graduating seniors.
Working for campus sustainability was truly a formative experience in my development of leadership skills. Through there had already been significant momentum towards sustainability at American, most existing efforts had not gained recognition. In addition to working to increase awareness of current efforts, I discovered valuable opportunities to take on leadership roles and develop new initiatives. I have taken these leadership skills forward into the professional world and know they will be invaluable as I work for sustainability throughout my career.