Student Advisory Council awards first sustainability leadership honors

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When the University's new head football coach Bill O’Brien made a surprise appearance at Penn State Earth Day last Friday, he reminded the audience that “Students were the leaders of the first Earth Day,” and he championed student efforts in sustainability. “The challenges may change. But the fact that students lead the charge, that will never change.”

The Penn State Student Sustainability Advisory Council is leading the charge, and it wrapped up its first year of activity on Penn State Earth Day with a tree planting ceremony near Fisher Plaza to honor the first three recipients of the Student Sustainability Leadership Award. Peter Buckland, Risa Lisle, and George Gard were selected for their peer education, community projects and campus leadership.

Buckland is a doctoral candidate majoring in Educational Theory and Policy. He is the founder of the 3E-COE club, which worked to install water bottle filling stations at numerous campus locations. In 2009, he founded and continues to host a radio show on the WKPS student radio station called “Sustainability Now Radio,” and he is active in local efforts to mitigate potential environmental harm from gas well drilling.

Lisle is a senior majoring in Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences. She is the president of the PSU Center for Sustainability Organic Community Garden, which promotes the sustainable growth of vegetables and organic gardening methods. She is also president of the Penn State Sustainable Agriculture Club and has helped to raise more than $10,000 to improve the community garden.

Gard is a senior majoring in Architecture. He is one of the founders of SEED: Students for Environmentally Enlightened Design, a group started in 2009 to encourage students from Penn State's departments of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Architectural Engineering and Engineering to engage in environmentally conscious architecture. George organized student exhibitions about sustainable architecture and has organized field trips to architecture firms in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. He created a SEED library project and raised $15,000 to build shelving in a shipping container for donated books to be sent to an African refugee camp. The project uses recycled materials and includes photovoltaics to power electrical lighting.

The Student Sustainability Advisory Council is comprised of 25 students and four ex-officio faculty and staff members. The group was appointed by former Penn State President Graham Spanier in August 2011 and is co-chaired by two student leaders, Matt Barnes and Stefan Nagy. Beyond the three award winners, Council students have launched a number of initiatives and pilot programs across a range of sustainability issues over the past year.

Council member Will Mitchell organized a program called “What’s In Your Fridge” to foster discussion between local food growers, student leaders, Penn State food services managers and community leaders to increase the ability of local farmers to sell their products locally and to Penn State. Another council leader, Jesse Rafalko, is creating a pilot project designed to study the effectiveness of strategies to reduce the use of plastic bags in Penn State food service retail operations. It will be initiated in the fall at two retail sites and will study the impact of incentives and disincentives on whether student customers request bags for their purchases.

The Council has become a valuable resource and touchstone for the University community. During the spring semester, managers from Penn State’s campus dining hall operations met with the Council to discuss strategies for reducing food waste, purchasing more locally grown food, reducing food in kitchen waste water, increasing composting and processing dishes and trays and more sustainably. Members of the Council were also invited to attend a final draft review session to provide input and advice about the contents of the Penn State Strategic Plan for Sustainability.

While O’Brien helped kick off Penn State Earth Day with a salute to the University’s students and sustainability efforts, David Gray, the senior vice president for Finance and Business/Treasurer provided the final word on the impact the Council and all of Penn State’s students can have.

Gray is the Senior Vice President for Business and Finance/Treasurer.

“Let me say how proud I am of the leadership profile we have established in our commitment to sustainability and to environmental stewardship.” With a nod to the Student Sustainability Advisory Council, Gray concluded “They -- we -- are driving the University and our world toward a better, safer and more sustainable future.”

For more information on the Student Sustainability Advisory Council, visit their website.

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Last Updated May 01, 2012