New Kensington Green Team earns $11,000 sustainability grant for campus projects

April 23, 2014

A proposal by Penn State New Kensington for funding of sustainable projects was selected recently for funding through the Reinvention Fund. The campus received $11,315 to support educational activities such as courses, workshops and class projects; improve visibility and availability of current recycling efforts; develop a composting site; and expand the pollinator garden.

Submitted by the campus’ Green Team, “The Everyday Practice of Food Consumption and Waste Reduction” was one of 22 proposals accepted by the Sustainable Institute at Penn State. Only five Penn State campuses -- Great Valley, Harrisburg, New Kensington, Schuylkill and University Park -- earned the coveted grants.

"The grant committee and the Green Team are excited to have the opportunity to improve the everyday practice of food consumption and waste reduction on campus,” said Ruth Herstek, administrative support assistant for academic affairs and one of the leaders of the campus green team. “We want the campus to serve as an example for promoting lifelong sustainable practices for our students, staff and community."

The focus of New Kensington’s initiative is food choices and waste disposal. The goal is to develop better food consumption and waste management through education. At the recent Research and Creative Exposition, an interdisciplinary team of students, Corey Bobak, business; Ryan Delane, information sciences and technology (IST); Marissa Russo, IST; and Jamie Herstek, psychology; presented their research on food packaging. New programs include increasing recycling awareness efforts, developing a composting site to reduce food waste and using the composting products for the campus’ flower beds and pollinator garden. The compost site and garden also will serve as educational tools for conducting testing and research, and offering opportunities for classroom learning student research and summer youth programs.

“Our campus will be a learning environment and a ‘living laboratory’ example for the students to learn and appreciate sustainability of our environment,” said Herstek, who earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and is pursuing a master’s degree in adult education through Penn State World Campus.

Plans are under way for a variety of additional educational programs. Composting will be added as a component of the New Student Orientation program in August for first-year students, and it will be the topic of workshops and training seminars during the semester for all undergraduates. Future projects for biology and science classes and the annual Research and Creative Exposition will feature student research on sustainability activities.

Already a part of the academic curriculum is a new minor: sustainability leadership. The interdisciplinary minor is offered in conjunction with the campus’ nine bachelor’s degree programs. Foundations of Leadership in Sustainability, a 200-level course taught by Joan Kowalski, senior instructor in engineering, examines the science, ethics and leadership in social, environmental and economic sustainability. The course is the first of several new classes being developed for the minor. Several courses already a part of the campus curriculum will count toward the minor, including Introduction to Environmental Philosophy, taught by Donald Bruckner, assistant professor of philosophy.

“There are some new courses under development, such as Mathematics for Sustainability that would be great additions to our curriculum,” said Andrea Adolph, director of academic affairs. “The minor will include a capstone project that will dovetail with our composting efforts.”

Complementing the educational component are the physical changes at the campus. Cafe 780 will undergo minor remodeling to accommodate composting, and several new recycling/trash centers will be installed this summer. The compost site will be nourished with leftovers from the Café 780, the campus main eatery. The site of the compost has yet to be determined. The compost products will then nourish the pollinator garden, which is located in the southwest section of the campus, adjacent to the campus nature trail. The garden serves as a habitat for native birds, bees and butterflies. Native plants provide nectar, pollen, larva food and habitat. Pollination and pollinators play a major role in the production of food. National Pollinator Week will be celebrated June 16 to 22.

The theme of the proposal aligned with the institutes “Living Laboratory” principles, which include: improving human health and happiness through sustainability; educating the campus community, the Penn State community and the local community; expanding current resources and developing new ones; and collaborating with community groups and organizations that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities.

A living laboratory is an ecosystem for learning that enables the unique features of campus grounds communities, facilities and regional neighborhoods to serve as test beds for the development of innovative solutions to real challenges. The concept, which is becoming widespread among colleges and universities, embraces learning and experimentation in the advancement of sustainability.

“The project portfolio provides the tools for innovation across the functions of education, research, outreach, operations and governance to support the continued transformation into a Living Laboratory for sustainability at an aggressive pace,” explained David Riley, program manager of the Reinvention Fund. “We have invested most heavily in projects that will utilize our campus and community resources to dissolve the traditional boundaries of our classrooms and operational programs to create experiential learning opportunities.”

The proposal was written by the campus’ green team members Adolph; Herstek; Kowalski; Lauren Blum, assistant to director of student affairs; Theresa Bonk, director of student affairs; Donald Bruckner, assistant professor of philosophy; Jason Bush, director of business and finance; Bonnie Godfrey, administrative support assistant for business services; Randy Tressler, maintenance supervisor; Amy Rustic, reference librarian; and Deborah Sillman, senior instructor in biology. The group, which is committed to reducing waste and exploring ways to use resources responsibly, works with the Sustainability Institute to inform and involve the campus with green initiatives.

“While individual conservation efforts may seem insignificant, a campus-wide effort will have a noticeable impact on our campus and the local township," said Herstek, whose Upper Burrell yard abuts the campus property line. “We challenge all offices and departments on campus to become “greener”.

The green teams’ projects aren't the first sustainability initiatives at the New Kensington campus. Charged by Chancellor Kevin Snider in 2008 to take specific actions to help the campus operate in a more efficient, innovative and healthy way, the team has paved the way for the campus to become more environmentally friendly. "Going Green" was implemented with single stream recycling. Working in conjunction with the Westmoreland Cleanways Program, the campus provides a fast, easy and efficient way to recycle without the hassle of sorting recycled materials. Single stream recycling allows end-users to discard plastics, paper and cans into one container. Green and blue containers are located in high-traffic areas throughout the campus. Dumpsters are located behind the Athletics Center and in the lower parking lot behind the Science and Technology Building. Three years ago, environmentally friendly water bottle refilling stations were installed in selected locations around campus. The drinking fountains, known as hydration stations, have decreased the use of plastic bottles, and alleviated the amount of trash that winds up in landfills. Last year, the team sponsored a composting conference featuring speakers from the institute and other Penn State campuses who shared their experiences in starting and maintaining a composting program.

Penn State has been the leader in sustainability initiatives among colleges and universities. The University has invested more than $875,000 in collaborative projects intended to improve and expand sustainability efforts across the institution. Established in 2008, the Sustainability Institute promotes and ensures environmentally-safe activity at Penn State. Its initiatives protect and enhance the financial, human and ecological resources of the University, and the planet.

For information or to join the campus green team, contact Ruth Herstek at 724-334-6032 or

For more about sustainability at the campus, visit

For more on the Sustainability Institute, visit


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Last Updated April 23, 2014