EMS student treks into hands-on sustainable learning

Gabrielle Stewart
October 02, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — How can you snorkel between two tectonic plates, hike along a canyon hundreds of feet deep and enjoy a bonfire in the mountains­ — all in the same day, and all while learning about sustainability?

Shaylee Traugh has the answer.

Traugh, a senior studying materials science and engineering, enjoyed those experiences and much more as a participant in the GREEN Program. The program sends students on eight- to 12-day educational trips to learn about sustainability-related issues.

For Traugh, the time abroad was perfect.

“I’d never been out of the country, so the thought of studying abroad for three months was a lot,” Traugh said. “When I saw that the trips were much shorter, I thought, ‘I can swing that.’”

Now in her role as a GREEN Program Ambassador, she wants others to have the same opportunity. For interested students, Traugh has organized an information session from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, in 22 Deike Building. Free pizza will be provided, and those who attend are offered an application fee waiver.

“As an ambassador you proactively speak for the program,” Traugh said. “I wanted to do that because it was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Of the three GREEN trip options, Traugh opted for the summer trip to Iceland. Over 10 days, students from several universities immersed themselves in local culture, took classes in sustainability and visited several attractions.

On the educational aspect of the trip, Traugh was impressed by Iceland’s commitment to green energy.

“I didn’t know that Iceland used 100 percent renewable electricity,” she said. “We visited one of their hydroelectric power plants, the oldest in the country.”

Students then visited one of the country’s modern hydroelectric power plants. Iceland is the world leader in green energy production per capita. Students also toured destinations that were off the beaten path, avoiding popular tourist spots.

“There’s a touristy resort around a hot spring called the Blue Lagoon, but we didn’t go to places like that, Traugh said. “Our tour guides insisted on taking us to local spots.”

Students enjoyed getting up close and personal with the Icelandic setting.

“They took us camping,” Traugh said. “You could walk out of the site and see nothing but mountains. The 40 of us really bonded. We’re still in a group chat.”

Traugh thought the lessons might not be relevant to her major, at first.

“Before I left, my mom said, ‘That’s not even your field,’” Traugh said. “But then I said, ‘It could be!’”

She was right. During the capstone project portion of the program, Traugh saw the importance of materials science in sustainability.

“I realized I could go into a renewable-energy field,” Traugh said. “Engineers set up the designs for solar power, hydropower and wind power. I learned during my visit to Reykjavik University that materials scientists do their graduate studies in the energy college there all the time.”  

The GREEN Program caters to students inside and outside of engineering fields.

“This is stressed a lot on the program and on the website­. It’s for anyone. Sustainability is an important enough topic that if you want to learn about it, you can, and you should,” said Traugh, adding that a student majoring in business was invaluable during her group capstone project. “You don’t need to have a background in science.”

The benefit of a diverse student group was not lost on another GREEN participant, Joey Grosso, a senior majoring in geography.

“The GREEN Program allowed me to work on a group project with peers of different academic backgrounds to help solve major environmental problems,” he said.

As for Traugh, she said the experience changed how she thinks about sustainability.

“I now think sustainability is very important,” she said. “I don’t use plastic anymore, and I now recycle at my apartment.”

Overall, the GREEN Program’s impact can affect more than just your plastic straw use. It demonstrates that for anyone there’s an abundance of lessons to learn once you step out of your comfort zone — and for Traugh, the rugged Icelandic landscape gave her that opportunity.

For more on applying for an EMS scholarship for the GREEN Program, visit the EMS website.

  • GREEN info session
    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Shaylee Traugh

    Shaylee Traugh, a senior studying materials science and engineering, is among a group of students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences who recently visited Iceland during a 10-day educational trip to learn about sustainability-related issues.

    IMAGE: Photo provided
(1 of 2)

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 02, 2018