This year, I am one of Swarthmore’s Presidential Sustainability Research Fellows. It has a pretty long, fancy-sounding title, but what it has really come to mean to me now that I am halfway through the fellowship is an opportunity to combine learning inside and outside of the classroom, both about a specific sustainability project that I am working on and about other sustainability efforts in Swarthmore, other institutions of higher education, and throughout the world.
Performing a waste sort on Parrish Beach as part of the Zero Waste project
The course is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors of any major. As an engineering major, it has been interesting to hear how a biology or economics major approaches sustainability. Additionally, the course is co-taught by the Chair of the Engineering Department, the Director of Sustainability, and a Professor of Issues of Social Change, which offers a wide range of perspectives and experience. For example, having Denise Crossan, the Professor of Issues of Social Change, has been extremely valuable in teaching us project management skills throughout the development of our projects. As an engineer, I also always value any technical learning that Carr Everbach, the Chair of the Engineering Department, has to offer.
On top of meeting for a weekly seminar, each fellow gets matched with a sustainability issue on campus and develops a project to address this issue with their “Project Board,” a group of faculty and staff invested in that sustainability project. For my project researching the feasibility of switching from burning natural gas to biofuels, my Project Board consists of faculty and staff from Facilities, Engineering, and the Office of Sustainability.
I have greatly valued this opportunity to work behind the scenes of Swarthmore’s operations and get to know and work with members of staff who the day-to-day student would never cross paths with. In learning more about what people in Facilities or the Office of Sustainability do everyday (a lot!), I have realized how much of a disservice it is to not even realize how much work goes into making sure our buildings are heated or in making Swarthmore a leader in enacting an internal carbon charge.
In hearing about other fellows’ work, I can see that they are having similar experiences, whether it’s understanding where Dining Services’ food purchases are coming from or what goes into striving for zero waste, each fellow has a unique opportunity to explore an aspect of Swarthmore’s underbelly. As an undergraduate, I never would have expected the opportunity to be a regular attendant of the college’s Energy Working Group or have a five minute one-on-one conversation with President Val Smith about my project. However, now that I see all of the behind-the-scenes work that is going on and have had these opportunities to engage in dimensions of Swarthmore that I never even knew existed, I can’t imagine my undergraduate experience being complete without them.
A PSRF Fellow presenting at this year’s Mid-Year presentations