Daily Iowan: UI Works Towards Increasing Academic Sustainability

Friday, September 3, 2010

By Alison Sullivan
Daily Iowan

Kristina McLaughlin decided to pursue a certificate in sustainability after witnessing the effect that the 2008 flood had on her hometown of Cedar Rapids.

McLaughlin, a senior and intern at the University of Iowa's Office of Sustainability, is one of 60 students obtaining the certificate — up from 40 last year, the first year of the program.

UI officials hope to keep expanding the program, saying they want to provide students a broader scope on how to embrace the sustainable lifestyle.

"Students are becoming more aware," said McLaughlin, referring to increased student interest in sustainability.

The trend is picking up all over campus. This year, the UI Student Government named senior Christopher Page to be its director of sustainability and increase the student organization's focus on the topic.

And on Monday, the UI's new sustainability living-learning community held its first meeting in a park. The Mayflower community houses 45 students.

Craig Just, a UI associate research scientist and faculty liaison to the sustainable living-learning community, said he felt "overjoyed with the energy" students displayed at the gathering. They brainstormed ways to increase recycling and other sustainability methods at Mayflower and beyond.

Just said his ultimate goal is for students to be able to define what it means to be a sustainable student and citizen.

He hopes to increase the living-learning community to 500 students within the next three to four years.

Nikki Larson, the community's resident assistant, first felt moved to live a sustainable lifestyle after watching an educational program on television about an architect using various resources to create the ultimate "green" house.

The environmental engineering major, who is earning a certificate of sustainability, said the combination of the community and her classes has taught her a lot.

The UI has been practicing a sustainable lifestyle since at least the 1990s, said Liz Christiansen, director of sustainability.

On Earth Day 2008, UI President Sally Mason outlined a policy of increased focus on sustainability, an approach that played a major role in the university's success in sustainability expansion, Just said.

Sustainability is a trend seen in other colleges and universities as well. Iowa State University has over 350 courses alone in its undergraduate college that focuses on the sustainability theme.

The courses offered at Iowa State touch on all aspects of sustainability, said Merry Rankin, director of sustainability, and all majors have courses that tie in to sustainability.

For Larson, sustainability is about the bigger picture.

"My life isn't just about being sustainable," she said. "It's also about seeking ways to improve the world around me."