October 2009 Issue
Ohio’s colleges and universities keep up with the demand for environmentally conscious curriculums and campus life.
When this year’s class of graduating seniors entered college four years ago, campuses were wooing students with athletic megaplexes, new stadiums and access to free “Hi mom” webcams that let logged-on parents catch a glimpse of their waving student on his or her way to class.
A lot can change in four years. Now students are ranking financial aid packages and in-state tuition at the top of their list when deciding which college to attend.
But while all eyes are on the economics of a college education these days, it seems a large percentage of them are also on the schools’ carbon footprints.
A 2009 study by The Princeton Review shows that among almost 16,000 college applicants and parents of applicants surveyed for the company’s annual “College Hopes & Worries Survey,” 66 percent of respondents said they would value having information about a college’s commitment to the environment. Among that group, 24 percent said such information would “very much” impact their (or their child’s) decision to apply to or attend the school.
The results, the report notes, reflect the rising interest among students in attending colleges that practice, teach and support environmentally responsible choices. Schools are heeding the call. In Ohio, colleges from Defiance to Shawnee State have stepped up their recycling programs, toned down their energy use and, on campuses such as Marietta College and the University of Cincinnati, required that all new construction meet the standards of top levels of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
Sustainability and other environmental issues are also increasing their presence in curriculums at two- and four-year and technical institutions across the state. At Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, the Department of Religious Studies’ Ecojustice course incorporates theological and moral resources and Catholic and Christian teaching to study ecology and Earth’s sustainability. In the southern part of the state, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College recently added a two-year Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency major in Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology, qualifying graduates to work as technicians or consultants for wind turbine, geothermal, solar-thermal, photovoltaic or fuel-cell technology. And last year, Kent State University’s Liquid Crystal Institute launched a pioneering project with the Cleveland Botanical Garden to determine if liquid crystal panels will make a greenhouse more sustainable and energy efficient. The aim is to eventually create a fully automated “smart” greenhouse that can be programmed to provide the ideal growing environment for a variety of plants.
The following are some of the many exciting, innovative and practical ways Ohio’s colleges and universities are going green. To learn more about how your school’s environmental and sustainable sensibilities compare with other schools across the country, visit GreenReportCard.org.
Fueled by Knowledge
Renewable fuel technology such as fuel cells, hybrid, electric and advanced battery technologies are a hot topic among car owners, not to mention future engineers and other students aspiring to improve the way our vehicles affect the air we breathe. “OSU is one of a handful of universities in the country that has a program dedicated to this type of research,” explains Professor Giorgio Rizzoni, the director of The Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR). “We were involved in the technology long before it was fashionable,” he says, adding that OSU first experimented with electric vehicles back in 1993.
At CAR, student teams build and redesign cars (and other vehicles like golf carts and buses) to be more energy efficient without sacrificing speed. “Our center is focused on responding to the needs of the auto industry,” he says. “In the last 10 years, we’ve been looking at consumption of fossil fuels.”
Several of the student-designed vehicles created at CAR have been in the spotlight. This past summer, Ohio State’s team won first place at EcoCAR: The Next Challenge, a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors in which students redesigned a 2009 Saturn Vue to increase fuel efficiency and decrease emissions. In 2004 The Buckeye Bullet 1, the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell racing car, became the first electric vehicle to break the 300 mph barrier. Rizzoni explains that, unlike a traditional gasoline-powered engine, which emits air pollutants such as oxides of carbon and nitrogen and unburned hydrocarbons, the byproducts of fuel cells are simply water and heat. Students have since designed a second Buckeye Bullet, and according to Rizzoni, already have a sponsor for the third version, which will be powered by lithium-based batteries.
Small changes can make a big difference, a mind-set that is being embraced and rolled out on two wheels at Oberlin College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Ohio University and the University of Findlay, to name a few. Bike-share programs encourage would-be drivers to use this zero-emissions form of transport by offering free bikes or low-cost rentals to students and faculty. At the University of Findlay, the Findlay Green Campus Initiative, a volunteer group of faculty, staff and students, recently teamed up with a local bike shop to fix up used bicycles for campus departments. The bikes, purchased at a city auction for about $25, got a makeover, and Robert Cecire, Ph.D., the director of Findlay’s Master of Art in Liberal
Studies program, even chipped in his personal funds to buy combination locks for each. At Oberlin, student groups are weighing the benefits of offering a free bicycle to students who agree to forgo bringing their car to campus for at least one year. And in Athens, where left-behind bikes often clutter racks at the end of the school year, the student-based Athens Bicycle Cooperative puts in countless volunteer hours to transform donated bikes into usable campus transportation. Most recently, the group unveiled the Athens Yellow Bike Taxi Service. For a $10 key deposit (and a suggested $20 donation), members can access taxicab-yellow bikes locked to racks throughout town on a first-come, first-served basis.
While some universities are adding facilities to become greener, a group at the University of Dayton is working to protect one of the area’s greatest existing natural resources — the 150-mile-long Great Miami River. The Rivers Institute is a student-led initiative that aims to raise the consciousness of students and residents about the relationship between the river and local economic, aesthetic and ecological vitality.
The organization’s outreach is handled by its River Stewards, a group of students who spearhead the institute’s educational programs. River Stewards begin each school year with a two-day river-centered orientation in August, during which they kayak, camp and study the environment of the Great Miami. The experience is a springboard for the presentations, events and other activities they’ll conduct throughout the year, including the group’s annual River Summit in April, a chance for community leaders in cities along the Great Miami to create a protection strategy for the waterway that includes recreation and development.
Leslie King, the institute’s coordinator, says the group is looking at the river corridor as a way to connect cities in this region. For that reason, senior River Stewards added a special 65-mile paddle down the Great Miami to their August trip to examine the river’s biological health, as well as opportunities for recreation and development. The group plans to meet with officials in Sydney, Piqua and Troy to discuss their findings, and to encourage everyone to recognize not only the ecological merit of this valuable resource, but also the fun you can have floating down it in a kayak or canoe. “This year we plan to have a greater presence on the river and get the community on the river with us,” she says.
Colleges and universities everywhere are scrambling to add coursework to meet the predicted demand for so-called “green collar” employees. Hocking College in Nelsonville has built an entire facility dedicated to teaching students these skills. The newly opened Hocking County Energy Institute, located about 20 minutes from the college’s main campus, offers learning labs for students training in advanced-energy areas such as fuel cells, biofuels, wind and solar power, and hybrid vehicles.
The Energy Institute is a green facility, inside and out. A sod roof, energy-efficient lighting, solar thermal panels and a self-irrigating system are just a few of its features. Judy Sinnott, Hocking College’s public relations director, believes the building’s inherent sustainable nature will make it stand out. “Our students are learning in a facility where everything they are experiencing in this building is teaching them [environmental] self sufficiency — that’s what sets us apart,” she says.
Currently, Hocking offers two two-year degree programs: Advanced Energy and Fuel Cells and Automotive Hybrids. The Energy Institute will also be used for advanced-energy training programs for those already in the workforce.
Sinnott says program graduates will be qualified technicians, specializing in areas such as installation and management of solar panels, wind turbines and advanced fuel systems. The college hopes the facility will also attract jobs.
“The facility’s location near the Logan-Hocking Industrial Park in Hocking County, an area designed to support advanced energy and high-tech businesses, is ideal since the infrastructure is already in place,” explains Jerrold Hutton, dean of Advanced Energy and Transportation Technologies. “The location allows interaction between our students and advanced energy businesses and will play a crucial role in training students to be employees of companies we expect to bring on board,” he says.