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Sustainability Action makes a splash during Welcome Week

On Friday, September 4 more than 2,500 first-year students, University and community members ascended the steps of the Learning and Environmental Sciences building to delve into sustainability related initiatives in the community and at the U. The ordinarily calm and quiet ambiance at IonE was transformed into the “Pond”, the “River” and the “Lake”, all centered on this year’s theme: water. Co-hosted by the Institute on the Environment and University Services, “Sustainability Action!” featured representatives from academic programs, student groups, external organizations and University operations, all eager to tell their story.

Dana sports a pirate costume to engage in discussions about recycling

Dana taking on recycling in a pirate-like fashion.

Arriving students were greeted and sent into the Pond, where they were introduced to ways that they could get involved in sustainability right on campus. Representatives from Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs initially caught the freshmen’s attention and groups such as Students for Sustainability, Engineers without Borders and U Students like Good Food sustained it as students made their way through the room. Before students exited the room, Cornercopia Student Organic Farm used what often seems to be the most effective tool — food — to promote student involvement in their group. Colorful cartons of heirloom tomatoes and overflowing baskets of ground cherries acted as eye candy to students walking past their table. All in all, the Pond provided a place for student groups to find new, energetic members, and gave freshmen the opportunity to find a community of sustainability enthusiasts at the U.

After the Pond, excitement built as students made their way to the River, where sustainability education studies and other academic programs were anxious to share their advice on incorporating sustainability into a college education. Among the most sought out academic programs was the table on a Grand Challenge Curriculum (GCC) course, where Andrew Urevig shared his pitch on the class entitled “Can we feed the world without destroying it?” Andrew drew in crowds of people with a magic ball that showed several different maps related to food production on a local and global scale. Sustainability studies also met new freshmen enthusiastic about incorporating the sustainability studies minor into their education. They interacted with students by handing out stickers promoting the website and by posing the question “What does sustainability mean to you?” through an interactive art project. Other sought out groups included the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology and Learning Abroad.

Students then made their way down into the Lake, which provided a space for University Services departments and organizations to show sustainability through a broader Twin Cities lens. Students were given the opportunity to answer the contested question, “What does sustainable food mean to you?” as they made their way past free sustainable swag from the “It All Adds Up!” campaign on campus.

Finally, the hot and sticky day culminated outside at theWater Bar, an attraction that served local tap waters from Minneapolis, Saint Paul and White Bear Lake. Students were given the unique opportunity to taste different municipal waters and learn about the local aquifers, lakes and rivers from which the waters were sourced. Volunteers engaged students in the conversation about the essential and communal activity of drinking water and what we can do to better protect our water resources.

“Sustainability Action!” couldn’t have taken place without the help of volunteers directing students, assisting at tables and serving at the Water Bar. Their help allowed the event to run smoothly for groups tabling, coordinators and students. We would also like to thank the Orientation and First Year Programs for integrating sustainability into Welcome Week. Support is key in putting on an event like this and we look forward to “Sustainability Action!” in action next year!

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