A year in review

Co-written by Dominique Boczek

With the 2013-2014 academic year in the rear-view mirror, we wanted to take this time to recap all of the great sustainability related events that happened this year, so you, as a sustainability studies student (or perspective sustainability studies student), can see all that the University of Minnesota, the Institute on the Environment, and the Sustainability Studies Minor has to offer. Additionally, click on the heading for each event to see a more detailed description!

Sustainability Action!

During Welcome Week, we welcome the incoming first year students to the University and to the great world of sustainability during SUSTAINABILITY ACTION. Held in the Institute on the Environment, and sponsored by numerous campus organizations, students got to see all of the sustainability/environment based opportunities the university has to offer, from campus groups and organizations that had tables, to chatting with advisers from the different academic programs.

Students for Sustainability

Starting during the Spring of 2013, Students for Sustainability (SforS, pronounces S-Force), gained immense momentum this year. They planned massive events and initiatives such as TCF Gameday recycling initiatives,Earth day at Northrup, and even teamed with Congressman Keith Ellison’s office to help host a citywide climate rally. Be sure to check out and join them for all that they will be doing in upcoming semesters.

Sustainability Coalition

Speaking of student groups, wanting a space where the power of individual student groups could be maximized, sustainability focused UMN groups joined together to form the Sustainability Coalition this year. By networking through each other, supporting each other, and contributing to each other’s issues, the group aims to improve sustainability efforts on campus, and beyond.

Fossil-Free MN Pushes University

There are so many sustainability related student groups on campus doing so many great things, we could write a whole blog on all that they have achieved and done this year, but this is the last one, I promise. But if you want to check out other sustainability focused student groups, check this out! Fossil Free Minnesota, an on campus student group working towards getting the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry made a minor, but important step towards their goal this semester. Reported on in February, the Minnesota Daily published an article stating that in May (of 2014), the University’s board of regents will vote on whether or not they disclose what companies we have invested our endowment in are sustainable, renewable firms. It also reports that this is likely to pass, and that this was brought on by pressure of students in Fossil Free MN.

Sustainability Festival 2013

In SUST 4004, the capstone class for the sustainability studies minor, students create capstone projects centered around a sustainability theme of their choice. For the Sustainability Festival, all of these students and projects come together to showcase their work, and inspire others and community members about their projects.

AASHE Conference

“With nearly 2,000 participants, AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conferences are the largest stage in North America for higher education sustainability thought leadership. Attendees from around the world share innovations, activities, frameworks, learning outcomes, tools, strategies, research, theory and leadership initiatives that are changing the face of sustainability in higher education. With trailblazing keynote speakers, workshops, sustainability tours, student summits, awards and networking opportunities, AASHE conferences represent and inform the full spectrum of current sustainability challenges and best practices in higher education each year.” This year at AASHE, a very special group of University of Minnesota students, Next Generation Environmental Leaders,” a group of twenty-three University of Minnesota students and recent graduates, won AASHE’s Student Sustainability Leadership Award. Natalie Hoidal, Patricia O’Keefe, and Anna Sherman represented their team who planned and executed the “Next Generation Environmental Congress,” a gathering of nearly 200 young people in February whose ideas went on to influence state environmental legislation earlier this year. And get ready, because in 2014 the AASHE conference is coming to the Twin Cities!

Earth Fest

A similar group of students also came together to talk at Earth Fest, an annual of local traditions and practical resources for sustainable living on the Iron Range of Northeastern Minnesota, to talk about  ways that youth are becoming involved in some of the most pertinent environmental issues in Minnesota – food, divestment & pipelines, energy standards, clean energy and jobs, and local organizing. They speakers, Katie Ledermann, Patty O’Keefe, Natalie Hoidal, and Christy Newel, stressed the importance of including young people in discussions and giving young people the opportunities to participate in these spaces.

Sustainability Film Series

This spring’s annual, Sustainability Film Series, focused on sustainability and social engagement. The four films of this year’s film series included, YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip, Addicted to Plastic, A River Changes Course, and More Than Honey. After each of these films, we had experts and individuals knowledgeable on the topic, talk about how they felt about the film, and then opened the space up for a question and answer. The sustainability film series is put on on and hosted by the Bell Museum of Natural History, Housing and Residential Life, and the Sustainability Studies program.

Sustainability Symposium / SELF Sustain

Because youth are the key to the future health and security of planet Earth, it is important to remember that climate conversations must focus just as much on them as on the scientists and professionals that generally run the media. For this reason, the Sustainability Studies Minor in partnership with the Institute on the Environment hosts the Sustainability Symposium annually for students to showcase their environmental research. This year’s symposium had over three dozen projects in three submission categories: lightning talks, poster presentations, and creative work. The judging panel consisted of environmental professionals from both the University and the surrounding community. The students were enthusiastic about sharing their studies and learning from others about the important research that is taking place right here at the University of Minnesota. Topics ranged from Justin Bieber to Greek yogurt, but all had a focus on sustainability and a challenge for the audience to make a difference. The entire event was full to capacity of visitors and students hoping to learn about university research and local sustainability.

This year’s symposium was slightly unusual because it represented students from four different UMN campuses. These students were in the Twin Cities to take part in SELF Sustain, a yearly summit across the University of Minnesota system that allows students to gather and talk about sustainability in all parts of Minnesota. This conference is a valuable opportunity for students to learn about the other campuses and their initiatives towards environmental protection and innovation. This year has been hosted at a different campus each year, and this year allowed the opportunity for the symposium and the summit to be held in collaboration. The Morris, Duluth, Crookston, and Twin Cities students shared dinner after the symposium and then spent the evening at the Bell Museum of Natural History, learning about Minnesota’s flora and fauna and sharing stories and music. The following morning, students met for breakfast and addresses by UMN Sustainability Director Amy Short and local politician Ellen Anderson. Students then gave short presentations and devised solutions for environmental grand challenges that the University faces, and finally participated in World Café discussions. This conference allows students to engage on a broader scale and to learn from other students that are facing similar troubles and successes. It also helps to expand the growing network of individuals that have graduated from the UMN system and hope to make changes in the world. Both of these events were so successful that #SELFSustain and #MySustStory were trending on Twitter that day! A student also created a Storify, which chronicles the event through pictures, social media posts, and brief descriptions.

Earth Day

Although Earth Day used to be a huge event of environmental activism at the University of Minnesota in the 60s and 70s, in recent years, the celebrations have quieted down quite a bit. This year, rookie student group Students for Sustainability teamed with the Environmental Student Association, Fossil Free Minnesota, and U Students Like Good Food to bring Earth Day back to its former glory around campus. The event was staged at the newly renovated Northrop Auditorium both on the plaza and in the spectacular entryway. The sunny, breezy day featured fair-style tabling from student groups and local organizations and attracted esteemed guests like local politicians and university professionals. Students were encouraged to save energy, make contentious diet choices, and create other positive impacts on the Earth. There were also musical performances by student led bands which contributed to the light hearted atmosphere of solidarity and hope for future environmental change. Participants were also allowed the chance to take a “#GlobalSelfie” for a NASA project documenting the topography of the planet from ground level. Food provided by local, sustainable organizations was served to guests with compostable placeware, making this event Zero Waste. The occasion attracted hundreds of visitors who were able to learn about the environmental impact of their actions and how they can get more involved in their community. In the evening, a showing of “Do the Math” by environmentalist Bill McKibben took place in the Coffman Memorial Union theatre and encouraged a lively yet somber discussion about the future health of the world. However, students left with a hope in their ability to influence others and make a difference. Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director Lewis Gilbert from the Institute on the Environment was part of a radio segment featuring these students, the energy they possess, and the bright future that is in store for them and their environmental careers. The students hope to continue to grow this event in coming years and make it into one of the most sought-after environmental events of the year!

And this is not even close to the extent of all the great things that happened in sustainability at the University of Minnesota this year, there was the Real Food Summit, the Real Food Challenge, students went to PowerShift in Pittsburgh, and some even got arrested in Washington DC for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. We also had Polar Explorer Will Steger speak, and Ellen Anderson as well. The year has been full of great and fun environmental and sustainability initiatives and events, and we can only build up from here in the future, so join us next year for more!

Communications Assistant


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *