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Sustainable Energy Activities at Eastern

A Three-Part Series Written by Fred Loxsom and Dwight Bachman

 

        While "greening the campus" is a relatively new program at some colleges, Eastern Connecticut State University's sustainability initiative has been an essential component of the campus culture for almost two decades. Today, the University's commitment to protecting and preserving the environment permeates campus life, academic programs, faculty and student research and community outreach.

 

PART ONE: Campus Life 

Students on Eastern's campus In Willimantic, CT, are increasingly embracing environmental issues. The student club "People Helping People" (PHP) has developed a recycling program in residence halls and also provides support to the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership's effort to improve river access in Willimantic. "Getting involved in one of the on-campus initiatives that promotes environmental awareness is an easy way to help the planet," said Kate Harner '12, a communications major and head of PHP's Environmental Committee. "Our members dedicate themselves to projects that give back to the Earth because they know what they are doing is right and they enjoy doing it, which makes me hopeful for the future."

 

recycilng.JPGBrittney Cava '12, a political science major, agrees. "In today's society, people have become more environmentally aware than ever before. Being "green" has become a movement that is helping the planet and creating new jobs. This is why it's important for college students to be aware of green practices. Since the recycling initiative started in spring 2009, it has brought recycling bins to the inside of every residence hall except Windham Street Apartments. We have recycled over 20,000 items, including paper! This speaks volumes about where the students at Eastern stand when it comes to going green."

In Eastern's new Science Building, political science major Mike Hislop created a display of recycling information to heighten awareness about solid waste and the implications of disposal methods, and to promote recycling.  "I designed the recycling display to inform students of what can be recycled and how to do it across campus and to encourage an increase in the amount of recycling that occurs. The display contains information about how to recycle, where to recycle and sets a goal to increase recycling output."

 

Thumbnail image for recycilng2.JPGAccording to Norma Vivar-Orum, energy assistant in the Environmental Earth Science Department, Eastern recycles at a rate of about 10 percent. (The University's goal is to eventually recycle as much as 55 percent of all waste.)  To increase the rate, she says the department instituted a campus community outreach campaign that includes participating in Student Orientation and Registration (SOAR); producing educational posters/displays; developing programs and presentations to promote recycling; and organizing student group fund raising through deposit returns. "As part of SOAR, I give a presentation on recycling and invite new students to get involved in sustainability and conservation efforts across campus, even mini-trash audits to show students how much dorm room trash they can recycle," said Vivar-Orum. "Students are surprised sometimes to see how much recyclable material is in their trash, and how much less frequent their trips to the dumpsters are when they begin to recycle."

Another big success on campus being run by Vivar-Orum is the annual Earth Day celebration, which runs the entire spring semester.  The celebration includes a three-mile Earth Day run at Mansfield Hollow State Park, tours of the Geothermal Heating Plant, and Renewable Energy demonstrations. 

The Eastern Outdoors Club also offers opportunities for students to explore the outdoors through its "No Student Left Inside" initiative and partners with the Sustainable Energy Studies academic program to promote recycling and energy conservation.

 

PART TWO: Academic Programs and Faculty/Student Research

 

Academic Programs

 

Thumbnail image for fred.jpgProfessor Fred Loxsom, endowed chair of Sustainable Energy Studies at Eastern Connecticut State University, has worked with his colleagues in the Environmental Earth Science Department to develop an Energy Science track within the Bachelor of Science Environmental Earth Science (EES) major. The new track is being offered for the first time in the spring 2010 semester. Students will complete a core course in earth science as well as a sequence of courses that will prepare them to understand energy-related environmental issues and policies and to design, analyze and monitor fossil fuel and renewable energy systems. 

"This is an exciting development in the Environmental Earth Science Department," said department chair Drew Hyatt. "We are very pleased to be able to offer a track grounded in Earth Science that will prepare students to understand the science behind sustainable energy. This program broadens geosciences at Eastern and is already drawing new majors to the program. We look forward to implementing this track and continued support for sustainable energy at Eastern."

The department also offers an interdisciplinary minor in the field.  In spring 2010, Eastern EES students will travel to Jamaica on a study tour, accompanied by Loxsom and Political Science Professor Helma de Vries.  As part of the trip, they will carry out a service learning project.  "Study abroad broadens student perspectives in ways that are not possible within our own borders," said Hyatt.  "Coupling this experience with service learning related to sustainable energy is an outstanding learning experience, and one that likely will shape the students' career aspirations."

"The strong relationships that we have forged over the past 10 years serving teachers in Jamaica have laid the groundwork for this project led by Dr. Loxsom," explained Carol Williams, associate dean of continuing education.  "He and Eastern students will work with our colleagues in Lucea, Jamaica, to carry out sustainable energy projects such as installing a wind turbine as a backup source of electrical power for the Educational Resource Center at Lucea High School.  Eastern students also will have a chance to experience the 'real' Jamaica and its rich culture as they examine the need for other sustainable energy projects."

 

Faculty and Student Research. 

This past summer, Environmental Earth Science and Physical Sciences faculty, led by Loxsom as principal investigator, wrote a National Science Foundation (NSF) research proposal to acquire a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).  If NSF awards Eastern the funds, the University will use the TEM for a range of projects, including the study of nanostructures essential to the operation of innovative fuel cells.

 

Thumbnail image for DSC_7445.jpgEnvironmental Earth Science Professor Alevtina Smirnova conducts research work on fuel cells and recently was awarded a Connecticut State University grant to offer a fuel cell workshop for Eastern faculty and students. Two students working with Smirnova, Lauren Armistead of Lisbon and Connor Morrison of Coventry, recently received National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) research fellowships. Armistead is developing miniature fuel cell components, while Morrison is synthesizing aerogels to make super-capacitors, which have the potential of replacing batteries as energy storage devices. 

 

NASA-Conner.JPGSmirnova said sustainable energy courses provide students knowledge regarding climate change due to consumption of fossil fuels such as oil, petroleum, natural gas and methane hydrates, along with information on alternative fuels, such as solar, wind or geothermal power that will make the nation's future economy independent from exported power supplies. From these courses, students learn about major energy generating and storage devices such as batteries, fuel cells and super capacitors that will eventually replace inefficient combustion technology.

Smirnova says the sustainable energy program provides research opportunities for motivated students who are interested in sustainable energy, and initiate students' interest in independent research. She says research related to sustainability energy studies in the area of power storage and power generating devices and nano-materials will pave the way for a new generation of supercapacitors, batteries and fuel cells.

"Students who participate in research activities will design and synthesize novel nanostructured materials; evaluate their chemical, physical and electrical properties; and assemble them into storage or power-generating units. This will help them understand structure-properties relationships and provide insights into their electrochemical nature."

 

IR_Image.jpgSmirnova says undergraduate research helps students prepare for careers in exciting growth occupations in nanotechnology and sustainability.  She says she believes that student presentations at local and national conferences and opportunities to publish their research in scientific journals will enhance Eastern's brand as a place that gives students the edge in the job market.  For instance, Charles Stoloff, one of Loxsom's students, is submitting his research work on regional solar and wind energy potential for presentation at the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) in May 2010. 

Timothy Collins, another one of Loxsom's students, is an intern at Willimantic Waste Paper, where he is studying the efficiency of the new single stream recycling sorting machine at the company's Willimantic plant. Collins is a full-time student and will graduate in May 2010 as the first Connecticut State University System student with a "Green Degree," a BGS in Environmental Management & Policy with a minor in Sustainable Energy Management.

"This internship has exposed me to new recycling technology and the different materials that are commercially viable for recycling," said Collins. "This applies directly to my studies in Environmental Management and Sustainable Energy Management."

Working with Nancy Tinker, director of facilities management and planning, intern Peter Governale has completed an in-depth study of energy consumption in Gelsi-Young Hall.  Under the direction of Professor Loxsom, Governale has used his research to present a series of recommendations for reducing energy consumption in that building and elsewhere on campus.

 

PART THREE: University Operations and Community Outreach

 

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Nancy Tinker, director of facilities management and planning, is the head of the Green Campus Committee at Eastern Connecticut State University and has a leadership role in the development of the Climate Action Plan required by Eastern's participation in the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

energy sustain thermometer-DSC_7288.JPGTinker is working with Fred Loxsom, endowed chair in sustainable energy studies, to prepare the University's Climate Action Plan that will serve as the blueprint for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. "While the development of the Climate Action Plan has been time consuming and challenging, it is the vehicle that will keep us on course for carbon footprint reduction and energy conservation," said Tinker.  "We will be tracking our progress against our published goals throughout the coming years.   This process will ensure that we stay on top of the latest technology and thinking in the green campus arena."

 Over the years, Tinker and her colleagues have instituted an array of conservation and alternative energy measures.  The new Science Building was designed for LEED Silver Certification for its use of gray water to irrigate and its many other green features. 

Thumbnail image for energy sustain-geotherma pipes-DSC_7253.JPGIn addition, a geothermal system provides heat and air conditioning to a 62,973-square-foot residence hall, the largest geothermal-heated building in Connecticut.  The building was the most costly on Eastern's campus to heat until the geothermal system was added in 2001.  The campus also generates 6.2 kilowatts from photovoltaic solar panels to light bus shelters, trash disposal areas and building perimeter lighting. In addition, dual fuel burning capability in Eastern's heating plants allows the University to switch from gas to oil and vice versa based on prices and/or the requirements of its gas utility agreement.  Water saving features also exist on a number of showers, toilets and urinals.  Finally, an energy monitoring system analyzes energy usage for each building, and can automatically reduce electricity usage through pre-programmed initiatives, to reduce peak demand and energy costs.

Tinker says Eastern also is staying current with local developments in sustainable energy.  "Willimantic Waste has recently moved to a single stream recycling, which means that we can now recycle plastic, paper and bottles in the same recycling bin. Previously we had 'white paper only' recycling bins in the buildings and large recycling dumpsters for cardboard and plastics outside the buildings.   The single stream recycling means that it will be much easier for the campus community to recycle plastics and bottles."

             "With Eastern's budget being squeezed by record enrollment and reductions in state support, our actions to reduce our carbon footprint can also reduce overall University expenditures," said John Sweeney, associate vice president of finance and administration.  "Through the efforts of our Information Technology Services (ITS) and Facilities staffs, Eastern has been able to reduce our impact on our environment and save money."

 

green campus loxsom with sutdents.jpgChief Information Officer Joseph Tolisano said ITS is already saving money through a number of projects that contribute to the University's green initiatives. "ITS is replacing existing computer labs with thin client machines; up to 100 computers are being replaced by a single server using thin client technology." He said the vendor, NComputing, uses technology that reduces electrical consumption and operating costs and is seamless to students, who still see a fully functional monitor, keyboard and mouse. energy sustain- energy use-DSC_2183.JPG

He said advances in print technology also have allowed Eastern to reduce its carbon footprint.  "The University is replacing environmentally costly laser printers with Energy Star-rated, multifunction copiers that scan, fax, print and copy.  This reduces electrical costs and cuts the amount of ink cartridges, maintenance kits and fusers as laser printers are removed."  

In addition, ITS implemented a University-wide printing policy that gives students a 200-page credit per semester, and charges .05 per page once the credit is exhausted.  "This has already resulted in reducing the amount of pages printed by 832,278 pages from the 2007-08 academic year to the 2008-09 academic year, saving the University more than $25,000," said Tolisano. 

Tolisano said ITS is pushing faculty to use VISTA, a web-based course management system that allows faculty to conduct a course fully or partially online.  By using VISTA, faculty can reduce the amount of material presented in classrooms, thus reducing the consumption of trees and printer-related materials. 

 

Outreach. 

Eastern is exporting its commitment to energy conservation beyond its own campus eco-system through the Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE). The institute is recognized and widely respected throughout New England as an invaluable resource for supporting sustainable energy conservation efforts in municipalities and public schools throughout Connecticut and the region. The ISE, founded in 2001, continues to provide leadership in a number of outreach projects and recently has been concentrating on workforce development in preparing certification training for green collar jobs. This effort involves ISE staff participation on the Connecticut Green Jobs Council, the Connecticut Energy Workforce Consortium as well as developing training programs with a number of Regional Workforce Development Investment Boards.  In addition, the Institute's director co-chaired the Legislative Fuel Diversity Task Force to develop an infrastructure for the production of bio-fuel in Connecticut and current serves on the Governor's Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council.

 

green campus energy-ise students.JPGISE also promotes opportunities for green careers by sponsoring workshops for teachers at the secondary and community college levels. This activity also includes facilitating a complete revision of the curriculum in the construction trades at Connecticut's 16 technical high schools, to include green building design practices and the installation of renewable energy equipment. 

"The students graduating from our technical high schools and community colleges are the technical workforce of tomorrow," said ISE Director William Leahy. "They need to be equipped with skills and experiences to compete in the new Green Economy."

Student interns at ISE also have provided Energy Star benchmarking to 30 communities around Connecticut, so they can identify opportunities to reduce the rising cost of energy to heat and power their schools and public buildings. "I cannot thank the institute enough for the guidance and expertise they provided us as we move ahead with our school building projects," said Michael Kohlhagen, superintendent of Wethersfield Public Schools.  In addition, ISE staff and students have developed www.CtEnergyInfo.com, a website that connects more than 15,000 users each month to energy information on more than over 100 energy-related websites.  "The work performed by the staff and students at the institute supports the energy policy goals of the State of Connecticut. We find the service they provide to communities a valuable resource to the state," said Department of Public Utility Control Commissioner John Berkoski.

 

Summary

       energy- residence hall-DSC_3187.JPG   

Whether it is Eastern's residence hall recycling program, the new major in sustainable energy studies, student research into alternative fuels or the new eco-friendly science building, Eastern Connecticut State University's holistic approach to sustainability is helping prepare tomorrow's green workforce while conserving energy today. "At Eastern, we have long understood that we can't teach students the skills they need to help conserve our natural resources and ensure a sustainable future without practicing green principles on our own campus," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. "It is gratifying to see our students engage in sustainability projects on campus while sharing their knowledge and expertise with Connecticut's towns and municipalities. With this type of commitment and scientific knowledge, we hope to continue to serve a leadership role in Connecticut's environmental future."

 

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