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Opinion

Eco-Reps overhauling program

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October 31, 2013

Students, looking slightly lost, asked the group sitting in a circle at the University Center fireplace, “Is this the Eco-Reps meeting?”

Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, Bethany Gapinski, greeted the residence hall Eco-Reps warmly and assured them they were indeed in the right place.

Created out of the best intentions, the Eco-Reps program aims to “offer peer-to-peer sustainability outreach and education to residence hall students,” according to the UW-River Falls Sustainable Campus Community Plan. The Eco-Reps are a position within each residence hall’s Hall Council and are elected by their fellow hall community members.

Informal feedback I collected from students as well as former and current Eco-Reps suggests that, although the program is considered a worthwhile endeavor, the Reps could benefit from regular, formalized collaboration and support to create a bigger and more visible impact on campus.

This semester, the new Office of Sustainability responded to this gap. Aaron Turek, a UWRF junior majoring in conservation and an Office of Sustainability intern, will work alongside Gapinski to routinely meet with the Eco-Reps as a group. Their goal is to help them come up with ideas, inform them about sustainability events on campus, and especially be a resource for them during their term.

Chad Adams, a biomedical biology major from Luck, Wis., is the Ames Eco-Rep. He said he ran for the position because, “I wanted to make a difference and I care about the environment.” The first item for the next Eco-Rep meeting agenda quickly emerged as a tour of his residence hall, the new Jesse H. Ames Suites. Ames has an impressive LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. It was apparent at the meeting that although people knew that Ames was ‘Green,’ the extent of knowledge of its sustainability, beyond obvious features such as the rooftop solar hot water panels, was hazy.

The Crabtree Hall Eco-Rep, wanted to get involved because she has “a concern for animal safety” which includes protecting the food sources and habitat of animals. Mikayla Hanrahan is a pre-vet biology major. She sees room for improvement for the Eco-Reps position through developing more structure. She pointed out the success of her hall council’s president helping to organize the Crabtree Thanksgiving canned food drive and spaghetti dinner. Without a legacy of past successes to build off of, the current Eco-Reps who attended the meeting seemed to be relieved to have a forum to meet and collaborate to make their ideas realized on campus.

Hanna Theuson, a sophomore from Bayport, Minn., credited her family’s background of strongly valuing organics as a reason for running for the McMillan Hall Eco-Rep position. She also wanted it to be a personal inspiration for her to reach out and be more social in her second year at UWRF. Thueson came to the meeting with the idea of starting a garden for her hall, possibly locating it on the second floor terrace. She envisioned using Falcon Foods products and the produce from this garden in a harvest meal shared with McMillan residents.

While simply a hope for now, her idea gave the meeting participants motivation to share other ideas. One was to hold a competition amongst the halls at the two ends of campus, to see who can collect the most recyclable cans in a certain amount of time.

Winners could get a movie night with pizza and ice cream. Another was to create bathroom flyers that educate residents on ways they can change their behaviors to live more sustainably. There was agreement that creating an Eco-Rep label on the doors of representatives, to better advertise to students where they can get support for their ideas and concerns, would be beneficial. Talk will continue into the next meeting on organizing a campus-wide scavenger hunt with prizes that highlight the sustainable, yet little-known facets of our campus.

The group consensus was that Eco-Reps need a more clear position description with a formal Eco-Reps handbook that would document the past successes of former Reps for new ones to build off of. With more fleshed-out programming ideas, the Eco-Reps wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel in their yearlong term.

The Office of Sustainability will be hosting monthly Eco-Rep meetings open to the campus community in support of revitalizing and improving the program. Anyone with constructive feedback, ideas, questions, or the hope to learn more about campus sustainability is invited to attend the meetings.

The next Eco-Rep meeting will be at 5 p.m., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, in front of the UC fireplace. After a discussion, the group will walk to Ames and take a sustainability themed tour of the residence hall.

Molly Breitmün is a non-traditional student majoring in conservation with a minor in GIS. Her interest in campus sustainability was fostered by becoming an undergraduate fellow for the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development as well as by her peers in the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture.